Dom Bradley wrestled several ranked opponents, including Iowa State's David Zabriske twice (Photo/Joel Kowsky)Granted, the two-time 275-pound national champion at Fargo and three-time Missouri heavyweight state champion didn't lose very often. But it must have been a jarring sight for others to see an imposing 6'3, 275-pound man-child getting verklempt.
These days, the Missouri sophomore is a few hours east down Interstate I-70 in Columbia, wrestling for the hometown Tigers while awaiting his turn in the spotlight.
The triumvirate of Bradley, defending national champion Mark Ellis, and Tyler Perry make Missouri arguably the deepest team in the country at heavyweight. Bradley is coming off a freshman campaign in which he went 17-3 and defeated five ranked wrestlers, including then-No. 2 David Zibriskie of Iowa State at the Midlands.
He and Ellis went back-and-forth in practice on a daily basis last season, giving the coaches a tough choice when it came time to select a heavyweight for the conference tournament. Ultimately, they went with Ellis, the more experienced wrestler, who later went on to defeat Konrad Dudziek of Duke to win his first national title. In the post-match press conference, Ellis thanked Bradley personally for helping him improve over the season.
"It helped a lot," Ellis readily admits of his daily practice battles with Bradley. "We both helped each other become better. He's one of the toughest kids in the country to takedown, so it helped me improve on finishing my shots and competing harder."
Naturally, Bradley was upset by the decision. But rather than flee to the nearest rival with an open spot, he stuck around
"I stayed around because I want to be the best," Bradley said. "Nobody in the country has a room like we do (and) I didn't want to take the easy way out. I think that I helped make him a national champ, and one day, I'll do the same."
Dom Bradley finished third at the 2009 U.S. World Team Trials in freestyle at 120 kg (Photo/Tech-Fall.com)To those who truly know the quiet, reserved Bradley, the decision was not surprising.
"One of Dom's greatest aspects is his competitive spirit," says Mike Hagerty, a college official and his head coach at Blue Springs High School. "No matter where it was, Dom wanted to prove his abilities. He has an inner drive to step up to the next level ... from when he first walked in his freshman year (of high school), he wanted to prove something."
"His attitude was amazing, because it was hard," Missouri head coach Brian Smith said of the situation. "He's been a winner at every level, so when it came down, you'd think he would have pouted. He was extremely upset, but he came back in and helped Mark, and that shows a lot of character -- that he was that committed to the team and his teammate."
It's a direct result of the maturation process Bradley has undergone since coming to college. At Blue Springs High School, a Kansas City-area wrestling powerhouse that has produced the likes of Harvard's Louis Caputo, Bradley was a larger-than-life figure, "an icon in our school," according to Hagerty. He excelled in wrestling, football and track. He won or placed multiple times both nationally and internationally, from winning a Brute/Adidas national title at 215 pounds as a freshman to a Junior Pan-Am gold in Greco-Roman after his senior year. A highly-touted recruit, Bradley was ranked No. 1 in the nation in his weight class during his whole senior campaign.
Like a lot of young wrestlers who are accustomed to nothing but grand success, Bradley has had to deal with his fair share of trials and tribulations -- including the occasional loss. He says he came out of those experiences smarter and more mature.
Through it all, however, he has continued to win. This past spring was a busy one for Bradley and his trophy case.
He began with a title at the FILA Junior 120 kg (264.5 pounds) Freestyle Championships in early April. In late May, Bradley earned a title and a spot on the U.S. team that will travel to Turkey for FILA Junior World Team Championships in early August. Finally, Bradley made the U.S. National Team with his third-place finish at the U.S. World Team Trials in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Dom Bradley compiled a 17-3 record while splitting time at heavyweight with NCAA champion Mark Ellis (Photo/Patrick Fallon)"No, I'm not surprised at all," Coach Smith said, chuckling. "He's one of the best freestyle heavyweights in the country ... and he's not far off from being the best, as he lost in the semis in the third period (to No.1-seed Tervel Dlagnev at the U.S. World Team Trials) on a real close call. He's always won national tourneys -- whatever he's touched, he's won."
Comparisons to King Midas aside, the staggering fact is that Bradley could very well win a Junior World title in freestyle this year, yet might not be starting on his own college team when the season begins in November.
"That's still to be determined," Coach Smith says. "It's going to be whoever is wrestling the best and I'll let them decide that. Dom's going to have to beat the (defending) national champ, but he's right there."
To the outside eye, Bradley and Ellis are friendly, but also seem to regard each other a bit warily, a mutual respect present amid a burning cauldron of competitive desire. They get along and appreciate the other's talents, but each wants to be top cat, and unfortunately, only one Tiger can ultimately be king of Missouri's heavyweight jungle.