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The All-Time ILLINI Bracket

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  • The All-Time ILLINI Bracket

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    Who is the greatest ILLINI wrestler in the modern era? In a bracket filled with only former ILLINI All Americans, who would finish in the top eight? Pound-for-pound, does Jesse Delgado have a chance against heavyweight Jon Llewellyn? What about Tirapelle versus Tirapelle? I am going to prepare a 33-wrestler bracket of former ILLINI taken from this list:

    Jon Llewellyn HWT 1991 Champion, 1989 & 1990 3rd
    Steve Marianetti 150 1995 Champion, 1993 4th, 1994 5th
    Ernest Benion 158 1995 Champion, 1996 2nd, 1997 3rd
    Eric Siebert 150 1998 Champion, 1997 5th
    Carl Perry 141 2000 Champion, 1998 7th
    Adam Tirapelle 149 2001 Champion, 2000 2nd, 1999 3rd
    John Lockhart HWT 2001 Champion, 2002 3rd, 2000 7th
    Matt Lackey 165 2003 Champion, 2002 2nd, 2001 3rd
    Jesse Delgado 125 2013-14 Champion, 2012 7th
    Isaiah Martinez 157 2015-16 Champion, 2017-2018 2nd
    Lindsey Durlacher 118 1997 2nd, 1996 4th
    Pat Quirk 197 2001 2nd, 2000 8th
    Alex Tirapelle 157 2003 2nd, 2004 4th
    Kyle Ott 125 2004 2nd, 2005 2nd
    Mike Poeta 157 2008 2nd, 2009 2nd, 2007 3rd
    Karl Roesler HWT 1999 3rd, 1998 7th
    Brian Glynn 184 2005 3rd, 2004 6th
    Pete Friedl 184 2006 3rd, 2005 4th, 2004 7th
    Emery Parker 184 2018 3rd, 2019 5th
    Jimmy Kennedy 133 2008 4th, 2009 5th, 2011 5th
    Jordan Blanton 174 2012 4th, 2010 5th, 2013 7th
    Jackson Morse 165 2015 4th
    Zane Richards 133 2016 4th, 2017 7th
    John Dergo 184 2010 5th
    Conrad Polz 165 2013 5th, 2012 8th
    Steven Rodrigues 165 2016 5th
    Jevon Herman 177 1998 6th
    B.J. Futrell 133 2012 6th, 2011 8th
    Zac Brunson 174 2017 6th
    Mark Jayne 133 2004 7th, 2005 7th
    Cassio Pero 141 2005 7th
    John Wise HWT 2009 7th
    Griff Powell 157 2002 8th

    I'll send the list to non-troll board posters and ask them to seed the bracket. They will be the Official Seeding Committee. Also, I'm going to ask them to rank their "favorites." Their favorites don't have to be the wrestlers with the best records. Maybe you were a big fan of John "Orange Hulk" Wise, and he was your favorite ILLINI All American. He would be your #1 seed in that bracket. Or, maybe you liked the funk of Pete Friedl, or perhaps the technical expertise of the Flying Tirapelle Brothers. You could be in deep awe of the contributions of Griff Powell on and off the mat.

    It's up to you, the Seeding Committee.

    So, what we're looking for are two brackets: Who's #1 on the mat, and who's #1 in your heart. They don't have to be the same. My two lists will be completely different. What about yours?



    Observations from the List

    If you plan on being an NCAA Champion, you better also plan on earning All-American honors at least one other time. Every ILLINI NCAA Champion placed All American at least one other time. The NCAA Champions averaged 2.9 All-American honors. IMAR kinda screwed the curve for everybody, but there were a bunch of three-timers as well.

    Those whose highest place was second in the national tournament also had at least one other AA. Mike Poeta was the only one to have three AA honors, which is kind of weird. Of the wrestlers who finished as high as fourth, two of them were three-time All Americans: Jimmy Kennedy and Jordan Blanton.



    The Weirdest Observation of All

    There is a huge gap in time between ILLINI champions and All Americans from the old days to the modern era. For example, when Jon Llewellyn won his NCAA Championship in 1991, that broke a Champion-less streak of 33 years! When Ernest Benion finished in second in 1996, that was the first runner-up placement in 41 years! There was a three-decade period during which ILLINOIS was the Indiana of the Big Ten.

    Corrections Note

    If you see an error in anything above, please let me know. Thank you!
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  • #2
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    We have our first response from a Seeding Committee Member. Nelson was gracious enough to allow me to cite him personally, but Seeding Committee Members can remain anonymous with their picks. I have set out his list of the All-Americans of the All-Americans!


    Nelson's picks highlight how strong the ILLINI have been in the middle weights. Let's start the quarter-finals with IMAR versus Poeta! Then, a couple of matches later, why not Tirapelle versus Marianetti! Wow! Throw in Matt Lackey and Ernest Benion, and you have an All-Star lineup of middleweight wrestlers.

    I wanted to highlight some of these guys, and Nelson picked as his number six seed a heavyweight by the name of Jon Llewellyn. He has a very intriguing story:


    Do you recognize the guy who finished second?

    60-19 in high school and never placing in the ILLINOIS State Championships, this ILLINI great will be remembered for his rivalries and his three top three placements at the Big Dance. Great champions are remembered for their rivalries. IMAR had Nolf, Poeta had Burroughs, Marianetti had Hawkeye Nation, Delgado had Garrett and McDonough. Jon Llewellyn won third at the NCAA Championships twice, with his only loss one of those times against 6xer Carleton Haselrig. The year that he won his NCAA Gold Medal, the ILLINI faced none other than Kurt Angle in the finals. That is Angle in the photograph above, one step below ILLINI great Jon Llewellyn.

    Here’s a short video of that Championship match. You’ll see the most amazing double-leg takedown that goes from one side of the mat all the way to the other. It's at 1:07 of the video, and it is more vicious than Jordan Burroughs in his prime, except that Llewellyn was a very big man, and Kurt Angle was exceptionally quick for a heavyweight.

    GOILLINI!!!

    Comment


    • #3
      1.) Imar
      2.) POETA ( Best Illini to never win it all)
      3.) Lackey
      4.) Lewellyn
      5.) Tirapelle
      5.) Lockhart
      7.) Benion
      8.) Marianetti

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by ol' man river View Post
        1.) Imar
        2.) POETA ( Best Illini to never win it all)
        3.) Lackey
        4.) Lewellyn
        5.) Tirapelle
        5.) Lockhart
        7.) Benion
        8.) Marianetti
        We all love Poeta, but how can you possibly have him over guys who actually HAVE won and completely leave off Delgado?
        www.facebook.com/SouthSideOutlawsWC
        Family Over Everything

        Comment


        • #5
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          IMAR is number one, of course, and he’s gonna be at the top or very near the top of my favorite wrestlers to watch. Probably at the top. Yeah, at the top there too. Delgado gets my number two seed because of his two championships and three All-American honors. If not for a shoulder injury, he was a sure-fire four-time All American—very rare—and very likely a three-time champion.

          Adam Tirapelle is an easy choice for number three. He gets high marks from me for being a gentleman warrior. He gave a speech to my son’s wrestling club at our year-end banquet at a time when he was cutting, so he had to watch us eat, drink from his glass of cold water, and then inspire the next generation!

          The hardest decision was between Ernest Benion and Matt Lackey. They could be flipped. I give Benion (and Marianetti) massive credit for being team leaders at a time when the ILLINI moved out of the basement of the Big Ten to become a national power. Lackey had that glorious footsweep, though! Tough call.

          Jon Llewellyn is an easy choice for number six, even though he was a National Champion and two-time third-place finisher. Steve Marianetti may have been the greatest wrestler to wear an ILLINI singlet for seven minutes on March 18, 1995. I could buy that. Yes, I could.

          So, I cheated and put John Lockhart and Mike Poeta as eight seeds. I guess, in my mind, they have a pigtail match that must be wrestled. Like Delgado, I think Poeta would’ve been that rare four-year All American but for circumstances beyond his control. In his case, he wrestled up a weight at 165 to help out the team. He gets mucho credit for that, taking one for the team. Lockhart is a National Champ, a Doctor of Medicine healing children, a multi-year AA and a Mahomet homie. Nuff said!

          Looking back, I want to put Kyle Ott in a three-man pigtail round robin at the #8 seed because who knows what he could've accomplished without the daily knee surgeries.



          Jesse Delgado will be very high on my list of favorite wrestlers to watch. A lot of fans claim that they did not like his style, but I think it was more the case that they didn’t like scoreboard. The ILLINI treated his opponent like the alien in Alien treated the ventilation system of a spaceship, popping in and out from behind legs at any crazy second.

          There was at least one time when he was on the ground in a scramble for 20 or 30 seconds and then suddenly popped his head out and looked around like a groundhog.

          I used to be flummoxed by his takedown technique and his slow single leg attempts. Then, I realized that he was like an MMA grappler who invites his opponent into his Guard. Welcome to my Kingdom!

          Jesse Delgado and Jeremy Hunter tweaked a system of wrestling that you can now see in youtube videos called “The Jesse Delgado Funk Roll Study.” My favorite match involving the ILLINI legend wasn’t his two NCAA Championships. I was much too nervous to enjoy them, although I do like to rewatch them quite a bit! My favorite match is the dual against Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena when Delgado beat pre-injury Matt McDonough twice, once in regulation, then again in sudden victory.

          Delgado went 3, 3, 1, 4 in the California State Championships. His last year, a young man by the name of Isaiah Martinez beat him in the third-place match. That fact still blows my mind!

          GOILLINI!!!

          Comment


          • #6
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            Since Crystal Clearly provided some commentary with his rankings of the best ILLINI, I am going to include his entire list here. I agree with him: There are some tough calls to make. They were all great.

            1) Isaiah Martinez - 4 time finalist, '15 & '16 champ, '17 & '18 2nd - cannot argue
            2) Jesse Delgado - 3 AA - '13 & '14 champ, '12 7th
            3) Adam Tirapelle - 3 AA - '01 champ, '00 2nd, '99 3rd
            4) Matt Lackey - 3 AA - '03 Champ, '02 2nd, '01 3rd
            5) Ernest Benion - 3 AA - '95 Champ, '96 2nd, '97 3rd
            6) Jon Llewellyn - 3 AA - '91 Champ, '89 & '90 3rd
            7) Mike Poeta - 3 AA, 2 time finalist - '08 & '09 2nd, '07 3rd
            - hard not to put him at #6, but no champs was the decider.
            8) Steve Marianetti - 3 AA - '95 Champ, '93 4th, '94 5th
            9) John Lockhart - 3 AA - '01 Champ, '02 3rd, '00 7th
            10) Kyle Ott - 2 time finalist - '04 2nd, '05 2nd - hard not to put him higher.
            11) Alex Tirapelle - '03 2nd, '04 4th
            12) Eric Siebert - '98 Champ, '97 5th
            13) Pete Friedl - 3 AA - '06 3rd, '05 4th, '04 7th
            - wanted to put him higher, with 3 AA, but never making the finals made it hard to.
            14) Lindsey Durlacher - '97 2nd, '96 4th
            15) Carl Perry - '00 Champ, '98 7th
            16) Pat Quirk - '01 2nd, '00 8th
            17) Jimmy Kennedy - 3 AA - '08 4th, '09 5th, '11 5th
            18) Jordan Blanton - 3 AA - '12 4th, '10 5th, '13 7th
            19) Emery Parker - '18 3rd, '19 5th
            20) Zane Richards - '16 4th, '17 7th
            21) Brian Glynn - '05 3rd, '04 6th
            22) Karl Roesler - '99 3rd, '98 7th
            23) Conrad Polz - '13 5th, '12 8th
            24) Mark Jayne - '04 7th, '05 7th
            25) B.J. Futrell - '12 6th, '11 8th
            26) Jackson Morse - '15 4th
            27) John Dergo - '10 5th
            28) Steven Rodrigues - '16 5th
            29) Jevon Herman - '98 6th
            30) Zac Brunson - '17 6th
            31) Cassio Pero - '05 7th
            32) John Wise - '09 7th
            33) Griff Powell - '02 8th
            ILLINI LEGENDS

            When Hawkeye wrestlers point flashlights at their faces around the campfire, they tell the story of Steve Marianetti. 120 career wins, 44 wins in one season alone, the stuff of nightmares for Iowa grapplers. But the scary monster from Glenbrook North came from pretty humble beginnings. Marianetti placed second in the IHSA State Championships and finished his freshman year at ILLINOIS with a 13-9 record. He would become an All American the next three years, though, culminating in seven minutes of glory on Saturday, March 18, 1995 in front of a sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena.


            Was this the best match ever wrestled by an ILLINI? That’s my opinion. He ended a 57-match winning streak, kept a wrestler from becoming a four-time NCAA Champion, and he did it convincingly in front of 15,000 screaming crazy people who thought he was a monster.


            They were right. That day he was a Monster.

            GOILLINI!!!

            Comment


            • #7
              I would be tempted to put Matt Lackey above IMar. Went out on on top, and looked dominant doing it. IMar may have had the bad luck of 1 buzz saw in his way.
              There are two guys in that zebra costume! Very funny...

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by onyourtoes View Post
                We all love Poeta, but how can you possibly have him over guys who actually HAVE won and completely leave off Delgado?
                the topic is greatest wrestler...not who won more titles, not winningest wrestler. greatest wrestler. my perspective is from one of technical competence and the competition they faced. Not impressed with Delgado, plain and simple. by todays criteria he would have lost quite a few matches due to being in danger and near fall now awarded for that. since you have a problem with my selections, why don't you list yours?

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Blonjuan44 View Post
                  I would be tempted to put Matt Lackey above IMar. Went out on on top, and looked dominant doing it. IMar may have had the bad luck of 1 buzz saw in his way.
                  I was tempted in a lot of ways, with a lot of my picks.
                  Except IMar.
                  He ran into a buzzsaw, and an inside trip (twice), but it's harder still to argue with anyone who made the finals 4 times, winning 2.

                  Illinois first, and only: 4-time B1G champ (only 16th overall), 4-time NCAA All American and 4-time NCAA Finalist. (Iowa has "only" had 3 4-time finalists, 0 4-time champs)

                  The Big Ten's other 4-time finalists - (titles):Bo Nickal - PSU (3), Jason Nolf - PSU (3), Kyle Snyder - OSU (3), Logan Stieber - OSU (4), David Taylor - PSU (2), Steve Mocco (2) - 1 Iowa, 1 Ok St., Lincoln McIlravy - IA (3), Duane Goldman - IA (1), Ed Banach - IA (3), Lee Kemp - UW (3), Pat Milkovich - MSU (2)
                  Mark Hall and Vincenzo Joseph (who, ironically, could have been in the same situation as IMAR) probably would have been also...
                  There has only been a couple handfuls of 3-time NCAA champs from the Big Ten.

                  If he had been to the finals 4 times, winning his last 2, rather than his first 2 would that legitimize his career?

                  I'm not trying to be argumentative. Seriously.
                  Hell, I was pissed when he got caught, again.
                  Ask Mark Perry, Andrew Howe, Jake Herbert, Ed Ruth or Jim Zalesky if it is a remarkable accomplishment to even make it to 4 finals much less win 4. Hell, ask Cael Sanderson.

                  Not trying to be negative, just explaining my position.

                  Comment


                  • #10
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                    Hope this is right. Did I get the wrestlers in your preferred order, Jay? Carl Perry makes his first appearance on the list. Besides his National Championship and another All-American finish, he was a very influential coach for the ILLINI. These are Jay's top eight "favorites":

                    Top 8 favorite

                    7. Ernest Benion 158 1995 Champion, 1996 2nd,
                    8. Jesse Delgado 125 2013-14 Champion, 2012 7th
                    1. Isaiah Martinez 157 2015-16 Champion, 2017-2018 2nd
                    5. Mike Poeta 157 2008 2nd, 2009 2nd,
                    2. Emery Parker 184 2018 3rd
                    3. Zane Richards 133 2016 4th, 2017 7th
                    6. Steven Rodrigues 165 2016 5th
                    4. Zac Brunson 174 2017
                    I still haven't made up my favorites list. That's gonna be hard. Note that jay31 has three ILLINI on both of his top eight lists. One of them was an early pioneer and the first African-American National Champion for ILLINOIS. He is also our next ...

                    ILLINI LEGEND

                    If you’re looking for a Poet-Warrior, let me tell you about Ernest Benion. He was an NCAA Champion as a seven seed, a runner up as a six seed, and he also finished third. To finish third, he had to beat Eastern ILLINOIS and MMA legend Matt Hughes. He’s been quoted as saying, “College life is a paradox…. It is a time of great learning and unlearning.”

                    You earn your Poet Laureate with **** like that! His warrior status is assured because he has his own Ernest Benion baseball card, which is actually a wrestling card—I did not photoshop this:


                    The Jesse Whitmer card, same grade, goes for $41.65 on that website. The Mike Mena card is a steal at $35.04. We can talk about Benion’s NCAA Championship, three All-American honors, or his ILLINOIS State Championship match at 140 pounds against ILLINI legend Eric Siebert, but that would mean ignoring the elephant in the room. In 1996, Benion wrestled in what even the NCAA believes was one of the top eight championship finals of all time. His opponent was Joe Williams, another ILLINOIS schoolboy. With the match tied at eight, and Benion riding hard, Williams managed the escape with seconds left to win. I hate stupid Iowa, but we can’t ignore a classic.


                    Does Joe Williams have a grip on Ernest Benion's singlet? I think we found the tying point!

                    .

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Chief, Adam Tirapelle was inducted into the Illini hall of fame today. Does he move up in your bracket?

                      https://twitter.com/illiniathletics/...549342210?s=21

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by ElSanto View Post
                        Chief, Adam Tirapelle was inducted into the Illini hall of fame today. Does he move up in your bracket?

                        https://twitter.com/illiniathletics/...549342210?s=21
                        Cool! I looked at that class of inductees, and they're all first-ballot good (except I don't know anything about the track and volleyball athletes).

                        I have him at #3 on my best all-time ILLINI. Can't go higher than that without bumping a two-time champ. Given his leadership and ambassadorship, he will be very high on my "favorite" ILLINI list as well.

                        On another note, please forgive me for not sending you a ballot to make your picks as an Official Seeder. That was a grievous error on my part. Your ballot is on the way! If I've missed others, please let me know with a private message.

                        GO ILLINI & ADAM TIRAPELLE!!!

                        Comment


                        • #13
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                          Recency Bias

                          There is a generally recognized bias among sports fans to appreciate the athletes who have most recently competed. I have to say that I am as guilty as anybody. There are no Benions, Sieberts or Llewellyns on my list of top eight favorites. I’m sure they would be there if I had seen more of their matches.

                          The List

                          When talking about favorites to watch as an ILLINI fan, I have to start off with IMAR. He was a scoring machine and an exciting wrestler. He has always been a warrior. You love his character. You love his skill. You love his toughness. An underrated factor is the “tension factor” with a wrestler like IMAR on your team. In dual meets and the first three rounds of any tournament, just pencil in IMAR as the winner. No stress.

                          Mikey Poeta is number two on my list because he wrestled in one of my top two dual matches of all time against Ryan Churella at Huff Hall. Mostly, though, it was his wrestling was poetry. Kind of a smash-mouth poetry slam, but still poetry. Never saw him as anybody but a gentleman as well.

                          Brian Glynn was a favorite of mine because he was a big guy who would shoot for a low single and start on his belly or his knees and slowly work up—all strength and willpower—until he had secured a takedown. You just don’t see that from guys in the upper weights very often. He represented the “want to” in ILLINI upper weights for me. The next guy represented it in the lower weights.

                          Jesse Delgado is one of my favorites because he wrestled in one of the top three ILLINI duals when he took on Matt McDonough in Carver-Hawkeye. I also loved to watch the intricate-chained movements of his style. It really inflamed the imagination. Plus, Delgado was all heart. One-hundred-and-twenty-some pounds of heart.

                          I’ve said it many times that if you hit a leg sweep in a match and score off of it, you’ve got a special place in my heart. Matt Lackey hit a foot sweep in the National Finals to win a National Championship.

                          There was another big guy who broke the mold in Pete Friedl. He was funky and limber, wore pajamas to warm ups and was just always, always fun to watch. I love it when big guys do little guy things.

                          Steve Marianetti is one exception to my recency bias. I didn’t see many of his matches, but holy ******** ****! When you are served lobster bisque from Emeril Lagasse at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, you don’t need to see the rest of the menu.

                          I was going to put the Tirapelles on the list. They deserve it. Ran out of seed lines.

                          There once was an ILLINI team that had two 125 pounders on the roster at the same time who were lightning quick, hard-nosed and National Finals caliber guys. If I could be transported back in time for a match, it might very well be the finals of 125 at the Missouri Open in 2002. That was Twan Pham versus Kyle Ott. Pham would later beat “The East Lansing Strangler” Nick Simmons in one of my top two favorite dual matches at Huff Hall. Ott would beat MSU’s Simmons in the semifinals to reach his second NCAA Finals.

                          Which leads us to the next ILLINI legend.

                          ILLINI LEGEND

                          Between Kyle Ott and Twan Pham, there were at least fifteen knee surgeries while they wrestled. Pham had at least three, Ott had twelve. That blows my mind. If that wasn’t enough, they had to battle each other just to make the starting lineup!

                          Pham was an NCAA qualifier with 28 wins that year, while Ott became a two-time National Finalist. Both were known for their quickness, and I may have never seen a quicker wrestler in my life than Kyle Ott.


                          Ott would win National Juniors Freestyle with a tech fall in the finals, was a two-time Cadet World Teamer and a three-time Ohio State Champion. What could those two have done uninjured? Of course, the ILLINI legend became an Orthopedic Specialist. Dr. Ott now takes care of athletes dealing with sports injuries.


                          Attribution: Fairborn Daily Herald

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