Before Coon-Snyder, big weight differences among big men

Tab Thacker (Photo/NWHOF)

In a season loaded with upsets, the outcome of the Coon-Snyder bout may the biggest ... and not just because they're big men.

On Sunday, Feb. 12, Michigan heavyweight Adam Coon upset defending NCAA champ -- and 2016 Olympic gold medalist -- Kyle Snyder of Ohio State, 3-1, in a dual meet between the two Big Ten schools in Ann Arbor. It was Snyder's first collegiate loss in nearly three years.

The outcome of that match unleashed big-time discussion on wrestling websites and on social media, with many of the comments addressing the significant weight difference between the two men: Coon, tipping the scales at 280 pounds ... while Snyder weighed 225.

On Twitter, -- which describes itself as "where Ohio State fans gather" -- used a graffic to illustrate the 55-pound weight difference between the two heavyweights, stating, "Snyder was essentially wrestling up seven weights." (The post immediately followed with "He won't make excuses for this loss and knows he has a challenge ahead of him.")

In college wrestling, the heavyweight weight class has the greatest difference from lightest acceptable weight to the upper limit. The range -- 183 pounds up to 285 -- is a span of 102 pounds. (The other weight classes have a differential of 8-10 pounds ... meaning there's less discrepancy in the actual weights of any two 149-pound wrestlers, for example.)

Today's top limit of 285 pounds hasn't always been in place. Some readers may remember it was once 275 pounds. However, prior to thirty years ago, there was no top weight limit in college wrestling. In fact, the uppermost weight was called "unlimited" because it had no upper limit. Up until 1987, a heavyweight could weigh in at 300 or 400 or more pounds, and wrestle guys literally half his weight. (It happened.)

InterMat thought the time was right to take a look back at the era when some college heavyweights tipped the scales at 100 or more pounds than, say, Adam Coon or other current big men who compete towards the top of today's 285-pound limit.

Jimmy Jackson (Photo/NWHOF)

Meet some of the biggest big men in past NCAA finals

If you think NCAA heavyweight champs couldn't be any bigger than, say, Brock Lesnar, Stephen Neal, Steve Mocco, Cole Konrad or Dustin Fox -- guys who weighed in at 265-285 pounds in their collegiate prime -- think again.

A number of college heavyweights -- including a handful of NCAA heavyweight finalists of the "unlimited" era -- weighed in at 300 or more pounds, including George Bollas of Ohio State in the 1940s ... Ithaca College's Bob Marella in the late 1950s ... Chris Taylor of Iowa State and Oklahoma State's Jimmy Jackson in the 1970s ... and Tab Thacker of North Carolina State in the mid 1980s.

George Bollas: Long before Tommy Rowlands and Kyle Snyder won heavyweight titles for the Buckeyes, there was George Bollas, crowned champ at "unlimited" at the 1946 NCAAs. No, he wasn't the first Ohio State heavyweight champ -- George Downes earned that distinction at the 1940 NCAAs -- but Bollas still ranks as the heftiest Buckeye mat champ. Nicknamed "the Dreadnaught" (as in "huge ship"), Bollas stood 5'10" and weighed in at 325 pounds. A two-time Big Ten champ (1945, 1946), Bollas won the heavyweight title at the '46 Nationals at Oklahoma State by pinning conference rival Morris Chitwood of Indiana at 14:11 in the finals. Bollas went on to a pro wrestling career as the "Zebra Kid" for the stretch marks on his body. Bollas passed away in 1977 at age 53.

Bob Marella
Bob Marella: Most amateur wrestling fans may not recognize the birth name of this super-sized collegian of the late 1950s ... but Bob Marella made a name for himself as a long-time pro wrestler and WWE commentator Gorilla Monsoon. The 6'5", 350-pound Marella wrestled for Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y. (also hometown for Cornell University). He made it to the heavyweight finals of the 1959 NCAAs, taking on Ted Ellis of Oklahoma State (who weighed approximately 100 pounds less than Marella). At the end of regulation, the score was 1-1, but in overtime, the Cowboy beat Marella 2-0 to take the title. Marella died in 1999 from complications from diabetes. He was 62.

Chris Taylor (Photo/NWHOF)
Chris Taylor: A native of Dowagiac, Mich., Taylor made a huge impression in U.S. college wrestling in the early 1970s at Iowa State. Affectionately known as "the Gentle Giant", Taylor stood 6'5" and weighed in at anywhere between 410-450 pounds during his time as a Cyclone, according to the Des Moines Register. A two-time Big Eight champ in 1972 and 1973, Taylor won national titles those same two years. At the 1972 NCAAs, Taylor took on Greg Wojciechowski, the powerfully-built 255-pound defending champ for the University of Toledo ... and got a 6-1 victory and the title. A year later at the Nationals, Taylor pinned Oregon State's Jim Hagen -- who weighed just 185 pounds, according to the Chattanoogan newspaper -- at 4:19 to claim his second NCAA crown. Taylor made a name for himself on the international stage as well, winning a bronze medal in freestyle at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Taylor later became a professional wrestler but his career was cut short by injuries. In 1979 Taylor passed away due to cardiovascular complications at age 29.

Jimmy Jackson: This Michigander had a larger-than-life mat career at Oklahoma State in the late 1970s, compiling an 88-9-2 overall record (with 44 falls) with three Big Eight titles and three national crowns. The 6'6", 370-pound Jackson earned his first NCAA title in 1976 by defeating Greg Gibson of the University of Oregon, 5-3, in the finals. At the 1977 NCAA finals, Jackson scored a 9-2 victory over previous national heavyweight champ Larry Bielenberg of Oregon State ... while at the 1978 NCAAs, the Cowboy big guy pinned Princeton's John Sefter at 1:12 in the finals. Jackson died at age 51 of diabetes and congestive heart failure in 2008.

Tab Thacker (Photo/NWHOF)
Tab Thacker: Talmadge Layne Thacker was about as big as his birth name. There appears to be disagreement as to how tall Thacker was -- 6'4" or 6'5" -- and how much he weighed (reports vary between 400-450 pounds; the New York Times pegged him precisely at 447.5 pounds). As North Carolina State heavyweight, Thacker earned four Atlantic Coast Conference crowns and compiled a 92-11-1 record. At the 1984 NCAAs, Thacker defeated Nebraska's Gary Albright -- 6'3" and over 300 pounds in college -- 3-1 in the finals to win a national title. Actor-turned-director Clint Eastwood saw Thacker in action in college, and cast him in the movie City Heat. Thacker went on to star in a number of movies, including the Goldie Hawn comedy Wildcats, as well as the Policy Academy series. Thacker died in 2007 at age 45 from complications caused by diabetes; both of his legs had been amputated. His NCAA finals rival Gary Albright also died young, at age 36, of a heart attack while in the professional wrestling ring.

Not all big men were invincible

The possibility of one heavyweight tipping the scales at twice the weight of an opponent in the same weight class is now the stuff of history books. However, even back in time, it wasn't always the bigger man who got the win. Sometimes Goliath fell ... or perhaps left the mat with a not-so-satisfying tied score.

There's the classic early 1980s photo of 218-pound Lou Banach of Iowa tangling with 450-pound Tab Thacker of North Carolina State. Believe it or not, Banach pinned Thacker in the quarterfinals of the 1982 NCAAs.

And ... yes, Chris Taylor managed to compile an impressive 87-0-1 record during his time at Iowa State. The guy who managed to put that tie on the supersized Cyclone's record? Oklahoma's Bill Struve, who, at 6' and 250 pounds, was hardly small ... except compared to Taylor.

In the unlimited era, not all heavyweight champs were this hefty

Since the first NCAA wrestling championship in 1928, heavyweight champs have come in all shapes and sizes. Muscular. Slender. Beefy. And, yes, some resembled the Pillsbury Doughboy.

Years ago, I posted a couple feature articles asking "How much do college heavyweights weigh?" for a now-defunct online news service. I had managed to find height and weight info for NCAA champs in the unlimited weight class from 1928-1960 ... as well as national titleholders at 285 since 2000.

Looking at the weights of the old-school champs from the unlimited bracket up until 1960, most tipped the scales between 190 and 228 pounds. A handful of titlewinners weighed in at 240 pounds or more. In addition to George Bollas at 325, the others in the upper weight range include Minnesota's Butch Levy (1941 champ, 240 pounds), Oklahoma State's Dick Hutton (1947-48, 1950 champ, 245 lbs.), Oklahoma State's Ted Ellis (1959 champ, 245-260 lbs.), and Oklahoma's Dale Lewis (1960-61 champ, 245 lbs.).

As for the champs since 2000 ... the wrestlers tend to fall into two general weight groups. There are the lighter-heavies who came in at the 220-245-pound range (Tommy Rowlands, Mark Ellis, David Zabriskie, Tony Nelson, Nick Gwiazdowski, and Kyle Snyder) ... and the heftier-heavies who actually weighed 260-285 pounds (Brock Lesnar, John Lockhart, Steve Mocco, Cole Konrad, Dustin Fox, and Zack Rey).

Diving a bit deeper ... in 2010, the NCAA made available the actual weigh-in weights for the 33 wrestlers competing at the 285-pound weight class. The NCAA reported that the actual weights ranged from 223.6 pounds for Nathan Everhart of Indiana University, all the way up to 270.4 pounds for Northern Iowa's Christian Brantley of University -- a nearly 48-pound differential between lightest and heftiest. (Three other wrestlers weighed in within two pounds of Brantley ... yet even the biggest men at the 2010 NCAAs all weighed 15 pounds or less than the top limit of 285.)

While the range between lightest and heftiest of the heavyweights at the 2010 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships was nearly 50 pounds, the difference in weight between the two heavyweight finalists in 2010 ended up being miniscule. According to the NCAA, the 2010 heavyweight champ, David Zabriskie of Iowa State, tipped the scales at 228.2 pounds, while his finals rival, Oklahoma State's Jared Rosholt, weighed in at 229.8... a mere 1 1/2-pound differential. So, in this case, the two Big 12 big men vying for the 2010 heavyweight crown were very evenly matched, weight-wise. And ... 55 pounds lighter than the top limit.

So... as you can see, the weight differential among heavyweights isn't always as big as Adam Coon vs. Kyle Snyder (a 55-pound weight difference) ... or, going back 35 years, Lou Banach vs. Tab Thacker (an approximately 220-pound difference in weight).


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Bebe1993 (1) about 5 years ago
High school has a 220lb weight class. College doesn't. College athletes are generally more physically mature than high schoolers. Can't quite understand why the NCAA hasn't adopted some sort of weight class between 197 and 285, an eighty eight pound difference between on weight class and the next.
trevork9 (1) about 5 years ago
Its money they will not add a weight because of cost! I would however not mind seeing them bump 197 a little! and this would make that weight class a little closer to the Olympic weight just an idea i wouldn't mind see happening!
rruddy (1) about 5 years ago
The best way to distribute weight classes would be to survey all college wrestlers, find out their natural weights, and divide the weights so that about 10% are in each weight class. There should be some adjustment to account for athletes cutting weight too.
conn2247 (1) about 5 years ago
I am a upper weight wrestler, so this affects me directly. I have said for a long period of time that there should be a weight class near 220 like high school and international weight classes. Not only would be serve to differentiate wrestling from competing with people more than that weight more than 50 pounds, but it would also allow for all tie matches to be resolved easily. After flagrant misconduct, matches won would be tie-breaking criteria. With 11 weight classes, the team that wins 6 would be the win the dual meets.
MGC (1) about 5 years ago
Great article. Sad to hear about the longevity issues with these big guys. They were obviously physically great athletes during their competitive days, yet their seems to be a real trend of early deaths among those detailed, sad.
mills half (1) about 5 years ago
What about Bill Hyman from Temple??????
Could not have weighed more that 240 when he was the NCAA champ in 1985
Sheerstress (1) about 5 years ago
Great article, I think it's a shame they put the cap on heavyweight and left so many talented big men out of the sport.

You left out the guy who was probably the heaviest of them all - Emmanuel Yarborough, who wrestled for Morgan State, placed 8th at NCAAs, and who tipped the scales at 450-500 lbs. This weight continued to climb after he finished college and started a sumo career.

As far as adding another light-heavy class (say around 220), that would be nice, but are there really enough men at the collegiate level to fill such a weight?
ajc1970 (1) about 5 years ago
Erland Van Lidth De Jeude -- MIT degree, opera singer, 1976 Olympic alternate, 1978 world runner up, 3-time NCAA D3 champ and an NCAA D1 champ. And actor in The Running Man (played Dynamo).

340 pounds!

Dead in 1987 at 34 years of age.
IdeaMark (1) about 5 years ago
> For those saying "Isn't it time to add (or reconfigure) college weight classes, you might want to check out my 2015 InterMat article "Should college wrestling add a weight class."
> For those saying, "Why didn't you mention (fill in the blank)...?" -- I look forward to your own article. ;-)
Mark Palmer, Senior Writer
jammen (2) about 5 years ago
Mark, another interesting and informative article. This is why you are the best in the business.
jmantom (2) about 5 years ago
Thank you for including the age and cause of death for most of these wrestlers. They all seemed to die prematurely. They all seemed to die from a weight related issue. Perhaps keeping the limit where it is may (or may have already) encourage those too heavy to make that weight to lose some of the excess pounds.
IdeaMark (1) about 5 years ago
RE the age/cause of death for the supersized heavyweight champs... I'm old enough to remember Chris Taylor as an amateur wrestler and when he passed away at age 29. I thought I would look for similar info on the others... and was startled to see how their lives were cut short by serious, seemingly weight-related health issues. (Esp. startling since I had recently written a tribute to 3x NCAA champ Stanley Henson, who passed away at age 101 earlier this month. That's why I included that info, and, judging from comments and emails, a number of other readers appreciated that info.
Mark Palmer
Senior Writer, InterMat