Feb. 12, 2013
-by Tom Doherty, Media Relations Intern
Dom Bradley has the whole wrestling world right in front of him. He has a 30-4 overall record, a Big 12 Conference heavyweight championship and a third place national ranking at the NCAA Championships.
The calendar reads March 2011. All Bradley needed to do to cap his storybook career was win a national title the following year. But Missouri head coach Brian Smith had another idea for the storied wrestler.
"I just wanted to be done with school, I wanted to get out of here, I wanted to grow up," Bradley said. "I remember coach Smith told me, `Hey you could take an Olympic redshirt.' I told him, `I'm not really thinking about that. I'm just trying to get out and win this national championship'."
Taking an Olympic redshirt is akin to taking a master's course in freestyle wrestling. The determined Bradley spent what should have been his final year at Mizzou sparring with U.S. heavyweight gold medalist Jake Varner and fighting his way onto the Olympic wrestling team. He could only watch from the sidelines as his team went on to win a Big 12 Conference championship.
Bradley's Olympic quest ended when he missed the cut for Team USA, but the experience he gained training with the best wrestlers in the world proved to be the growth he needed to take his game to the next level.
"When I think about it now, it was one of the greatest decisions I ever made," Bradley said. "I got to go to London for the Olympics to get a training partner. I got to go to Canada for a tournament. I won two big international tournaments."
After returning from the London Games, Bradley was quick to return to the gym, taking just one week off of training. Once again, his head coach reminded him of a huge opportunity that lay before his feet.
"I got an extra year of training to wrestle older people, wrestle people who are world champs and Olympians. Coach Smith told me, `You could be a sixth-year senior on a team of nothing but seniors and juniors'."
Fast forward to February 2013: where the sixth year senior stands today. His team is 11-2 and has consistently ranked in the top-seven nationally all year. And at 27-0, Bradley is the top-ranked heavyweight in the county.
Bradley credits his success to his relentless work ethic. Mark Ellis - a 2009 NCAA heavyweight champion - was his teammate for two seasons and now works with him full time and serves as his partner in the practice room. Waking up at 6:30 a.m., lifting, running 7 miles, and doing stairs: these are all regular components of his practice routine.
"Practice is a lot harder than the tournaments for me. It's a grind every day. Going out and competing, that's easy. That's the fun part. That's where I show off everything that I've done."
The undefeated senior grappler has certainly made it look easy in 2013. He's beaten Oregon State's No. 5-ranked Chad Hanke 3-2. He won the Southern Scuffle title by outlasting No. 3-ranked Alan Gelogaev of Oklahoma State 2-1. Minnesota's Tony Nelson, the reigning NCAA champion at heavyweight, fell to Bradley 2-1.
Bradley even got his revenge on Central Michigan's Jarod Trice 2-1. Trice beat him in the Olympic trials last spring. Bradley had previously beaten Trice to earn third place in 2011.
What separates this Missouri Tiger from his competition in the nation's most competitive weight class this year?
"I know I work harder than those guys. Those guys are all good. I think on any given day they could win the national tournament. But the thing is, I work so hard. I have the best workout partners. What separates me from those guys is when I want to score on my feet, I can. I think I'm the best heavyweight on my feet."
When you wrestle men that weigh close to 285 pounds, it isn't always going to be pretty. Most of Bradley's 27 victories this season have been by one or two points. But after losing a shot at a national championship by six seconds of riding time, he knows that winning ugly is better than not winning at all.
"I don't like to lose," Bradley said. "I'm at a weight class where I think I'm the best guy on my feet. When I'm taking shots, they're blocking off, they're stopping, and they're running away and getting stalling calls. Sometimes it goes into overtime. But if you ride them out and you win, I guess that's what I have to do to win. If I have to win 1-0 and ride the guy out the whole period to be a national champ I will do it.
"That's the difference between a champion and an All-American. You have to find a way to win."
If there's one thing Bradley knows how to do, it's win. He won three state championships at Blue Springs High School. He's defeated the heavyweight national champ every year since 2008. He's amassed a 93-12 overall record in college. He's top-ten in most statistical categories in Missouri wrestling history.
Bradley has done everything you can do in college wrestling except win a national championship. He'll get the chance to bring home an NCAA title in front of friends and family this spring in his hometown of Des Moines, IA.
"It would be amazing to win a national title in Des Moines," Bradley said. "The first place I ever did win a national title when I was a kid in fourth grade was in Des Moines. I have a lot of family and friends there that I haven't seen. There are people there that haven't seen me since I was 12 years old."
It would certainly mean a lot for Bradley to end his Mizzou career in front of his parents, who convinced him that he had a future in wrestling when he was a kid.
"My Mom and Dad could see me win nationals in the place I was born and raised in until I was in sixth grade," Bradley said. "That also played a part in my taking the Olympic redshirt."
Where will Bradley be when this March rolls around?
After taking on the world's best, it looks like the wrestling world is still right in front of him. But no matter what happens, Missouri wrestling will be saying good-bye to one of the best grapplers in program history come springtime.
"I want people to say, `Man, that guy was good. He was a national champ and an All-American. He was explosive. He gave it all he had'," Bradley said. "I want people to say that I was exciting."