It doesn’t seem like all that long ago fans were getting ready for the 2014 World Team Trials and everyone was wondering who would come out and claim the 57 kg weight class. Would it be the former Olympian Sam Hazewinkel, who already had a spot in the finals? Would former World Team member Angel Escobedo be the first to repeat at the lightest weight class for the first time since Henry Cejudo did it back in 2007-08? The answer ended up being a senior from the University of Iowa, who fresh off his first NCAA championship tore through Madison and claimed the top spot. Since that day, Tony Ramos hasn’t looked back and hasn’t lost to an American opponent since going freestyle full-time.

“It just gives me an extra confidence boost going into the trials. Especially sitting out, I will have a feel and be prepared for whoever comes out of the mini-tournament.” Ramos said about his wins over all of USA’s top 57 kg wrestlers.

When I asked him the follow up question on how would he respond to someone being surprised at how quickly he became our nation’s top lightweight he said, “I would first ask them if they were blind because I have been competing with the best for a long time now. It was only a matter of time before it all came together.”

After winning the World Team Trials in 2014, Ramos got ready by winning a title at the Canada Cup in July, then buckled down and trained for the World Tournament which was held in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. There Ramos would run into a tough opponent from Mongolia, Bekhbayar Erdenebat and lose his match 7-4. He then ended his 2014 year by going 4-1 for Titan Mercury Wrestling Club at the World Club Cups in November.

More determined than ever, Ramos started off 2015 with a two week trip overseas, first competing at the Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix and then the Paris Grand Prix a week later. He would win a gold medal in the latter tournament, and with that win he broke in to the United World Wrestling’s (International wrestling’s governing body) rankings and now he sits at #13. “It’s exciting to see yourself moving up the world ladder and people start to recognize your name worldwide now, but it’s not at the top yet so there is still work to do.”

Of course Ramos isn’t going to be satisfied until he reaches the top, and to be the best you need to seek out some of the best competition available. He did just that when he faced off against former Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo at the AGON V event in April, picking up a win over the former Olympic champion Ramos was overcome with emotion at the time saying, “People always remember Terry Brands for Henry Cejudo.. Now they are going to remember him for Tony Ramos.”

Tony Ramos AGON
Tony Ramos works a single on Henry Cejudo at AGON V

He also traveled with Team USA out to Los Angeles, California for the 2015 World Cup. USA put together a great performance, winning all three of their pool matches to wrestling in the championship bout. There the Americans would fall to the always tough Iranian team, and Ramos finished the day 2-2, but with those matches a lot of good takeaways.

“I have to wrestle hard and tough every minute of the match. I was able to wrestle great opponents and guys that I will have to beat to win a World Championship at so it was a great opportunity for me to get those matches and experience against the high level competition.”

It’s plain to see that Ramos is making huge strides on the mat, and he truly is getting better, and if you need proof you don’t need to look any further than watching him progress before your eyes on the mat. “I am getting better in every aspect of wrestling physically and mentally every day and every time I step out on the mat.” Ramos said on his progression since his 2014 debut in Madison.

While Terry Brands gets much of the credit for Ramos (deservedly so) former NCAA runner-up Dan Dennis has also played a large role in preparing Ramos for his big tournaments over the last 10 months, “It’s awesome having (Dennis) around. He gives you feels and puts you in positions that not many guys are very good at.  For me personally he is one of the best assets in the room because he does a lot of things that the top contenders at my weight do and he makes me better in those positions.”

Dennis was back in Iowa City training with the Hawkeye Wrestling Club getting them ready for the 2015 U.S. Open in Las Vegas early last month. As a surprise to many fans, Dennis even wound up competing at the Open, taking fourth at 61 kg.

The Open provided a lot of dramatics across all weight classes, but no one can deny that the semifinals matchup between Ramos and Joe Colon was one of the must see battles. Back in college, Colon was able to pin Ramos in the Midlands finals, and that was sadly their only meeting on the year. Well over a year after their previous meeting, fans from both Iowa and UNI were licking their chops to see which wrestler would prevail this time around.

For Hawkeye fans, Ramos made them sweat it out, as the former Panther pounced to a 4-0 lead over Ramos, giving the Hawkeye a hole to dig out of. “He scored four points early and I knew there was a lot of time left in the match. Back in the midlands match when I wrestled him I remembered I could feel him fading in that match, I just didn’t extend the match long enough to start getting to him. I did a better job this time around and it showed.”

Whether by wearing Colon down or by sheer force of will, Ramos was able to answer with a four point score of his own, and then another two point score to win the match 6-4. The win set up a showdown with surprise finalist Andrew Hochstrasser. Once again Ramos found himself in a hole, this time the former Iowa wrestler was down 3-1 with 16 seconds left in the match. Though none of that mattered for the calm, cool, and collected Ramos.

Ramos takes on Andrew Hochstrasser - Tony Rotundo
Ramos takes on Andrew Hochstrasser – Tony Rotundo

“I was in on him multiple times in the match and got closer and closer to finishing.  If I would have panicked I would not have had time to think and wrestle. It was only one takedown that I needed in 16 or so seconds. I have seen crazier things happen in that short of time.”

With that win, Ramos has assured himself not only on the 2015 National Team, but he has also earned an automatic bye to the finals of the World Team Trials, awaiting whomever emerges from the challenge bracket.

“It’s a pretty good feeling knowing you’re already in the finals. Now, I will have longer time to recover from weigh ins and also won’t have to go through two or three opponents [in the challenge tourney]. I have to win two matches to be back on the World Team and wrestling for a world championship in Vegas.”

Whether or not the general public is ready to accept it, Tony Ramos has arrived and in one short year has gone from NCAA champ, to USA’s best, to one of the best in the World. Ramos will not be satisfied with just being the best wrestler in America, his goals are fixed solely on winning gold medals in 2015 and 2016. He has managed to beat every American to step across the mat from him, and he is slowly but surely building his International resume. One thing is for certain, the 57 kg weight class should have some great battles later this month.


By Ross Bartachek (@rossbchek)

Lead Editor of IA Wrestle

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