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'Biggest Loser' winner Matt Hoover returns to mat, wins first national title by capturing Veterans crown



LAS VEGAS - The Biggest Loser appears to be going out as the Biggest Winner.

Matt Hoover - the former Iowa Hawkeye wrestler who earned nationwide acclaim by losing more than 150 pounds to win the second season of the popular NBC show "The Biggest Loser" - returned to the mat Thursday for the first time in 10 years.

And as anyone who watched Hoover's inspiring journey on television knows, he doesn't like to lose. And he is not a guy who gives up easily.

That was evident at the pre-U.S. Nationals event when Hoover erased a five-point deficit in the final 20 seconds of the second period en route to pulling out an improbable 0-2, 7-5, 3-0 win over Carlos Dolmo. That gave the 31-year-old Hoover the Veterans national freestyle championship at 130 kg/286.5 lbs.

Dolmo is a past U.S. Beach World Team member who also competed at the 2006 Sombo World Championships.

Hoover said his appearance on "The Biggest Loser" was one of the main reasons he decided to compete again. He said this likely will be his last competition, but the Belle Plaine, Iowa, native hopes to stay involved with the sport as a coach.

It was the first time Hoover had wrestled since his final collegiate season at the University of Iowa in 1997.

"When I gained all that weight, I was ashamed of what I had done to myself," Hoover said. "Wrestlers are disciplined, they're hard-working and they expect excellence, and I let that go when I gained all that weight. When I went on the TV show and realized I could still wrestle, I decided to give it another shot and see what happens. I always loved wrestling and always wanted to come back to the sport. That's why I am here.

"I'm hoping to stay involved with the sport and do some coaching. I wrestled for a great high school coach in Al Billings and then went on to wrestle for the greatest coach in the world in Dan Gable. I've been around great coaches and that's something I would love to do."

Hoover said he weighed more than 350 pounds just before he started his emotional, driven quest on "The Biggest Loser," where he won the competition after dropping all the way down to 182 pounds. He earned $250,000 for his win on the show. He also appeared in People magazine, in addition to a number of other national publications and national TV shows.

Hoover said his weight already was back over 200 the day after taping for the last TV show ended. He weighed in at around 250 for Thursday's competition.

"I used some old wrestling tricks to lose water weight at the end and get down to 182," Hoover said. "That's why I jumped right back up to over 200 the next day."

The title Hoover won on Thursday went largely unnoticed on Mat 5, as a handful of onlookers watched on a mat tucked in a corner of one of the halls at the massive Las Vegas Convention Center.

Dolmo came out aggressively against Hoover with a number of leg attacks and controlled the first period by winning comfortably 2-0 with a pair of takedowns. Dolmo was on the verge of closing out the match after building a 5-0 lead in the second period. But Hoover dug down and pulled out a 7-5 win in the period, turning Dolmo three straight times in the closing seconds to force a deciding third period.

Hoover then took control in the third period as a weary Dolmo, who injured his knee during the match, was unable to regain the momentum. Hoover won the period 3-0.

"As you saw, I obviously was very rusty out there from not competing for so long," Hoover said. "It was nice to be able to come back in that match after falling behind. It feels great to be wrestling and it feels great to be in the community of wrestling again."

Hoover, who now lives in Des Moines, Wash., has been in demand as a motivational speaker after his win on "The Biggest Loser." He competed for the Vision Quest Wrestling Club on Saturday. He said he trained at that club, located in Auburn, Wash., in preparation for this event.

So what message does Hoover convey when he speaks?

"The biggest thing I tell people is that, one, you have to want to make changes in your life and, two, then you have to execute it," he said. "You can set goals and dream all you want, but unless you do something every day to prepare for it you're not really doing anything. You have to stop feeling sorry for yourself. I picked myself up and made some changes and that's why I am now able to do things like compete in this tournament."

Hoover said he and his wife, Suzy - who was a finalist on "The Biggest Loser" and who he met on the show - are expecting a baby boy in July. Hoover proposed to his wife on NBC's Today show.

"We're going to have our own little wrestler," Hoover said with a smile.

Hoover said being on the road a lot as a speaker has contributed to some of the weight he has put back on.

"I do a lot of motivational speaking, so I've been on the road for almost four weeks straight and I wasn't able to train for this as much as I would have liked to," Hoover said. "I came into this without having my conditioning and endurance up, but luckily I made it through with what I had left in the tank."

Hoover said he isn't done losing weight. He may not compete again, but he wants to drop his weight back down somewhere close to the 96 kilo weight class used in international style. That translates to 211.5 pounds.

"I'm pretty heavy right now and my weight's a little higher than it should be," Hoover said. "But I think I can get it back down to where I want it to be."

Hoover competed in numerous USA Wrestling events growing up. He was a three-time Junior Nationals All-American and made a U.S. Junior World Team.

"Being here and being involved with USA Wrestling again is more exciting for me than being on the TV show or being in People magazine," Hoover said.

Hoover said he had finished as high as second at Junior Nationals, but had never won a USA Wrestling event.

That is until Thursday.

"I finally got my national title," Hoover said with a laugh. "I'm so glad I got an opportunity to put the shoes on and wrestle again. After the TV show, one of the things I said I wanted to do was go out and compete one last time. I'm so glad I did."
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