J'den Cox celebrates after winning the NCAA title (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)
J'den Cox captured the NCAA title at 197 pounds this past season, becoming Missouri's youngest national champion. He finished the season with a 38-2 record. InterMat recently caught up with the 19-year-old from Columbia, Missouri.
How has your life changed, if at all, since winning an NCAA title a month and a half ago?
Cox: It hasn't. It's not a life-changing event. It's just an event in itself. It's just back to work. Nothing has changed.
J'den Cox with Sammie Henson (Photo/Larry Slater)Do more people recognize you on campus now that you're an NCAA champion?
Cox: They do. But that doesn't really do anything for me. It's great, but I'm past it. It was good for a week or so, but then it was time to get back on the horse.
Describe the decision process for you wrestling as a true freshman as opposed to redshirting.
Cox: I don't really know how the process went down because I wasn't a part of that. I didn't make the call. I knew it was a possibility, but I didn't know it was being talked over as much. One day Coach pulled me aside and was just like, "We want you to go 197." I was like, "OK." I thought he was going to tell me to go heavyweight. He told me that I'm going to go 197 and that I'm going to win it there.
Going from high school wrestling to college wrestling can be a tough transition for many athletes. You made it look easy. How were you able to transition from high school wrestling to college wrestling so smoothly?
Cox: Well, one thing about this sport is that nothing is easy. No matter how it looks, it's never easy. I had a great team surrounding me and great coaches, and I had people in my life that were very supportive. It made me want to do my best and do things that people thought I couldn't. It encouraged me and that carried me a long ways. My teammates and coaches helped bring out the best in me. I think that's what showed on the mat.
You had faced some of the top 197-pounders during the season, including Phil Wellington and Kyven Gadson. Was there much film study or match planning going into the NCAA tournament?
Cox: No, not really. I don't like watching the [first] Phil Wellington match. It rubs me the wrong way. But I have watched it probably about four or five times. That's about the same amount of times I watched the Kyven Gadson match. But going into nationals I didn't watch much. I wasn't too worried about them. That's not any disrespect to them at all, but I was focused on what I had to do. I couldn't focus on anyone else. Like I said throughout the second half of the season, if I don't take care of what I need to do, nothing else will matter.
J'den Cox rides Nick Heflin in the NCAA finals (Photo/Simon Jimenez, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)What was your match strategy in your NCAA finals match against Nick Heflin?
Cox: Basically attack. Don't let him try to slow me down, just keep attacking and put more than one attack together. I have watched the match, and that's what I feel like I did, and that's why the match turned out how it did. I got a stalling call, and then got another one, and then I got up by one and took the match from there.
Describe the emotions you felt when your hand was raised after winning your NCAA title.
Cox: It was a great feeling. There aren't really words you can put to it. The biggest thing is to know that everything was worth it. I don't know what walking into heaven is like, but that's what I compare it to. One day I hope to go there and then I'm going to walk in and know that going through life was worth it, and you remember everything, everything is the way it is and you made it. It's kind of like that. That's how I think about it. At that moment everything was in my head, all the training, all the stuff we did. At the time thinking, 'Why are we doing this?' Then after feeling what I felt, you realize there's a reason behind this madness that we go through every day.
Next season you will have a target on your back as the NCAA champion. Do you expect that opponents will wrestle you differently next season?
Cox: I'm not really worried about it. I just have to wrestle how I do. I feel like people will study me and try to figure things out, but I'm also going to excel. I'm not done ... and I don't plan on being done. I believe with that attitude, and with the attitude of my teammates, which is the same, we know we want more. No matter where we get to, we want to keep going. I feel like with that attitude in this room that there's no choice but for anyone in our wrestling room to get better.
Do you plan to compete at 197 pounds next season?
Cox: Yes, I'm staying at 197 pounds next season.
Is there a chance you could be a heavyweight down the road?
Cox: I'm not sure about that at this point. I'm not going to say it's not a possibility.
J'den Cox holds up a stop sign after winning a Junior National freestyle title in 2012 (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)You have been successful on the national level in all three styles of wrestling. Do you have any plans to wrestle freestyle this year?
Cox: I'll be wrestling at University Nationals. I know that I'm going to a couple other big tournaments. I have to clear things with Coach Smith and Coach Henson. I'm doing a lot of camps this summer, which is something I want to do. I want to give back to others in the sport. I am training for freestyle, so we'll see.
Do you favor one style over another?
Cox: My favorite is folkstyle. In freestyle, with all the rules, like you can't roll across your back, it limits the wrestling a little bit. It does make you have to wrestle smarter, which is very cool. In folkstyle you can really explore it a lot more and do a lot more amazing things. In freestyle you can do that, but you're also kind of limited. There's only so far you can go before it's hurting you more so than it's helping you. But I don't mind either way. I just enjoy wrestling.
You have had some battles with Junior World champion Kyle Snyder in the past. He has stated that he's looking forward to wrestling you. Is that a matchup you're looking forward to as well?
Cox: I don't look forward to it because it's not right here in front of me. It's not something I need to worry about right now. Whenever that week comes then we'll look at it. I actually find pleasure in wrestling Kyle. That's why I faced him. That's why I came back to Fargo just to wrestle him. I know people are looking forward to this matchup, but like I said, I'm not focused on him. When I wrestle I wrestle for me. I don't care about what everybody else wants or thinks. I wrestle because I love to do it. If he's going to step on the mat then we're going to wrestle. But I'm not thinking about it. Whenever that time comes, it comes.
When Kyle Snyder became a Junior World champion last summer did it give you more confidence in your abilities since you had beaten him?
Cox: Actually, I didn't know he was a World champion until Willie Miklus told me. Nothing really came of it. Congratulations to him. That's an amazing accomplishment. But that doesn't do anything for me. There's nothing that I get out of that. It wasn't me on the mat. It was him. Kyle has done great things and he's excelled in wrestling. I think even he will tell you the same as I do, that he loves to do the sport, and I think that's why he does it, and he plans to be great, just as I do, and when we meet it will make for an even more interesting match.
J'den Cox defeated Chris Penny in the NCAA semifinals (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)What are your long-term goals in wrestling?
Cox: I definitely want to go to the Olympics and become one of the best there ever was. I want my name to pop up in people's heads when they think about wrestling. I don't see a point in doing something without loving it and pushing yourself to be the best. That's my goal. That has been my goal since I was a little kid.
Some former Missouri Tiger wrestlers like Ben Askren, Michael Chandler, and Tyron Woodley are successful MMA fighters. Is MMA a career you would ever consider down the road?
Cox: I don't know yet. I'm in the transition stage. I don't know what I'm going to do at all. I just know what I'm about to do.