Collegiate wrestling has a wide variety of names that can be recalled when discussing the past and present. Digging into the Mizzou archives, I was able to connect with Craig Martin, the lone All-American to come out of Mizzou during the 1987 season. In an interesting conversation, we were able to cross over many different subjects.
For a little background on Craig, he started wrestling in the fourth grade when he moved from his youth into the collegiate levels. He is a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame where he received the Lifetime Service to Wrestling award for his time spent on and around the mats. He has contributed to the wrestling community in all phases of the sport as an athlete as well as coaching for over twenty years.
Craig became a 3x NCAA Qualifier and a 1x NCAA All-American for the Tigers during the 1984-1987 seasons. While competing for the black and gold, Martin was a four-year letter winner and received the Marshall Esteppe Most Outstanding Freshman in 1984 and the Most Outstanding Wrestler in 1987. Martin wrestled under two head coaches, Bob Kopnisky and Wes Roper. As for the rest, we dive into that now!
Pro Wrestling Career
Opening our conversation, Craig welcomed me with a taste of the retired life, sitting on the waters at the Lake of the Ozarks. Jumping into the conversation, I was first interested to find out more about the pro wrestling league he was a part of. Unfortunately, it was a short-lived experiment.
Craig explained, “So it was kind of fun. They started and called it ‘Real Pro Wrestling.’ It started around when I was graduating, and they kicked it off with some money invested into it by big sponsors which didn’t hold up their end of the bargain and it folded soon. There were eight teams across the country: Oklahoma, California, Chicago, Iowa, New York, and New Jersey among a couple of others who came up with a team. There were actually competitions and supposed to be a big tournament at the end of the year. It was fun, though. it was supposed to be on TV, have a stage like the NCAA finals, and have ring girls as they do in boxing that walked around the mat. Something else that was kind of cool is, you could wrestle, let’s say 160, and they could sub in at 170. for instance, like in the third period to try to win a dual. Maybe a guy was struggling and tired, he would go in for the third period. The periods were three, three, three, from what I remember, which made it nine-minute matches and very exhausting.”
After we put pro wrestling aside, we broke into the present and how wrestling has advanced and changed over the years. Making the leap from over thirty-five years, I was curious about the advancements and changes he has noticed from the time he spent inside the NCAA to now.
Craig was quick to respond stating, “I think the technique has really changed over years, I think with (Ben) Askren and the Eiermans and some of the guys that have brought in all the scrambling things, there’s a different dimension to the defensive, defensive/offensive wrestling. It used to be offense defense, get up, hold-downs, and getaways. Now it’s, a guy gets on your leg, there are 50,000 different ways to score, and they’re going to react a totally different than what we used to. So it’s made wrestling more interesting.”
Craig also brought up an interesting footnote describing these differences that I had not considered, saying, “It’s evolved, but you also start to see things go back and see things that you are familiar with that we were doing thirty years ago that they’re starting to teach now because people aren’t defending them. They weren’t taught to defend them and now they have to defend them, so it goes full circle.”
Which progressed into a little deeper dive into techniques. The world we live in nowadays is full of “one click away.” You have videos, instructors, and how-to’s at hand when you are struggling and need to find new techniques. Craig was able to discuss how he and his teammates were taught to progress their talents throughout competitive seasons.
He informed me, “You know, I don’t even have a wrestling match of mine on tape... Basically, you went to a wrestling camp, and you learned. You had a coach and he taught you, that was it. Now everybody has tape. There are platforms out there you can tap into and study guys and there are not a lot of surprises. I think when you wrestle people today, you pretty much know what you’re up against.” Which is true. With all the media exposure and video, finding information or a film seems to be easy to get your hands on.
Recruiting & Reflection
This also goes hand in hand with the recruiting aspect of things as well. More coaches, scouts, and other athletes can research those in the wrestling field. Find the right guy to fit styles and cultures are readily available.
When it came to the recruitment of Craig, he explained, “I was lucky I was in that area. I went to Mizzou camps, probably since I was in fifth grade until I was a sophomore in high school and my dad actually ran camps with Head Coach Bob Kopnisky so that’s how I kind of came to the fold. I was born and raised Mizzou. I learned my wrestling in the summertime at camps.”
Once reaching the levels of Division One wrestling, Craig began to recall some of the moments he could reflect on the most “Being an All-American from Missouri and wrestling in the East/West All-Star classic was pretty cool,” he said. “We took fourth in the Virginia duals, which was the national duals back in the day, and we’d never placed in that before. We beat UNI once in a dual, and they were ranked top ten in the country.”
Since the subject of duals came up, my curiosity peaked. The Tigers have been competing inside the Hearnes Center for years, but where did Craig and the Tigers step on the mats during his time in Columbia? In what was new knowledge and an interesting bit, Craig added, “We wrestled inside the Hearnes a few times but a lot of times we wrestled out there on the indoor track. They would have a mat out there and two sets of bleachers on each side of the mat and that was about it. So if we got we got 200 people it was a big, big turnout. Mizzou Wrestling has grown in popularity. It’s great what is happening now.”
This carried into away duals and competing outside of Columbia where collegiate teams now have the opportunity to travel via charter buses. Craig explained to me how the transportation system worked during his time with Mizzou which came as a bit of a surprise when he stated the following, “We used to drive fifteen passenger vans across the country when we traveled and now they got these big mobile homes or buses and sleep the whole way. We would head to Oklahoma, East Coast, Iowa, or wherever the heck it was and it was late at night and the coach was looking in the back trying to find the only guy up and see if they wanted to drive!”
This in turn brought in how these guys would be able to control their weight. Being concerned about whose driving and how you are getting from point A to point B is just another added factor you wouldn’t want stressing your athletes out, as well as letting them get in much-needed rest during a physical sport. Martin informed me, “We did weight management a lot different back then. For example, when I got to the NCAA tournament my senior year I was at 167. I got there, jumped on a scale, and was 180 lbs. An hour and a half later, I dropped eight and a half pounds so I was like 171.5, wait for the next morning to drop the rest, so I was fine.” Nowadays, weight management is regulated and watched way more closely.
In the Present
Craig Martin stays involved in the St. Louis area. His wrestling days continue by stepping on the mat in the pinstripes. He is the proud father of two daughters and stepfather to former Tiger Style wrestler, the late Cody Greene. Craig Martin continues to carry on Greene’s legacy by telling his story and honoring his past success. He continues to keep wrestling a top hobby and keeps up with the Tiger Wrestling program by attending/watching duals, conference battles, and national championships. He continues to keep in touch with former teammates and college buddies within the wrestling family.
Before signing off, I asked Martin what he enjoys most about wrestling, and what keeps him coming back. He concluded our chat with, “Just the competitiveness. Wrestling is one of the toughest sports around. I think people are starting to realize that a little bit more as they start to see things happening in the world today. They are starting to appreciate the type of person that comes out of wrestling. It grows character, that’s why it seems like the more you put in it, the more you get out. That’s what I have always believed so I think people appreciate that. It’s definitely a demanding sport, and it’ll tax you. Quoting Dan Gable, ‘Once you’ve wrestled, everything else in life is easy.’”