Larry Owings stunned Dan Gable in the 1970 NCAA finals
Wrestling fans love a great upset -- unless it's their wrestler who is the one who comes out on the losing end.
Fifty years ago this week, arguably the biggest upset in NCAA Wrestling Championships finals history took place at the 1970 NCAAs when Larry Owings handed Dan Gable his first loss in his combined high school/college career.
The late wrestling historian Jairus "Jay" Hammond -- author of "The History of Collegiate Wrestling" book -- once shared with this writer his choices for the three greatest upsets in NCAA finals. At the top of his list was Gable-Owings ... followed by 2009's Darrion Caldwell vs. Brent Metcalf in second place ... and 1962's Jack Flasche vs. Phil Kinyon ranked third.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of that great collegiate mat upset, InterMat thought the time was right to take a look back at Hammond's trio of top NCAA finals upsets.
No. 3: Jack Flasche upsets Phil Kinyon, 1962 NCAAs
Before the start of the 1962 NCAA Wrestling Championships at Oklahoma State's Gallagher Hall on March 23-24, few would have guessed that the 157-pound title match would have seemed to be mismatch. There was Jack Flasche, unseeded wrestler from what was then called Colorado State College (now University of Northern Colorado), a sophomore making his first appearance at the NCAAs. Flasche was to face off against Phil Kinyon, the top seed and defending champ at 157, who had yet to lose a match as an Oklahoma State Cowboy.
Kinyon was the prohibitive favorite. A two-time Oklahoma state champ at Stillwater High, after graduation Kinyon entered the U.S. Navy where he served for nearly a decade, continuing his wrestling career in freestyle. After a brief time on the wrestling roster at UCLA, Kinyon returned to his hometown to wrestle for the Cowboys, winning the 157-pound crown at the 1961 NCAAs, and compiling an overall record of 26-1-3 right up to the '62 NCAA finals.
There were two other factors that made Kinyon "the sure bet" to win a second NCAA title in his home gym. He had just missed making the U.S. freestyle wrestling team for the 1960 Rome Olympics, losing the final match in a bruising series of a dozen bouts to former Oklahoma State champ Doug Blubaugh, eventual gold medal winner. He was also known for his physical strength and intimidating musculature. Even in high school, Kinyon was voted "Best Physique" twice. A fellow college wrestler of the early 1960s described Kinyon as "hairy as a bear and built like a brick sh**house."
As for Flasche ... Colorado wrestling historian Ray Coca wrote, "Pound-for-pound, Jack Flasche was considered one of the greatest amateur wrestlers to come out of the Western Slope." While at Fruita High, Flasche won back-to-back Colorado state titles. After his senior year, he placed second in the National AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) tournament.
Here's what Hammond wrote in his recap about the Flasche-Kinyon bout of the 1962 NCAA finals for his "History of Collegiate Wrestling" book: "The 157-pound final followed a similar script [to Army's Mike Natvig's upset of Kirk Pendleton of Lehigh at 147] -- an unseeded wrestler Jack Flasche of Northern Colorado, shocked the number one seed, Phil Kinyon of Oklahoma State, with strong mat wrestling. "Flasche stunned the OSU fans by riding the powerful Cowboy for the entire third period on the way to a 5-2 victory."
Looking back at the 1962 NCAAs, Ray Coca wrote, "When Flasche beat the number-one seed Kinyon 5-2, it was considered one of the biggest upsets in NCAA history. Flasche, who was unseeded and unknown, beat the number two and six-seeded wrestlers before upending the heavily favored Kinyon at OSU's Gallagher Hall."
"Jim Rogers, a member of both the 1962 Colorado/Oklahoma International Wrestling Team and the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, said (in 2010), 'I could not believe Jack Flasche came down here to Oklahoma and proceeded to take our national champion (Kinyon) apart."
Coca went to write, "Many young wrestlers attempted to emulate Flasche's style of wrestling 'from his knees' instead of the more conventional style of 'on both feet.' However, fans outside wrestling circles were unaware of the fact that Flasche had a permanent injury to his knee. The injury caused him so much pain it forced him to wrestle from his knees."
Sadly, Jack Flasche, his wife Lois, and a family friend -- along with two occupants of another vehicle -- were killed in a head-on crash in Montana a decade ago this week. It was only after I wrote a tribute to Flasche for a now-defunct online news website ten years ago that Jay Hammond shared with me his assessment that Flasche's seemingly out-of-the-blue title win at the 1962 NCAAs ranked as the No. 3 upset in NCAA finals history, behind Owings-Gable and Caldwell-Metcalf.
No. 2: Darrion Caldwell defeats Brent Metcalf, 2009 NCAAs
Just over a decade ago -- March 21, 2009, within the memory of most in the amateur wrestling community today -- a North Carolina State Wolfpack wrestler toppled the defending 149-pound champ from the storied Iowa Hawkeye mat program.
Here's how the N.C. State sports information office described what now ranks as the No. 2 upset in NCAA finals history immediately after conclusion of the 2009 NCAA Division I finals:
"The consensus heading into the championship round of the NCAA Wrestling Championships was that Iowa's Brent Metcalf was just plain unbeatable, that no one could stop him in his quest to repeat as champion at 149 pounds.
"N.C. State's Darrion Caldwell apparently didn't get the memo."
Meet Metcalf: Brent Metcalf, a native of Michigan who won four consecutive state titles, had a flawless prep career record of 228-0. He originally committed to Virginia Tech to wrestle for then head coach Tom Brands. However, when Brands took the helm at University of Iowa, Metcalf sought to follow him ... but Virginia Tech refused to release him, forcing Metcalf to sit out the entire 2006-07 season. In his first season at Iowa in 2007-08, Metcalf -- now officially a sophomore -- claimed both the 2008 Big Ten and NCAA championships at 149 pounds.
Caldwell the challenger: Darrion Caldwell was a three-time state wrestling champ in his native New Jersey, compiling an impressive 146-4 mat record in high school. (He also competed in football and baseball.) Heading south to North Carolina State, Caldwell got a 20-6 record as a true freshman, just missing earning NCAA All-American honors by one match. The following season -- 2007-08 -- Caldwell went 36-5, placing fifth at the 2008 NCAAs to become an All-American.
Setting the stage for the 2009 Nationals: The 2009 NCAAs were held in St. Louis March 19-21 in the downtown arena then called Scottrade Center (which is now Enterprise Center.) Brent Metcalf was the top seed at 149 pounds. The Iowa Hawkeye pinned his first two opponents in the bracket; in the quarterfinals, Metcalf defeated No. 9 seed Terry Kyle of Oklahoma State, 14-5 ... then, in the semifinals, beat Ohio State's Lance Palmer (seeded fourth), 6-2, to propel Metcalf to the finals to defend his 2008 title. No. 3 seed Darrion Caldwell also won his first-round bout by fall ... then, in the second round, beat SUNY-Buffalo's unseeded Desmond Green, 10-2. In the quarterfinals, Caldwell topped No. 6 seed Jake Patacsil of Purdue, 10-1 ... while, in the semis, Caldwell defeated Navy's No. 7 seed Bryce Saddoris, 13-2, to put the Wolfpack wrestler in the title bout.
The 2009 NCAA finals recap in "The History of Collegiate Wrestling" hinted at a bit of history between the two wrestlers.
"The 149-pound final was one of the most entertaining and controversial in many years. Top seeded Brent Metcalf of Iowa was a heavy favorite against Darrion Caldwell of North Carolina State who had lost by technical fall to Metcalf in the All-Star Classic. Tonight was a different story as Caldwell was on the attack from the start and used two takedowns from scrambles to lead 4-2. As the match came to an end, Caldwell began a premature celebration that included a full back flip. Metcalf pushed Caldwell mid-flip and after a review by the officials, Iowa was penalized a team point. Caldwell won the match 11-6, snapped Metcalf's 69-match winning streak, and was named the Outstanding Wrestler of the tournament."
Immediately after the 2009 Nationals, the NCAA Wrestling Committee reprimanded Metcalf, publicly issuing a news release that it "strongly believes the championships should not be tarnished by such acts."
The Iowa wrestler soon issued an apology: "I would like to extend an apology to Darrion Caldwell, his family, the NCAA and the wrestling community for my actions in the NCAA title match. I certainly had no malicious intent. With five seconds left in the match, I was attempting to finish to the end, as I've always been trained to do. In a split second after the whistle, my momentum carried me into Darrion's celebratory back flip. My reaction was a result of self-defense and partly, frustration. I want to extend my congratulations to Darrion for his championship."
One year later, Metcalf won his second NCAA title, beating Lance Palmer 3-2 in the 149 finals ... and finishing his collegiate career with a record of 108-3.
After winning the 2009 NCAA championship, Caldwell wrestled in freestyle events ... but suffered a series of shoulder injuries, which required surgery and forced him to redshirt the 2009-2010 season. Caldwell returned to action midway through his senior season (2010-2011) and was undefeated in 15 matches. Caldwell was the number one seed for the 2011 NCAAs, but suffered yet another shoulder injury in his second-round match, which ended his college career with a 109-13 record. In 2012, Caldwell launched his pro MMA career, where he has compiled a 15-3 record, and was once a Bellator MMA bantamweight champion.
No. 1: Larry Owings upsets Dan Gable, 1970 NCAAs
Fifty years ago this week -- Saturday, March 28, 1970 -- the most momentous upset in college wrestling took place. Now known as Owings-Gable -- or Gable-Owings -- the 142-pound finals featuring Iowa State's Dan Gable vs. Larry Owings of the University of Washington has been named "Best Match" by wrestling historians and fans in online balloting for the 75th anniversary of NCAA wrestling championships in 2005. A half-century after the two met on the mat at the 1970 NCAA finals at what was then called McGaw Hall at Northwestern University outside Chicago is still a topic of discussion among wrestling fans a half-century ago.
Get to know Dan Gable: Born in Waterloo, Iowa in Oct. 1948, Dan Mack Gable was a multi-sport athlete as a kid, competing in swimming and baseball before eventually focusing on wrestling. At Waterloo West High -- within sight of his family home -- Gable wrestled for the legendary head coach Bob Siddens. At West, Gable compiled a perfect 64-0 record and three state titles (95 pounds in 1964, 103 lbs. in 1965, and 112 lbs. in 1966; note: freshman were not allowed to wrestle varsity).
With all this on-the-mat success in Waterloo, Gable faced tragedy. On Memorial Day holiday weekend 1964, 15-year-old Dan and his parents had traveled to a cabin on the Mississippi River, to be joined later by his 19-year-old sister Diane. When Diane failed to show up to join the rest of her family, her father Mack called a neighbor to check on his daughter. The neighbor found Diane dead on the living room floor in a pool of blood; a neighbor boy was later found guilty of her murder.
After graduating from Waterloo West, Dan Gable headed west to Ames to Iowa State, to wrestle for yet another legendary Iowa-born coach, Harold Nichols. As a Cyclone, Gable scored three Big Eight titles (1968-1970) and was a two-time NCAA champ as a sophomore and junior. (Again, freshmen could not compete varsity per NCAA rules at the time.) During his college career, Gable pinned 83 of 118 opponents, for an impressive 70.3% pinning percentage.
Meet Larry Owings: Born in Oregon City, Ore. in June 1950 and raised on a farm, Owings was introduced to wrestling by brothers already involved in the sport. Owings had a not-so-successful start; nicknamed Porky, Owings lost all eight of his matches in his first year in junior varsity competition at Canby High, wrestling for coach Larry Wright. However, Owings turned things around, becoming a two-time Oregon high school state champ, winning the 136-pound crown as a junior in 1967, and the 138 title in 1968 (pinning all his opponents at state). As a senior, he earned a place on Wrestling USA magazine's 1967-68 High School All-American team.
Larry Owings' high school mat accomplishments -- including more than 200 victories -- got the attention of a number of college wrestling programs, including Oklahoma State, and, reportedly, Iowa State. However, Owings' love of the Pacific Northwest -- and desire to go to a school with a good architecture program, his intended major -- Owings chose the University of Washington (which has since eliminated its Husky wrestling program).
Owings meets Gable for the first time, 1968: Just after graduating from high school, Larry Owings traveled to Ames, Iowa to compete in the 1968 U.S. Olympic Trials. While there, he faced off against Iowa State sophomore Dan Gable, and lost to the Iowa State mat star, 13-5.
Owings vs. Gable, 1970 NCAAs: Dan Gable was the top seed in the 142-pound bracket, while Larry Owings was seeded second in the same weight class, having cut weight ... all with the expressed purpose to avenging his 1968 Olympic Trials loss to Gable, as the Washington wrestler told anyone in the media covering the Nationals at Northwestern.
Both wrestlers had pinned their way to the finals.
Senior Dan Gable scored falls (in order) in his pigtail match, vs. Central Michigan's Larry Hulbert at 3:11 ... then in the first round vs. Indiana State's unseeded Steve Welter at 5:28 ... then unseeded Gary Pelei of Minnesota at 4:29 of Round 2. The Cyclone kept up the pin parade into the quarterfinals by putting the shoulders of Bill Beakley, Oklahoma's No. 6 seed, at 2:27 ... followed by a 6:33 fall vs. No. 4 seed Wayne Bright at Old Dominion in the semifinals.
Meanwhile, second-seeded sophomore Larry Owings pinned (in order) three unseeded wrestlers: Virginia Tech's Russell Reid at 5:12, Michigan's Mark King at 1:30, then Dan Silbaugh of Wyoming at 6:02. In the semifinals, Owings faced No. 3 seed Keith Lowrance of Michigan State, securing the fall at 3:29 to set up a Gable-Owings title match.
Here's how Jay Hammond described the epic upset in his recap of the title matches in his "History of Collegiate Wrestling" book:
"The next final bout saw the greatest upset in the history of the NCAA tournament. Larry Owings did the impossible -- he beat Dan Gable in the last match of his collegiate career, thus spoiling his 96-0 perfect record. Owings, who was probably the only person in the building who thought he could win, surrendered an early takedown before scoring seven straight points to lead 7-2. However, Gable rallied and knotted the score at 8-8 with a reversal early in the third period. Owings escaped then took Gable down, briefly exposing his shoulders. Referee Pascal Perri awarded two back points to give Owings a 13-8 lead. Gable escaped and had two points for time advantage, but Owings, the tournament's Outstanding Wrestler, was a 13-11 victor."
At the 1970 NCAAs, Gable earned the Gorriaran Award for scoring the most falls in the least amount of time for the second year in a row. However, he left McGaw Hall with his first loss in his combined high school and college mat career, which added up to a record of 182-1.
In the team title race, Iowa State had little trouble in winning its second straight NCAA championship by piling up 99 points (despite Gable's defeat). Michigan State scored 84 points to place second in the 1970 team title race.
Aftermath: Larry Owings made it to the finals of the next two NCAAs. As a junior, Owings lost Oklahoma State's Darrell Keller, 16-12, at the 1971 NCAAs ... then, the following year, Owings fell to Michigan State's Tom Milkovich, 8-4, as a senior. Owings completed his college career with an 87-4 overall record and a 52-1 mark in dual meets.
For Dan Gable, the 1970 NCAA finals was the conclusion of his college mat career. However, after graduating from Iowa State, Gable focused on his freestyle career, ultimately winning the gold medal at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Even before he competed at the Summer Games, Gable was recruited by University of Iowa head wrestling coach Gary Kurdelmeier to join his coaching staff. A few years after Gable came to Iowa City, Kurdelmeier moved up within the Hawkeye organization to become an assistant athletic director ... promoting Gable from assistant coach to head coach. In four years as an assistant coach and 21 as head coach, Gable made the Hawkeyes THE collegiate wrestling program of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s (record)
Owings and Gable meet again ... and again: Larry Owings and Dan Gable crossed paths more than once in the years after their epic meeting on the mat 1970 NCAA finals.
The two had yet another match, at the 1972 Olympic Trials in Minnesota, in the 149.5-pound weight class. Gable defeated Owings,7-1, to represent the U.S. at the Munich Olympics ... and bring home a gold medal.
Gable and Owings did not meet again in person in more than 30 years, until 2006. According to Mike Finn's 2007 story for WIN magazine, the two talked in person in the stands of Ford Center (now Chesapeake Energy Center) in Oklahoma City at the 2006 NCAA Division I Championships.
"I saw Dan Gable sitting in the same section that we were," Owings told Finn. "I went down and said hi to him. It was a little bit later in the tournament that he actually came up with his daughter and introduced her to me. He sat down and talked to me for a while. We just sat down and talked like two old wrestlers. I don't hate Dan Gable. I never have. I think he is a tremendous coach and a tremendous competitor. He's deserved everything that he's earned."
More recently, Larry Owings and Dan Gable met again in person, taking the stage at a discussion of the 1970 NCAAs at NCAA Fan Fest in 2018.
Hungry to learn more about the Owings-Gable 1970 NCAAs? Check out this in-depth (8,000-word) analysis of that epic upset -- including more detailed coverage of the actual match, along with comments from Dan Gable and Larry Owings -- posted at InterMat in 2010.