With all of the buzz recently being about Gable Steveson winning an Olympic gold medal at 125kg ending a 29 year drought of a freestyle gold at that weight now seems like a better time than ever to make this list.
In this we will be looking at some of the best 125kg wrestlers to ever represent this country and what made them so special. Mainly going off recent guys in this list so not really going to touch on anyone before the 1980’s.
Nick Gwiazdowski (Still Competing)
#5 Stephen Neal
Stephen Neal is really more known for being a multiple time superbowl champion with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots to most people. Before all of this Stephen Neal was one of the most dominant 125kg wrestlers this country has ever seen winning 2 national titles for Cal State Bakersfield and one of them being over now WWE legend Brock Lesnar it’s safe to say that Neal’s college career was insane at the least.
Stephen Neal on the senior level found himself in possibly the greatest American heavyweight rivalry of all time with Kerry McCoy and those matches were nothing short of phenomenal. McCoy was somewhat the limiting factor in his career as he was never really able to get past him but even with this road block in his path he was able to win a world title in 1999.
Of course there will always be the “what if” of Stephen Neal’s wrestling career and what if he stayed, even with his career coming to a premature end he has 100% solidified himself as a USA legend.
One of the statements that was made by Neal years later was that as he was presented with the opportunity to play in the NFL he had a real talk with himself and essentially said that the USA was in good hands with Kerry McCoy either way and he could take this chance of a lifetime.
Either way this is why Stephen Neal falls in at number 5 on this list
#4 Kerry McCoy
Kerry McCoy is one of the greatest collegiate wrestlers of all time and the new athletic feel he brought to the weight class dominated by bigger and stronger guys was something that people had not seen before. McCoy was the first ever heavyweight wrestler in college to win the Dan Hodge trophy which is an incredible feat itself but he was dominant beyond belief winning 2 national titles and most famously the 1997 title over Stephen Neal starting this rivalry.
On the senior level he did not disappoint making 2 olympic teams and pretty much being the man to take over after the USA took a big hit after Bruce Baumgartners retirement. He was never able to get on the podium at the olympics but he was very close. This was at a weird time at heavyweight when newers guys were coming onto the international scene most notably Uzbekistan legend Artur Taymazov who would go on to win 3 olympic golds and a silver.
McCoy won a silver medal at the world championships in 2003 falling to only Taymazov. As a 9 time world and olympic team member McCoy by far deserves this number 4 spot on the list.
#3 Tervel Dlagnev
Probably the best wrestler to come out of the d2 ranks ever. Tervel Dlagnev wrestled his collegiate career at Nebraska Kearney where he pretty much dominated everyone to no surprise. He is on this list because of his senior level accomplishments however not his collegiate ones.
Dlagnev pulled one of the biggest upsets in USA wrestling history when he knocked off soon to be 3x olympic champion Artur Taymazov at the 2011 world championships. Throughout his senior level wrestling career Dlagnev won 2 bronze medals at the world championships along with an Olympic bronze medal in 2012 after champ Artur Taymazov was stripped due to his doping violations.
Dlagnev had a lot of impact to the Nebraska program as he is coaching there and it can be seen with how well that program is becoming especially with the improvement that heavyweight Christian Lance has made in the few years he has been at the school.
Overall Tervel Dlagnev was a staple at the heavyweight weight class during his time as the man for the USA. There were guys that could contend with him but nobody was really able to make the breakthrough to defeat him. His Olympic bronze medal and two world medals is what earns him the number three spot on this list.
#2 Gable Steveson
No surprise that Gable Steveson has made this list. At only 21 years old he has changed the outlook of the heavyweight class at the college level forever. He currently has a 100% bonus rate so far this season already defeating last year’s national finalist Mason Parris by major decision 18-8. If he continues this trend he will have completed the single most dominant wrestling season of all time.
His time on the international scene was very short, but man did he make the best of it. He won a pan am title as most expected but after that came probably one of the craziest runs in olympic history.
He won his first match as expected with a quick technical fall, but then came reigning olympic champion Taha Akgul.. This would be the pivotal match that would decide Steveson’s fate and wow did he impress taking out the champ 8-0.
His finals match against Geno Petriashvili will be talked about for years to come. Steveson looked to be in control with a comfortable lead until adversity struck. Petriashvili secured a single leg takedown and was able to secure two gut wrenches putting him in a 3 point lead. Steveson was able to secure two takedowns in under 15 seconds and the final one with under a second left to pull what will most likely go down as the greatest comeback in Olympic wrestling history.
His college career is pretty much whatever when looking at this list but his short dominant run on the senior level is what secures him the number two spot on this list.
#1 Bruce Baumgartner
To have Bruce at anywhere besides #1 on this list would just be disrespectful to the legacy that he has created which changed the landscape of not just American wrestling but wrestling as a whole. With his 15 straight world and olympic teams he had a stranglehold on the heavyweight weight class for the USA.
If you are not familiar with who Bruce Baumgartner is for one reason or another let us just quickly run through what he has done on the world and olympic stage. 2x Olympic Champion, Olympic silver medalist, Olympic bronze medalist, 3x World Champion, 3x World silver medalist, 3x World bronze medalist. He has won more medals than any wrestler in American history and he will go down in most people’s book as the 2nd greatest freestyle heavyweight to ever walk the face of the earth only behind the legendary Aleksandr Medved.
Bruce was decades ahead of the world in terms of his style of wrestling. People had never seen things like this done by any upperweights at this point in time. With guys like Arsen Fadzaev running the table in the lightweights, Bruce was doing the exact same thing in the upper weights.
What separates him from a lot of guys on the international level was his longevity which is something that is vastly underrated and a lot of great wrestlers have had their careers cut short due to their bodies burning out soon into their career. Bruce doing this for as long as he did solidifies him as the best heavyweight in USA history itself, when you tack his medals onto that it is just crazy.
Personally I would say Bruce is the greatest American wrestler of all time but that is an argument for another day, but it is safe to say that Bruce should be at the top of this list.