Senior heavyweight Tony Nelson doesn’t lose often. And losing twice is almost unheard of.
In fact, the two-time defending NCAA heavyweight champion’s 2-3 record in the last three weeks matches his losses from the last two seasons combined.
So, what’s going on?
His teammate, junior Logan Storley, said he thinks Nelson has a target on his back.
“Guys wrestle him hard,” Storley said. “They are trying to slow him down.”
And so far, they have — to a degree.
This week, Nelson will have the opportunity to bounce back against yet another top-10 wrestler — his sixth such opponent in a row since the Big Ten season started.
Nelson said he’s aware of his conference slate’s challenges but he also recognizes the importance of staying focused.
“Every week is a battle. Every week you’ve got a tough opponent,” Nelson said. “It’s never easy, but you just have to really stay focused and go out there and wrestle your style.”
That’s easier said than done.
This year’s Big Ten features eight heavyweights ranked in the top 12, and Nelson’s schedule features matches against seven of them.
So far he’s 2-3 in those matches and has lost consecutive matches for the first time since December 2011.
While he’s struggled lately, Nelson has had past success against two of the three heavyweights he’s lost to this season.
In last year’s national heavyweight title match, Nelson defeated Northwestern’s Mike McMullan via a 6-2 decision. That match came just two weeks after he beat McMullan in the Big Ten finals.
McMullan bounced back with a 3-1 sudden victory over Nelson earlier this month.
The swinging of that rivalry in McMullan’s direction is just one part of a larger trend for Nelson.
He also lost to Iowa heavyweight Bobby Telford last Saturday after going 3-0 against Telford last season, including a 1-0 decision in the Big Ten semifinal.
Nelson said he wants that one back.
“I hate losing to Iowa, and that’s a guy I’ve beat, I think, five times in the past,” he said.
Gophers head assistant coach Brandon Eggum said he admires his heavyweight for his competitive drive, referencing something Nelson said at last year’s NCAA meet.
“He said he couldn’t see himself losing,” Eggum said. “He believes 100 percent that the next time he steps out against any one of these opponents, he’s going to get his hand raised.”
In terms of moving forward, Eggum thinks it’s all about Nelson becoming aggressive again.
“It’s all about picking up the intensity,” Eggum said. “When he’s being physical … he’s very tough to beat. He just needs to get back to what he’s great at.”
A victory against Indiana this week would prevent the three-match skid and be an important step to building back Nelson’s confidence, but it will be against another tough opponent — Hoosiers heavyweight Adam Chalfant is currently ranked No. 6 nationally.
Eggum expects Nelson will be ready to go.
“He wants to avenge those losses. He’s hungry for it,” he said. “And he can beat anybody.”