‘Border Battle I’ more than just a wrestling meet

by Anthony Maggio

Complete with instant replays, pyrotechnics, live interviews and local television and radio personality Mike Max as master of ceremonies, Minnesota’s top-ranked wrestling team squares off with second-ranked Iowa on Friday night at the Target Center.

But wait, there’s more. Former Gopher heavyweight Brock Lesnar will be in attendance. So will Gov. Jesse Ventura, who will be presenting the victor of what has been dubbed “Border Brawl I” with a new traveling trophy – the Governor’s Belt.

All of this is an attempt by Minnesota (13-0 overall, 2-0 Big Ten) to break the attendance record for a dual meet of 15,291 set by Iowa (12-2 overall, 2-0 Big Ten) in 1992 – and show the public that wrestling can be an entertaining sport.

“You want to showcase wrestling and you want to show it can be a big deal and be fun for people,” coach J Robinson said. “They can come to a wrestling meet, go downtown, go to restaurants and bars afterwards and have a good time.”

With everything involved in Friday’s meet, the coaches and athletes know Border Battle I is destined for the record books.

“This is important in the history of wrestling with what’s at stake here,” second-ranked 125-pound Leroy Vega said. “It’s not just a win, this is going to go down in the record books as one of the biggest wrestling matches in history.”

However, Minnesota’s grapplers must ignore the production they will be putting on Friday, as a more important task lies ahead of them – the Hawkeyes.

Iowa’s No. 2 ranking is its highest all year, earned after knocking off then second-ranked Ohio State last weekend.

Added into the equation is the long history between the teams. Iowa has a 53-20-1 edge over the Gophers, and the series dates back to 1926. In the last dual between the two, Minnesota squeaked by 17-16.

To make things more interesting, the Gophers and Hawkeyes don’t like each other. In fact, hatred may be more appropriate.

“Yeah, I hate Iowa, bottom line,” 184-pound sophomore Damion Hahn said. “Every Minnesota guy hates Iowa.”

Heavyweight sophomore Garrett Lowney feels the same way.

“There’s definitely some hatred,” Lowney said. “Definitely some bad blood between the two clubs.”

Added 149-pound junior Jared Lawrence: “It’s burned in me. I don’t like them at all.

“People give Iowa too much respect that they earned in the past, but don’t deserve now.”

Second-ranked Lawrence has the toughest challenge of the Gophers wrestlers, facing top-ranked and undefeated Mike Zadick.

All but three of the matches feature top-10 grapplers squaring off, but Minnesota feels it is by far the better team.

“We want to make a statement that we are better and we are way ahead of them,” Vega said. “We want to put it in their minds that they won’t be able to get us at Big Ten’s or Nationals. If we go out and wrestle bad and barely win we’ll be disappointed.”

But on a larger scale, the Gophers want to show the world what college wrestling has to offer – excitement, intensity, and fun.

“It’s an all day package,” Robinson said. “It’s no different than tailgating at a football game. It’s an excuse to get together. You want to make it an event where it’s fun for people to come and they can socialize before and after.”

And make history in the process.

Anthony Maggio covers wrestling and welcomes comments at [email protected]