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IOWA CITY, Iowa – A few years ago Tony Ramos was a brash freshman ready to make his mark in college wrestling.
The University of Iowa junior has ascended the ranks, placing third at the 2012 NCAA Division I Championships in his second national tournament appearance.
The role will be slightly different when Ramos takes the mat against highly-touted freshman John Meeks when the fourth-ranked Hawkeyes host intrastate rival Iowa State on Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The dual is scheduled for 7:37 p.m. and televised on Mediacom MC 22. Iowa owns a 60-16-2 advantage.
Ramos, ranked second by Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine, has opened the season 5-0 with four pins and a major decision. Meeks is 3-2 as a true freshman. Meeks was a four-time state champion at Des Moines Roosevelt, becoming the sixth Iowa prep to finish his career unbeaten. It is an intriguing match up, despite Meeks dropping a 7-3 decision to No. 19 Scott Festejo on Sunday in the Cyclones 22-13 loss to Old Dominion.
"I hear a lot about it," Ramos said about facing Meeks. "I actually never heard of him until last year.
"Something I'm getting ready for because I know he's going to get up for it, especially coming off of a loss. It's not how he wanted to go out in his debut as a starter probably, so he's going to be even more ready."
Before Ramos even reached the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex, Ramos was calling out established wrestlers and even coaches. Confidence hasn't waned, talking about aspirations of winning the Hodge Trophy – given to college wrestling's top athlete – after last weekend's Iowa City Duals.
"He wears his emotions on his sleeve, so to speak, or his predictions on his mouth," Iowa Coach Tom Brands said. "They are outside of his lips, not inside.
"If you can back that up so be it. It's even more entertaining."
Ramos has entertained Hawkeye fans from the first time he planted his foot on the start line at center-mat, displaying his signature intense stare down of his opponent. He is 63-10 in his Hawkeye career, including a 17-0 mark at CHA. The victories that he hasn't notched are what continue to drive him. Specifically, the lack of a national title.
"There's always that extra motivation there to keep you going through the summer, keep you working hard," said Ramos, who lost in the 2012 NCAA semifinals to Ohio State's top-ranked Logan Stieber. "You have those reminders there's still someone ahead of you. There's still someone who beat you and someone you have to go out there and work even harder to avenge yourself."
Brands said Ramos has picked up where he left off last season, noting that he has progressed even more. Brands said he likes the way the fiery Ramos trains as much as the way he competes. Ramos has even accepted more of a leadership role, being more vocal with teammates.
"He's done some good things," Brands said. "Keep it going.He's got a good test with this freshman that they're high on and you have to be ready."
Ramos is ready to prove a point against a up-and-comer, similar to the one he was set to prove when he reached the college level. He has faced this dilemma with current Iowa freshmen Cory Clark and Thomas Gilman in the practice room.
"He's a young guy," Ramos said. "He's no different than wrestling Clark and Gilman. They're young and tough guys. You have to go out and make a statement right away."
The heavily-favored Hawkeyes (5-0) have the chance to make a huge statement in one of the top rivalries in college wrestling. Iowa State, coming off a season without an All-American, has struggled recently, and is a long shot to snap Iowa's eight-dual win streak in the series. The Cyclones last win came Dec. 5, 2004.
Iowa expects a fight, regardless of rankings or records.
"They're results show they're not happy," Brands said. "We can't look past them, because of those results. Those results tend to boost competitors and they're competitors, and this is a big intrastate match."
A big intrastate rivalry that has lost a little luster. It still remains Iowa and Iowa State – two of the most storied college wrestling traditions in the country. Reportedly, almost 10,000 tickets have still been sold.
"I think that is absolutely something that needs to be worked on," Brands said. "We're No. 4-ranked or whatever and they're out of the top-25 and I think that does impact it.
"You don't have the No. 1 team in America, nor do you have two high ranked opponents, where from the outside looking in, experts maybe don't see it as a top-billed event, but we don't look at it that way."
Former Iowa NCAA champion Simon Roberts will serve as honorary captain for Saturday's dual. Roberts claimed the 1957 147-pound NCAA title, becoming the first African-American national champion and the sixth in school history. From 1956-58, Roberts was 62-8-4, winning a Big Ten title in 1958 after finishing third and second in the conference in 1956 and 1957, respectively.
Roberts, a Davenport native, was the state's first prep African-American state champion, earning the 133-pound title at Davenport Central in 1954. He was inducted into the Iowa Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1988 and the National Iowa Varsity Club Hall of Fame in 1994.