When asked about the Las Vegas Invitational this weekend, Missouri wrestler Ben Askren spoke about a meeting with a competitor from a different ring, Ultimate Fighting champion Randy Catoure invited the senior out to see his workout facility during Askren’s free time. It’s an opportunity that Askren admits he may take after his wrestling career has died down.
“It’s something that I want to look into and see what I can do,” Askren said.
For now, Askren, the defending national champion at 174 pounds, and the No. 2-ranked Tigers’ wrestling team will be competing in the invitational that starts Friday in Primm, Nev. A city full of distractions will not matter to a Tigers’ team that simply wants to take care of “business.”
“Vegas is a big distraction with the lights and the casinos and the billboards, but we are there on a business trip to win the Las Vegas Invite, and we feel this is the team that can do it,” Missouri coach Brian Smith said.
The Tigers ultimate goal is to improve on their third place finish in 2005. The opinion of some team members is that they will only go as far as their individual pieces.
“In the past we have had guys place sixth, seventh and eighth, which isn’t bad, but if we want to win we need to have more people take first, second and third,” Askren said.
Smith sees this as an opportunity for individual wrestlers such as Josh Wagner to capitalize on disappointments from the past.
“We are really looking for Josh Wagner to have a breakout tournament,” Smith said. “The way he is training and wrestling, he is right on the verge of having a breakout tournament that can open things up for him and give him confidence.”
Wagner was defeated in the first round of the the Missouri Open, but won out to finish in third place. With a number of tough competitors in his 149-pound bracket, Wagner said that a strong showing this weekend could get
him mentioned among the elite wrestlers in his weight class.
“This is a tournament for me to make a name for myself and to face the guys that I want to beat,” Wagner said. “I still feel like my name isn’t out there, and if I have a good tournament this is how I can get recognized and make my way up the rankings.”
Another individual, Michael Chandler, had a poor performance in the Tigers’ trip to Las Vegas in 2005. Smith and his team mentioned Chandler as someone who would make an impact this weekend and Chandler said that he is up to the challenge.
“There are guys ranked ahead of me who I feel are beatable, and I see myself as one of the guys that will score a lot of points for this team,” Chandler said.
With 50 of the top programs in the country attending the invitational, wrestlers such as sophomore Raymond Jordan are counting on seeing familiar faces.
“I am looking forward to seeing the Ohio State kid again,” Jordan said. “I hope he is on my side of the bracket.”
Jordan’s eyes lit up at the possibility of a return meeting at 184 pounds with Mike Pucillio of Ohio State. Coming off a performance at the Missouri Open that Smith called “dominant,” a meeting on the mat with Pucillo could allow Jordan to avenge a loss to him two weeks ago at Ohio State. Jordan is looking forward to another opportunity to wrestle Pucillo and said this time will be different.
“He is going to wrestle my match this time,” Jordan said. I wrestled his last time and he beat me and this time he is going to wrestle my match.”