“It's like, ‘Hey man, what's this dude gonna do to you?’ I'm like, take me down, lace me. That's it. Like, my mom and dad still gonna love me. My wife still loves me, my kids gonna love me […] So yeah, I think just have fun with wrestling,” That was Dom Bradley, who has been wrestling on the Senior level since 2008.
Bradley sits back in an office chair with a Mizzou Wrestling Big 12 Champs shirt, having just been pulled away from teaching at Mizzou’s Tiger Style summer camp.
In 2023, Bradley competed in his 12th U.S. Open since 2008. That doesn’t include four Senior Nationals in pre-Olympic years to make it 16 altogether. His Senior level wrestling started as a high school senior, placing eighth at the 2008 U.S. Open.
As his international career was kicking off, Bradley was also one of the top heavyweights in the country as a three-time state champ for Blue Springs High School in Kansas City, MO. Despite his ranking and expectations, however, Bradley came off a redshirt in 2008 only to find himself in a lineup battle for the next two years.
Fellow KCMO heavyweight Mark Ellis and Bradley went back and forth, with Ellis winning the starting spot and becoming the first Mizzou heavyweight to win a national title in 2009, followed by an All-American finish in 2010.
Bradley didn’t sit idly by, however, as he dominated his way to a Junior (U20) World Championship in 2009, only giving up points in one period.
“I could sit there and complain about Mark Ellis being a starter or I could just go wrestle the next big tournament.” Bradley said. “I just wrestled as hard as I could.” He also made the World Team Trials for the first time, making the National team with a third-place finish.
In 2010, Bradley finished third at the World Team Trials to make the National team for a second time. That tournament saw one of his career favorite outcomes: sweeping the first two periods to beat the legendary Tommy Rowlands.
“He was my favorite wrestler growing up,” Bradley said. “A three-time NCAA finalist, two-time NCAA champ.” Outside of Kyle Snyder, Bradley has beaten every heavyweight national champ since 2009.
Through all of that, Bradley still had years of eligibility for the Tigers. After Ellis’ graduation in 2010, Bradley in the starting spot was a two-time All-American in 2011 and 2013, with an Olympic redshirt in 2012. In that same time, he had another third-place finish at the 2011 World Team Trials, was a two-time University Nationals finalist, won the Dave Schultz International tournament, and won his first U.S. Open in 2013.
Dom Bradley at the 2013 US Open; Photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com
The 2013 U.S. Open was a monumental one, as he beat Olympic medalist Tervel Dlagnev, and world team members Zach Rey and Nick Gwiazdowski. That momentum came to a screeching halt, however, as an eighth-month suspension hit after a positive test for methylhexaneamine.
A quick Google search for this drug reveals it listed as a stimulant, commonly found in over-the-counter supplements and not always listed on the label ingredient list. When asked about it, Bradley had one thing to say, “Don’t take pre-workout.”
After a fourth-place finish at the 2013 NCAA’s as the top seed, he was devastated.
“We were just working out on spring break cause I didn’t know if I was gonna wrestle yet,” Bradley said. The suspension not only affected his freestyle aspirations, but coaching opportunities as a new graduate. “I turned down four coaching jobs right before that. [...] I failed the drug test and everybody’s just done.”
The setback didn’t keep him down for long however, as Bradley went on to spend time at Iowa State and Nebraska’s RTCs as an athlete before returning to Mizzou in 2019 as a volunteer assistant coach. He stayed active domestically throughout, with two Pan-American championships and eight finishes in the top three in the U.S. Open and World Team Trials from 2014-2019. On top of that, he placed 3rd at the 2016 Olympic Trials and won Senior Nationals in 2015 and 2019.
Bradley described his goal in competing to be explosive, and finding ways to go through and around fellow heavyweights. However, his intense, competitive style has been misconstrued previously. One story, in particular, garnered a lot of attention for Bradley.
At the 2019 Senior Nationals semifinals, Bradley squared off against the recent NCAA champ Anthony Cassar. With under a minute left in the match, Bradley led 5-2. During a double leg attempt from Cassar, he came down holding his left shoulder. The same shoulder had kept Cassar from competing for two years at Penn State.
The match ended, and Bradley shook his opponent's hand off the mat before storming back to get his own hand raised and shouting “Grown ass man strength right there!” While many took that as a celebration, Bradley said it was directed at a media member who had said that Cassar would tech fall him in the tournament.
That prediction didn’t sit well with Bradley, who in his career at that point had only been teched by Steve Mocco, Tervel Dlagnev, and Tommy Rowlands. Bradley said, “I’m a nice guy. A lot of people think I’m an asshole or they think I try to hurt people. I’ve never, never tried to hurt somebody. My parents raise me to be like that. They raised me to compete hard, have fun.”
The longevity and competitiveness of his career have also had a significant impact on his coaching. He’s been pivotal in the development of Mizzou’s most recent heavyweight All-American, Zach Elam. Going into this year’s US Open he convinced the Tiger’s two-time NCAA champ Keegan O’Toole to compete with him instead of going on spring break. That led to O’Toole finishing 3rd to make his first Senior National team and represent the United States at the upcoming U23 World Championships.
Bradley discussed how results have become less important to him over the years. Instead, he focuses on himself as an individual and his coaching.
“In five years nobody’s gonna care about it,” Bradley said. “They’re gonna be like, ‘Was this guy a good person or a good coach or did he care about me?’ [...] That’s me. I wanna be a better coach.”
Despite being one of the older competitors on the senior level, Bradley has continued to find success. Since 2020, the only tournament he hasn’t placed in is the 2020 Olympic Trials. But in that time, he’s finished top-five at two Senior Nationals, three World Team Trials, and two U.S. Opens. He even won his third Pan-American title while representing the United States in May 2023.
“Wrestling’s really, really hard,” Bradley says. “I want people to realize that you’re gonna have fun wrestling too.”
After an hour of talking about a career that spans almost four Olympic cycles and is filled with highs and lows, Bradley leaves his office and heads straight back to the mat, this time to return to the youth wrestlers at camp ready to learn.
Dom Bradley at the 2023 Southern Scuffle with Cam Steed; Photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com