OSU wrestler puts fear in the biggest men in college wrestling

Saturday, November 13th 2004, 11:09 am
By: News On 6

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) _ They called Steve Mocco ``the Bear'' when he wrestled for Iowa, but some of his victims think ``the Intimidator'' might be a better nickname for Oklahoma State's newest heavyweight.

From the moment he takes the mat to the instant he leaves it with a signature sprint, Mocco is a muscle-bound ball of energy. Teammates say he has the training fervor of a 125-pounder. Opponents say his hands feel like they weigh 100 pounds. All of which makes the NCAA champion the most feared collegiate wrestler in the nation.

``Some people are scared to wrestle him,'' said OSU senior Mike Christian.

``His reputation precedes him a little bit. People get kind of psyched out when they wrestle him.''

Part of that is his signature exit, dashing out of the arena like a man fleeing a burning building.

Mocco's arena dashes have become legend, but he seems puzzled when questioned about it.

``Everybody keeps asking me about that,'' Mocco said. ``I didn't even realize it. I get fired up when I am out there. The energy has to go somewhere. I cool down once I am out of the arena. I jog or skip and bring my heart rate down slow.''

Most of the time, Mocco causes his opponent's heart to skip a beat. While at Iowa, he won the 2003 NCAA heavyweight championship as a sophomore and was runner-up in 2002. He was 74-3 with 24 falls in two seasons at Iowa. He had a 16-second fall as a sophomore and 12 of his matches that year ended in the first period.

Mocco was 216-1 with 188 pins in high school at Blair, N.J., Academy.

He took last season off to concentrate on making the Olympic team. The day after he finished third in the Olympic Trials, he got his release from Iowa coach Jim Zalesky and a few weeks later transferred to Oklahoma State.

Mocco's goal is making Olympic and world teams, and OSU is the best place to do that now. Coach John Smith is a past Olympic champion and coach, and three OSU assistants were on the U.S. Olympic freestyle team in August.

He lost three matches his freshman year at Iowa _ one to Oklahoma's Leonce Crump and two to Ohio State's Tommy Rowlands. The Rowlands losses were in overtime in the finals of the Big 10 and NCAA tournaments. Mocco beat Rowlands three times the next year while going 34-0 and winning conference and NCAA titles.

``He was my toughest opponent,'' said Rowlands, who completed his NCAA eligibility last March with his second NCAA title. ``He has got heavy hands that feel like 100-pound weights going over your head. You've got to keep moving when you wrestle him.

``He's got a lot of college heavyweights really intimidated. That's why he gets a lot of pins. You can tell by the way he wrestles that he trains very hard. If you're going to try to beat Steve Mocco, you've got to be eating, breathing, sleeping and living wrestling all the time because that's what he's doing.''

Hard work and intensity are Mocco's trademarks, and it's always been that way.

Jeff Tampir, former wrestling coach at Maquoketa, Iowa, High School saw Mocco in an all-star high school match at the University of Iowa and watched him wrestle two seasons for the Hawkeyes.

``You will never see a more intense wrestler,'' Tampir said. ``You can tell that when he warms up. You can see the intensity building. He's got that mentality: 'I am pinning everybody I wrestle.' He goes out with one thought in mind. He goes and goes and goes.''

Mocco spent much of the last year at the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs and worked with Bruce Baumgartner, athletic director at Edinboro State.

``Steve came to my wrestling camp years ago,'' said Baumgartner, ``and he competed with camp kids and college wrestlers way older than him. He is a student of the sport and it would be hard for a college kid to beat him.''

Baumgartner is regarded as the greatest NCAA and international heavyweight of all time by many. He won the 1982 NCAA title at Indiana State and finished second twice. He also won four Olympic and nine world championship medals as well as 15 USA Wrestling national freestyle titles.

``Steve is by far the best college kid I have worked with over a long period of time,'' Baumgartner said. ``I am very impressed with him. He is a phenomenally hard worker and seems to love the sport. He trains unbelievably hard, is strong and is in great shape. Great things are going to come from him.''