Seven thousand Iowa fans were on hand at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Jan. 28, 1995, when Gopher wrestler Zac Taylor decided to send his opponent an intimidating message.
With 34 seconds left in the 167- pound match, Iowa’s Matt Nerem (ranked No. 3 at the time) made a move holding Taylor’s legs, sending both wrestlers out of bounds. Taylor (ranked No. 2 at the time), in the heat of the moment, got up and planted a footprint on Nerem’s back during his return into the circle.
“It’s nothing that I thought about doing. I was in a hostile environment and it just happened,” Taylor later said .
After the split-second incident, Taylor won his match 4-2. Even though Iowa won the meet 24-12, Hawkeye fans were furious and booed the Gophers wrestler out of the arena.
“At an away match, you want silence or booing from the fans,” Taylor said. “It means that you’re doing well or you’re in control.”
Friday, Taylor and the third-ranked Gophers will travel back to Carver-Hawkeye arena to face No. 2-ranked Iowa and the same unrelenting fans.
This time, Taylor hopes to make noise for different reasons.
“Performing in front of a big crowd is what every athlete wants,” Taylor said. “I’m excited to wrestle at Iowa.”
Minnesota moved up from fifth to its current ranking as third in the latest Amateur Wrestling News Poll. The Gophers, 11-2 overall, knocked off No. 4 Penn State twice at the National Duals last weekend to earn the ranking.
Six Minnesota wrestlers are ranked in the top 10 in their respective weight classes. Juniors Taylor and Jason Davids (142 pounds) are ranked third, along with sophomore Tim Hartung at 190 pounds.
Hartung is undefeated at 20-0. Davids (22-1) has recorded a team-leading nine pins this season. Sophomore Chad Kraft (16-2) is ranked No. 4 at 150.
Junior Brandon Paulson (16-2) is ranked No. 6 at 118 pounds and sophomore Troy Marr is No. 10 at 134 pounds, with a 19-5 record.
Paulson suffered an ankle injury last weekend at the National Duals in the Gophers’ first match against Penn State. This leaves Minnesota without anyone at the 118-pound weight.
“(Paulson) won’t wrestle against Iowa, and we will forfeit our first match,” Gophers coach J Robinson said.
Without Paulson, Iowa will receive six unearned points for this forfeit. That may put Minnesota in a tough position.
“It will be tough to overcome not having Brandon in the lineup,” Davids said. “But we need to come together as a team and make up for it.”
Taylor’s attitude could boost the Gophers chances in the hostile Iowa environment.
“I’m concerned about winning,” Taylor said. “No matter if we’re wrestling Iowa or Arkansas, I just want to win.”