There will be tons of great college wrestling matches this week, featuring most of the top ranked wrestlers in the country. Unfortunately, most of them will occur at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, an individual tournament where the matchups will be dictated by the brackets and won’t be known in advance. Instead, I’m taking a look at one of the feature bouts of yet another Iowa Hawkeyes dual meet. This time it’s Jacob Warner, ranked #4 at 197 lbs, against Princeton’s #2 Pat Brucki (all rankings according to Flowrestling).
Analysis: Pat Brucki
The first word that comes to mind when describing Brucki is “solid”. To begin with, he’s one of the most muscular guys in college wrestling. Then there’s his meat-and-potatoes style of wrestling, based on methodical handfighting and high-percentage moves. Brucki usually works out of collar ties and pushes and pulls until he finds an opportunity. He usually gets to his shots by physically moving the opponent out of position to open up their legs, such as with arm drags, snapdowns, and underhooks.
Brucki has a powerful double leg, but he also scores a lot with single leg shots and go-behinds. He also does well in keeping opponents off of his legs, rarely allowing himself to get moved out of his stance. Nothing he does is especially impressive on its own, but his consistency makes him stand out.
On the mat, Brucki is fairly average. He can put in time in the top position, but doesn’t really win matches from there. He’s also pretty good at controlling hands and standing up on bottom; however, he has struggled with leg riders, and seems to lack either explosive burst or sense of urgency when trying to escape. As a result, he often loses time, and what should be a routine escape costs him thirty seconds of riding time.
Analysis: Jacob Warner
Warner is also a fundamentally sound wrestler who doesn’t give up easy points. He likes collar ties and wrist control, and mostly scores with single leg takedowns. He is quick and a good finisher on his takedowns, able to circle towards the leg before his opponent can fully sprawl and attack the head. This lets him avoid bearing the pressure of a 197-pounder and the protracted battles that can result from this position (picture of guy getting on a single leg). He’s also quick to circle after stopping an opponent’s shot, either scoring the go-behind or getting a nice angle to take a re-shot.
He is decent from the bottom position, though he seems to have a particular weakness for wrist control (getting tilted by Preston Weigel is excusable; getting tilted by Tanner Sloan, not so much). He doesn’t tend to break down or turn good wrestlers, but he can burn clock on top fairly effectively.
While Warner pressures forward aggressively like the prototypical Iowa wrestler, his takedowns tend to come from waiting for his opponents to step in and taking a low-level shot. Sometimes, his tie ups seem as much a distraction as a forceful start to an attack. He often seems to be hanging on to ties and using advantageous positions, such as underhooks and wrist control, as a way to limit his opponent’s options rather than a way to create his own offense.
Last week he was underwhelming in a decision over the winless Taylor Watkins of Wisconsin, and BTN broadcaster Jim Gibbons noted that Warner had “tunnel vision”. That is, he was focusing exclusively on getting to his preferred tie ups and neglecting to look for attacks once he got there. Brucki, by contrast, is very good at capitalizing on his advantages; when he finds himself with a front headlock or a deep underhook, he is quick to circle for a leg attack.
Looking back on what I’ve written, I’m a lot more negative than you might expect for descriptions of two of the top wrestlers in the nation. Part of this, I’m sure, is that I am a lighter athlete, and so I don’t fully appreciate the skills of upperweights. Another factor is that at the higher weight classes, it usually takes more time to develop both technically and physically from a good high school wrestler to a good college wrestler. As a result, each crop of All-Americans has fewer phenoms who have looked impressive from the jump, and more guys who had to grind through a couple seasons of mediocrity before progressing to the elite level (by which time I’ve already formed an opinion of them).
But the other part is that the 197 lb weight class is not very good this year. That doesn’t just mean it’s boring, or even that the wrestlers are incapable of executing the same techniques as wrestlers in other divisions. It means that the competitors who succeed there have a lower baseline of skill than those at other weights. Ohio State’s Kollin Moore is a very good leg attacker and a deserving #1; after that, nobody is all that special. Brucki has a pretty good skill set, but the variety of things he can do well is limited. I’m also not sure he’s there athletically, even compared to wrestlers at this weight in the past. Would Bo Nickal, or even Matt Wilps, ever have this happen?
Wrestlers who come to 197 from below seem to have more success, while those who leave the weight suddenly struggle. Iowa’s Cash Wilcke’s move down to 184 hasn’t helped him one bit; Penn State’s Shakur Rasheed was a top 197 but did not place last year a weight class down. Cornell’s Ben Darmstadt was an elite 197 as a freshman, but is now part of a large pack of good 184s with a ceiling of about 5th place. Going the other way, future MMA star Bo Nickal was more dominant at 197 than he had been at 184, and wrestlers like Minnesota’s Brett Pfarr shot up the podium once they went up in weight. This group of 197s has also had limited international success, with fewer age-level world medals than usual. The 197 lb weight class is similar to MMA’s upper weights, where either being decent at several things or really good at one thing is enough to gain a top-10 ranking. If you’re new to wrestling, just think of Brucki as the college wrestling version of Jan Blachowicz.
Regarding the match itself, I lean toward Brucki in a close match. Brucki is unlikely to leave his legs open, and Warner isn’t good enough at forcing his opponent out of their stance to create those openings. Brucki’s strength advantage will give him an easier time setting up sots, and I think he can capitalize on any mistakes Warner makes. The Hawkeye grappler does have an edge in athleticism, and he could come out on top in scrambles and unfamiliar positions. However, Brucki is good at avoiding such situations, and a straight-ahead match will favor him.
Princeton audaciously scheduled a dual at Oklahoma State two days before this one, and so they will have to travel thousands of miles back to New Jersey and make weight in short order. By all accounts, though, Brucki is very disciplined with his lifestyle and weight management, so I don’t think that will give him any trouble. Brucki also has a great gas tank, and holds up well in close matches. My line here is Brucki -180/Warner +150.