College wrestling: Michigan's Adam Coon first to beat Olympic gold medalist Snyder since 2015
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It looked like the Battle of the Bears.
Michigan's Adam Coon and Ohio State's Kyle Snyder, the NCAA's top-ranked heavyweight wrestlers, pawed at each other in the center of the mat, looking for any advantage that could lead to takedown.
Coon got the only takedown of the match in the final seconds of the first period, and took the lead he never relinquished in a 3-1 victory over Snyder, who had seemed unbeatable until Coon became the first college wrestler to defeat the Olympic gold medalist since March 2015.
It was an intense battle that even resulted in blood on the mat. Snyder's right cheek was cut by what Coon said could've been his knee during a tussle for control, causing two timeouts to tend to his wound.
And when it was over, Coon shook his right fist triumphantly before briefly meeting with Snyder, who was No. 1 coming into the match. Then, while returning to his euphoric Wolverine teammates and coaches, Coon extended both arms, clenched his fists and shook for joy, a smile crossing his face.
It was a magical moment, and even though No. 4 Michigan lost a hard-fought match to the No. 2 Buckeyes, 18-15, it seemed, because of what Coon had done, that the Wolverines had more to celebrate.
"My immediate feeling was being tired, exhausted, because it was one heck of a match," said Coon, a graduate student from Fowlerville, Michigan. "Then it was that realization of: 'I just beat the best in the world today.' It doesn't mean I'm going to beat him later, but I beat the best in the world today.
"That's where the 'YEAHHHHHH!' came from. That was the excitement."
Snyder was 7-0 this year and 35-0 over the last three seasons, winning two NCAA heavyweight championships. He took his greatness to the next level in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, becoming the youngest gold medalist in U.S. wrestling history.
"That was a fun match," said Coon. "It got me to figuring out where I'm at right now, taking on the best guy in the world, and getting the win there. But I know he's going to get better, and I know I'm going to get better.
"So, it's all where we end at. It's nice to know that this is a stepping stone to where I'm at and where he's at. I know that he's going to take this match and watch it, and figure how to finish on me, and it's going to be one heck of a battle come Big Tens, NCAAs, if we get a chance to face each other."
ICYMI: Adam Coon sent Kyle Snyder to his first loss since the 2015 NCAA final. pic.twitter.com/b7TGXPjjbm— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) February 12, 2018
Coon had lost, 7-4, to Snyder in their only previous meeting in the 2016 Big Ten finals. Odds are they will meet there again, and possibly a third time this season at the NCAA Tournament next month in Cleveland.
Michigan coach Joe McFarland called it a "classic match" -- and it was a definite battle of wills.
Coon fought off a takedown attempt early in the first period before taking control with two points with his own takedown at the end of that period.
"I got that body locked up," said Coon, "and we'd worked on that in practice, knowing that he's a little smaller than I am. So, if I could get to his body, I felt that I could get ahold of him, and get a good grip. I felt it, and ran it as hard as I could, trying to get him to his back.
"I knew the team needed six points if we were going to win the dual, and so I was just doing everything I could to get my pin. He did a great job of fighting off his back. But it was great to get the takedown, and it really got the emotion going."
Coon had a two-point lead with less than a minute to go in the third period, but wanted the pin that would've tied the match in dramatic fashion. The Wolverines (10-3, 7-2 Big Ten) then would've won on the second tiebreaker -- which is pins -- because that would've been the lone fall recorded.
With 21 seconds remaining in the third period, Coon yanked Snyder's right leg up off the mat and began twisting his calf. He very nearly brought down Snyder by tripping his left leg as they bounced around in a semi-circle, but Snyder got out of it with seven seconds remaining and Coon collapsed onto him, unable to score the big finish.
It's hard to imagine anybody other than Snyder could've avoided disaster there.
"He did a great job of defending that single-leg," said Coon. "We get into another situation like that, and I'm definitely going to work on how the heck I finish that next time."
Coon paced the Michigan side of the mat before the match, slapping himself in the face several times as heavy metal music blared. Then he fed off the energy of the crowd, which repeatedly chanted his drawn-out last name.
"It was phenomenal," said Coon. "I've never been in an arena more packed. It was fantastic, and all of them cheering for me. That was great. Well, not everybody, there were some red people up there (wearing scarlet and gray)."
Coon (22-0) was hardly a one-man show in this one, though.
Stevan Micic, ranked No. 5 at 133 pounds, beat No. 2 Luke Pletcher, 11-5. Pletcher was 22-0 and Micic had been his victim in the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational.
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Sixth-ranked Myles Amine used a late takedown to pull out an emotional 6-5 win over No. 3 Bo Jordan at 174 pounds.
"It was the way he did it," McFarland said of Amine. "He got the lead, and then he lost the lead, and then he battled back and had to get that takedown at the end. He had to dig down deep and find a way to win, and that was a great win for him.
"Micic got revenge, too. We had four matches (with OSU wrestlers) in the Cliff Keen and lost three of them. I knew we were going to have to flip some of those. That was a great win for Micic."
No. 7 Alec Pantaleo and No. 9 Logan Massa also scored impressive victories over ranked opponents at 157 and 165 pounds, respectively, as the Wolverines served notice that they deserve to be in the national championship discussion.
"We didn't get done what we wanted to," said McFarland, referring to coming up short of the team victory. "But the fans got their money's worth tonight, and it was some great wrestling. We got a lot to build off, and a lot of people saw that our team should be in that conversation."
After beating World and Olympic champion Kyle Snyder, Adam Coon wins FloWrestler of the week honors. https://t.co/BHIxu0H07j— FloWrestling (@FloWrestling) February 12, 2018
Still, Coon beating Snyder was what the people filing out of Crisler were talking about.
"Adam was really, really focused," said McFarland. "He was really dialed into the match. You could see it. He kept wrestling, and it was just a great match, and a great win for Adam. I'm real proud of him.
"To see those two guys going out there and laying it on the line…One of the things Adam told me last night was -- he's an engineer, he had the whole thing mapped out, what he was looking for and what to defend against. That's the engineer in him. But at the end, he said, 'You know what, nobody thinks I can win. I love being the underdog.' He relished that role and was able to get something done that a lot of wrestlers hadn't been able to do with Kyle Snyder, who's a beast."
I mentioned to Coon -- who's working on his master's degree in space engineering -- that they seemed like two big bears out there, fighting for dominance.
"It reminded me of something I saw on 'Weird Sports' with that boxing chess match," said Coon, referring to a hybrid sport consisting of six rounds of chess alternating with five rounds of boxing where victory can be claimed with either checkmate or knockout. "It reminded me of that.
"It was two bears pawing at each other, but we were also trying to find that little inch of good position. I found it with the under hook and got to the body. He found it and got to my legs a couple times. I was working inches to make sure I could get that foot back down. It's a game of inches, just like football. And us heavyweights look like football players. So, it came down to that -- inches."
The "inches" ended up on Coon's side, and he turned it into a milestone victory.