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Missouri’s J’den Cox closes legendary wrestling career with third national title

There is nothing J’den Cox cannot do.

J'den Cox beat Minnesota's Brett Pfarr in the NCAA finals on Saturday night in St. Louis, but that kind of went without saying. He wrestled on Saturday night, therefore he won.

Cox wrapped up his third individual national title in almost perfunctory fashion. He had too much offense and far too much defense for Pfarr in an 8-2 win, his 32nd of the season.

The win finished off maybe the greatest 12 months in the history of a Missouri athlete. Cox won last year’s NCAA championship, won the U.S. Olympic trials in his weight class, went to Mongolia to clinch an Olympic bid, won a bronze medal, then started all over again. His only collegiate loss of the last two full seasons was via disqualification, 48 matches ago. He hadn’t actually been defeated via pin or points since his loss since the NCAA Championships in St. Louis two years ago.

Cox is virtually the perfect student athlete. He learns from every loss. He sings the national anthem before basketball games. He gushes about his parents in his postmatch interview. He talks about graduation in his championship press conference. He does everything but kiss babies on the way to the ring.

And he’s Missouri’s. He might be Missouri’s greatest. He’s talking about playing football for Mizzou this fall. He’ll probably win the damn Butkus Award.

Some quotes from his press conference:

COX: I'm honored to have accomplished another great feat, not only for myself but for my school, for my teammates and for my family. And I'm very proud of the way I represented every single one of those for myself, my team and everything to the program, my family. I'm proud I represented them throughout my years wrestling in college and I'm just really proud of the outcomes.

Q. J'den, which title has been the sweetest, the first, the second or the third? And how did you wrestle in such a different match than the Southern Scuffle?

COX: I think the second one held more to it, but it was less emotional. I don't know how to explain that. But like the second one was, like, I had to prove it to myself because I knew that I didn't do what I needed to do the year before in many aspects of my life, not just on the mat, but off the mat.

So it was more of a, I had to make a commitment on my own part, and I had to show that I was committed to what I wanted to be and who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. And then this year was just emotional just because there was a lot of things that rode on it. It's just like it's the first time in my program's history we had a three-timer. It's the first time I've been a three-timer.

There were a lot of things riding on it. And plus there was such an emotional ride with the great tournament that my teammates wrestled, having two more in the finals and having a chance to step on the top of that podium as well.

Q. You talk about being the only three-time national title in Mizzou history. Have you really grasped the significance of that? Has it hit you you're the only one to accomplish that feat yet?

COX: Not really. And I think that's more just because I have a lot of respect for the history of the school, the respect of the people that came before me and that paved the way for me to be able to do what I do day in, day out. And I've accomplished great feats.

And I hope to become a stepping stone for someone else to come through and break that. That's all this is. I want somebody else to come through and win four. I want someone to come through and do unimaginable things and things which I could only dream of or I couldn't even dream of, and I want to watch that.

Q. At the end of your match kind of rolled off, lay on your back and put your hands over your face for a second. What was going through your mind at that moment?

COX: I did it. I did it. And I pushed through everything to get here. And that's the best feeling. So much builds up in you before that final match. So much emotion. It's not all negative, not all pressure, it's just so much that rides on that.

And so when you get over with, it's kind of like, oh, my gosh, that was awesome. And I've had experience on both sides of that, where it can be that's awesome or dang it. And that's pretty much what was going through my mind.

Q. Can you tell us your emotions as you're walking out and you see your coaches right outside, and just what did you tell them?

COX: I didn't say anything actually. While we're out there we didn't have anything we really needed to say. We've been here. We know what we came here to accomplish.

Really in those moments I just hugged him and it was just a moment of happiness and just joy and fulfillment. It was embrace and enjoy it, because we knew what we wanted to be, and what we were going to try to accomplish, and it was just enjoy this moment with them and they're part of it and they helped me get here and hug it out, man, and enjoy this.

Q. Your first two national titles and bronze medal came with a little more suspense. They were close matches. How did this one compare, the fact you were able to gain some separation early on?

COX: Well, me and Pfarr wrestled earlier in the scuffle. It was a 6-4 match, and I felt I didn't wrestle my best in that match. And I don't make excuses, but I was going on wrestling for a lot longer than I probably should have, and I didn't get a sufficient break.

I wrestled significantly different since I got a break I've told many of you but he came out and wrestled that match in the Scuffle with everything, and he did the same here.

But I knew what I wanted to do. I knew what I was going to get to, and I'm really quick at making adjustments whether they be in match or even after I wrestle someone. If I wrestle and then afterwards I get to make adjustments, the next time I wrestle it will be completely different.

I got to make those adjustments and not really focus on them, just say, hey, I need to tweak this. And really that showed me little things that I could change that I was already good. Like my sweep single, I have a great sweep single, but one little thing I wasn't doing, which was why I wasn't able to counter, I wasn't bumping the guy off, I wasn't bumping his weight across. And so he was able to spin out. He gave me more to look at myself. Because whenever someone does something right to you, you should look at yourself to see what you've done wrong, that's what I believe. And that was the case that I did with this, and it worked out in the end.

Q. Looking back on it now, being able to do something special like this in a community you grew up in, how special has that been, and what do you plan on doing in the community going forward, even though your career at Mizzou is over now?

COX: As far as what I'm going to do with the community going forward, I need to graduate first. That's the most important thing. I need to get back and focus on school.

My spring break is going to be filled with online assignments. Because I've been so busy. My stats and psychology class is just a load.

So Dr. Sheldon, she's a nice woman, but that stuff, that material isn't. So it's like -- so I'm struggling hard to keep my B in that class.

I'm definitely going to take this time to focus in on my education. As far as what else I can do with the community I'd love to go around and either spread my knowledge with wrestling or go around and talk with people.

Q. What does it mean to you when people say that you're the greatest Mizzou athlete of all time?

COX: It's nice to be recommended. I didn't do this for the accolades. I didn't do this for the acknowledgment. I did it for the love of the sport. But for people to say that, I'm honored to be put in that category.

But at the end of the day I wrestle because I love to wrestle. I do what I do because I want to do it and I love to do it. But I'm blessed to have had the accomplishments I've had and I'm honored to have people put me in the conversations of being one of the greatest wrestlers of MU. One of the greatest athletes of MU I'm blessed and happy but at the end of the day I'm overall just joyful in doing what I'm doing.

Q. Have you set a timetable for when you might make decisions about your competitive wrestling career moving forward in freestyle, or is that something that's going to come in a little bit?

COX: That's going to take time. Just to figure out. Funny enough I was just talking to Coach Zag (phonetic) and he was like I'm going to call you later. I was, all right, you can call me now. Because before I wasn't answering. It wasn't like hey Coach Zag I don't like you. It was more like I'm focusing on what I have to do for this season and focusing on what I needed to do.

It wasn't just him. My girlfriend's had a terrible time not talking to me, because I didn't talk to her either. If she's throwing me fits and I have to do with those, Coach Zag, your fits are nothing. But he's a cool dude. He's cool about it. He knows what I'm doing. He's been in my shoes. He said he's going to call. We might be able to make it one day. I'm not too sure. I will make sure to respond. I told him I promised I would answer the phone this time.

You’re something else, J’den.

2016 NCAA Wrestling Championships
Olympics: Wrestling David E. Klutho-USA TODAY Sports
Olympics: Wrestling David E. Klutho-USA TODAY Sports
2016 United World Wrestling World Cup Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
Wrestling: 2016 U.S. Olympics Wrestling Trials Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
Wrestling - Olympics: Day 15 Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images