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All-American Tony Ramos of Iowa driven to be the best

Iowa’s Tony Ramos celebrates after recording a fall to finish third at the 2012 NCAA Championships.

Tony Ramos had no idea it was coming.

The Iowa junior walked into weigh-ins before last Friday’s Big Ten home dual meet with Ohio State and couldn’t believe his eyes.

Logan Stieber wasn’t there.

The top-ranked Stieber, the returning NCAA champion who beat Ramos three times last season, wasn’t wrestling. Stieber had to miss the dual with a leg injury, preventing the much-anticipated rematch with the second-ranked Ramos.

“It was real disappointing,” Ramos said. “You are getting ready mentally and physically for that match, and you’ve been waiting for it since March. I felt like my heart was ripped out when I went to weigh-ins and he wasn’t there. I was definitely looking forward to wrestling him. I wanted the opportunity to right the wrongs from last season.”

Ramos, a junior, is coming off a superb sophomore season where he finished 33-4 and placed third in the NCAA tournament at 133 pounds. Stieber beat Ramos 5-2 in the 2012 Big Ten finals before defeating him 4-2 in the NCAA semifinals.

Ramos took out his frustrations in posting a 30-14 technical fall over Buckeye backup Kyle Visconti.

Ramos has another big match coming up when the No. 4 Hawkeyes battle No. 2 Oklahoma State on Sunday in Stillwater. He will face No. 5 Jon Morrison. Ramos and Morrison are both Illinois natives.

Oklahoma State and Iowa have combined to win 57 NCAA team titles. The Cowboys are No. 1 with 34 titles and Iowa has won 23.

“We’re excited about going down to Stillwater to wrestle them,” Ramos said. “We need to improve the results we’ve had against them in the past couple of years. We need to put more points on the board and score bonus points when we can. We have to wrestle tough in every position.”

Ramos is off to an unbeaten start this season. He is 12-0.

Ramos is a prime example of a guy who wrestles the relentless, attacking style that has become a Hawkeye trademark.

“Tony Ramos is a competitor and a team player,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said prior to the season. “He's all in, and we like that leadership. No question about it with him. You know where he stands. His wardrobe is black and gold all the way through.”

Ramos won three Illinois state titles for powerhouse program Glenbard North before signing with Iowa.

He went 12-0 in open tournaments during his redshirt season with the Hawkeyes. He followed by going 25-6 as a freshman. He finished one win shy of All-American honors at the 2011 NCAAs in Philadelphia.

Ramos then came back strong as a sophomore. Among his wins was a victory over 2011 NCAA champion Jordan Oliver of Oklahoma State in a home dual meet. He then finished third at the 2012 NCAAs in St. Louis.

“I accomplished one of my goals by being an All-American, but it is not where you want to finish,” he said. “You want to be No. 1 and you want to be on top. That’s what I train for, to be the best. That’s the mentality you need to have.”

Ramos is part of a veteran Hawkeye team that is led by two-time NCAA champion Matt McDonough at 125. Big Ten Conference rival Penn State has won the last two NCAA titles and is ranked No. 1 again this season.

“We need guys who are going to be tough in every situation, not just in matches but in practice,” Ramos said. “You have to constantly grind and push yourself and do the right things. When we get to the national tournament, we need to be able to go hard and overcome the obstacles that you face. We need to score a lot of bonus points in the early rounds to keep up with Penn State. And we need to get guys in the finals and win some titles.”

Ramos is a top freestyle prospect who placed fifth at the 2009 Junior World Championships.

“I like freestyle a lot – I want to wrestle in the U.S. Open and the World Team Trials this year,” he said. “Freestyle is definitely something I want to pursue. I’m excited to see what I can do. I think I can wrestle with the best guys in the U.S. and in the World. I’m looking forward to it.”

For now, Ramos is taking aim at winning his first national title in college.

“I have a lot of areas I need to work on and improve in,” he said. “I need to take guys down and then wear them down by riding them. I am working on getting out from the bottom position. The best guy at my weight is good on top – he rode me for several minutes the first two times we wrestled last year. I have to overcome that.”

The 5-foot-4 Ramos has thrived despite not being one of the bigger competitors in the 133 division.

“Wrestling 133, I like it there a lot,” he said. “I’m not cutting a lot of weight, and I feel strong all week long when I work out. I feel real strong when I go into my matches. It’s huge to have your weight under control. I can just focus on training and wrestling at a high level.”

Ramos said the Iowa program has provided the perfect fit for his style of wrestling.

“I love the mentality of our coaches,” he said. “They are never satisfied. Even if you tech or pin somebody, there is always something to work on. The way they think gets me going and gives me motivation. I am always looking at where I can get better and our coaches help me with everything. A lot of it is your mentality. It is a fight when you step on the mat and you have to be tough.”

That fight likely will include more battles with Stieber when Iowa and Ohio State meet again at the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments in March.

“I just haven’t put it all together against him,” Ramos said. “I just have to keep getting better. I want to be the best.”
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