Oklahoma State’s Chris Perry had already beaten Bedlam rival Andrew Howe.
In fact, he’d won the most recent meeting just two weeks earlier in Norman to claim his fourth Big 12 title.
But before they faced off in the 174-pound finals of the NCAA Wrestling Championships on Saturday night, Perry viewed himself as an underdog with something to prove.
“People believe this guy is way better than me, and they think I stole one in Norman,” said Perry on Friday night. “I want to go out tomorrow and prove that I can beat him twice.”
Perry proved his point emphatically, controlling the match from every position and defeating Howe 4-0 to win his second-straight national title inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“I told everybody I was going to set the tone this match,” Perry said. “I said I would make adjustments from the last time I wrestled him, and I did.”
Despite being the defending champion, the doubters began to arise for Perry after a loss to Howe on Dec. 1 and some unimpressive victories throughout the regular season. They gained some extra ammo after Perry struggled to defeat Iowa’s Mike Evans in the semifinals on Friday night.
“(Yesterday), I said don't look ahead and I did,” said Perry, who needed overtime to beat Evans 3-2. “In the semis yesterday, I really thought I was going to win handily. Almost cost myself.”
The lack of focus he showed against Evans was also evident during a 6-4 win over Iowa State’s Tanner Weatherman on Jan. 24 in Stillwater, which produced a season-changing moment for Perry thanks to his coach, and uncle, John Smith.
“After the Iowa State dual, I remember this because I took it to heart,” Perry said. “(Smith) kind of put my name out there in front of the whole team and said, ‘you don't understand how hard it is to repeat. It's twice as hard.’ And that one hurt me when he said it. There's more to it, but letting me know I don't understand how hard it is, that immediately just took me to a new level.”
Perry knows he wouldn’t have made it this far without the help of his storied wrestling family, and Cowboy program, helping him continually reach that new level.
“My coaches, my brother, my teammates, those are the people that understand the sacrifice,” said Perry, who became the 12th member of this family to reach the national finals. “And my (other) family, obviously. But my coaches, man, they do everything for me. I love my coaches. I love my uncle. Those people are my rock.”