Gone are the days—and good riddance—when collegiate heavyweight wrestlers could win by shoving their considerable weight around. Now they are deep of chest rather than round of belly, and they are some swift. Nowhere was this metamorphosis more evident than at last week's NCAA championships at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
In the past there were usually just one or two good heavies at the NCAAs, but in Provo there was a bunch. The three top seeds were No. 1 Jess Lewis of Oregon State, 6'1", 230; No. 2 Jeff Smith of Michigan State, 6'4", 245; and No. 3 John Ward of Oklahoma State, 6'4", 245; and Jess, Jeff and John put on a performance that showed that, as in boxing, the biggest is best.
Jeff came to Provo with a black smudge under his right eye from a salve that covered a 10-stitch wound he got in a workout. "He looks," said Jess, "like a Tareyton smoker." Lewis also had some comments about his own nose, which is partially flattened and has a number of twists and turns, including a final 90° hook to the left. Said Jess: "My nose was born funny. Then I hurt it and it never did get straightened out. People accuse me of looking north and smelling south."
Jess Lewis, who was an All-America tackle at Oregon State as a junior, began wrestling on the family farm in Aumsville, Ore. (pop. 350). "It started with barnyard wrestling against my brothers—Jerry, Jim and Ed," he said. "I had to be careful not to smart off around them because they were all older and bigger than me. Working long hours in the fields helped my endurance. Laying irrigation pipes and pitching bales of alfalfa that weigh 40, 50 pounds built me up.
April 7, 1969
"Some wrestlers spend the first couple minutes of each match feeling out their opponent to find out what kind of moves he has. Not me. I like to go out, whammo, and be aggressive."
Jeff Smith is a senior from Bellflower, Calif., the home of another heavyweight contender—Boxer Jerry Quarry. Jeff figured he had to be careful not to get ahead of anyone 12-0. "Every time I get in front 12-0, I lose," he said. "In a high school championship match I led 12-0 and I threw a guillotine on my man. I leaned back to tighten up on him and wound up pinning my own shoulders to the mat. At the Olympic Trials last year I was ahead 12-0 in my first match when I dislocated my elbow.
"Basically I'm a loner on the day of a match. If I'm at home, I tell my wife to go shopping. If I talk too much before a match I mess up my mind. Sharon's here in Prove. You can always hear her when I'm wrestling. She's the one with the squeaky voice."
John Ward, who plays tackle for Oklahoma State, spent last summer as a guide at Grand Lake O' the Cherokees in Oklahoma. "I had a lot of free time, so I brought along 700 pounds of weights and worked out with them," he said.
Jess, Jeff and John each had ample reason to believe he would be the new heavyweight champion. "I learned a lot at the Olympics," said Jess, who placed sixth in the freestyle. This year he was 17-0 with 14 pins. "I haven't lost all season," said Jeff, who had won 19 straight. "I'm stronger," said John.
Then it was time to stop talking and start wrestling. Jess went out and, whammo, began tossing 250-pound opponents around like so many bales of alfalfa. He pinned his first man in exactly one minute, his next in 53 seconds and his third in 3:14. Jeff didn't wrestle long enough to build up any 12-0 leads and Sharon squeaked with delight as he pinned three men in 6:08. John won his first three matches easily.
That moved all of them into the semis and meant that at least one wouldn't survive. This turned out to be John, who was caught in a cradle hold by Jeff and pinned in 3:42. "That's the first time I've ever been pinned," said John.
Meanwhile, Jess took on fourth-seeded Kent Osboe of Northern Iowa. Jess scored five takedowns—a rarity in this weight class—as he won 17-4, which set up a showdown between Lewis and Smith for the championship.
Before a packed house of 7,200, Jess beat Jeff 6-1. His win enabled Oregon State to edge Michigan State for third place, 58-57. First place went to Iowa State in one of the biggest upsets in years, Oklahoma and Michigan State having been the pretournament favorites. The Cyclones had three individual champions—Dan Gable at 137 pounds, Jason Smith at 167 and Chuck Jean at 177. Gable (SI, March 24) ran his winning streak to 144 by pinning all five of his men. He also earned the two highest awards of the meet—for the most pins and for being the outstanding wrestler.
Iowa State scored the most points in the history of the NCAAs, 104 to runner-up Oklahoma's 69. Oklahoma State equaled its worst performance ever, finishing sixth, one point behind Cal Poly.
"Sometimes," said Sooner Coach Tommy Evans, "Oklahoma and Oklahoma State get so intent upon beating each other that we forget about the others. But Iowa State deserved to win. Those boys really wrestled." So, too, did Jess, Jeff and John.