NCAA weighs in: Top 5 NCAA wrestlers of all time

Want to get a conversation going -- or start a fight -- among wrestlers, coaches and fans?

Cael Sanderson
Put together any kind of ranking of wrestlers or wrestling programs.

Some examples: InterMat's feature on top college wrestlers of all time or feature providing details of late historian Jay Hammond's three biggest upsets in NCAA Division I finals ... and, 2005, InterMat's analysis of the NCAA 75th Anniversary Team of the fifteen top college wrestlers of all time, commemorating the first NCAA wrestling championships seventy-five years earlier, in 1928.

NCAA Wrestling recently shared a brief video on its Twitter page, titled "The Best of the Best! These are the top 5 NCAA wrestlers of all time."

Weighing in at just over 90 seconds, the video shows action footage (with narration) of NCAA Wrestling's choices for the five greatest college wrestlers in history, starting with their No. 5 selection, Cornell's Kyle Dake ... and concluding with Iowa State's Cael Sanderson as their choice for top wrestler of all time. Here, presented as on the video in descending order, are the wrestlers selected by NCAA Wrestling:

5. Kyle Dake, Cornell

A native of Ithaca, N.Y., Dake joined an elite group of NCAA Division I wrestlers to have won four national titles ... but earned a one-of-a-kind place in history by becoming the first to win four national titles in four different weight classes: 141 pounds in 2010 ... 149 in 2011 ... 157 in 2012 ... and 165 pounds in 2013. Dake also tallied three EIWA (Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association) titles in 2010, 2012 and 2013, earning the conference's Wrestler of the Year award those same years. He capped his collegiate career by winning the 2013 Hodge Trophy as the Wrestler of the Year.

4. Dan Gable, Iowa State

Dan Mack Gable was a three-time, undefeated Iowa high school state champ who then continued his mat career with similar success at Iowa State, where he was a three-time Big Eight champ ((1968-1970) and was a two-time NCAA champ as a sophomore and junior (1968, 1969). As a Cyclone, Gable pinned 83 of 118 opponents, for a 70.3% pin rate. He suffered one loss -- his final match in college, falling to University of Washington sophomore Larry Owings in the 142-pound title match at the 1970 NCAAs, 13-11 ... considered to be the greatest upset in college wrestling.

3. Yojiro Uetake, Oklahoma State

A native of Japan, Yojiro Uetake Obata was a three-time NCAA champion and won a like number of Big Eight titlewinner for the Cowboys at 130 pounds in 1964-1966. He earned Outstanding Wrestler honors at the NCAAs twice, in his junior and senior seaons. Uetake completed his collegiate career with a perfect 57-0 record.

2. Dan Hodge, Oklahoma

Dan Allen Hodge was born in May 1932 on a farm outside Perry, Oklahoma. He wrestled at Perry High School, where he won an Oklahoma state title in 1951. Hodge continued his mat career with the Oklahoma Sooners as the 177-pound starter in the mid-1950s, compiling a perfect 46-0 record; 36 of those wins were by 36 were by fall, for a pinning percentage of 78%. He tallied three Big Seven conference crowns in 1955-1957, and three NCAA titles those same years. Hodge also earned Outstanding Wrestler honors at the '56 and '57 Nationals. The Hodge Trophy, presented each year to the nation's best college wrestler, is named in his honor.

1. Cael Sanderson, Iowa State

A four-time state champ from Utah, Cael Norman Sanderson came to the Midwest to continue his wrestling career at Iowa State, crafting a flawless 159-0 record. In addition, Sanderson racked up four Big Eight conference titles, four NCAA crowns, and four NCAA Outstanding Wrestler Awards in 1999-2002. Sanderson became the first freshman to earn Outstanding Wrestler honors at the NCAAs ... then was presented with the Hodge Trophy, college wrestling's version of the Heisman Trophy, in each of his final three seasons.

Now that you've seen NCAA Wrestling's choices for the five best NCAA wrestlers of all time, let the arguing begin!


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bobbyking (1) about 2 years ago
There are some recent ones that should be at least considered along with these other great wrestlers mentioned in the article. Pat Smith, of course First 4 x champ from Oklahoma State and Logan Stieber 4 x champ Ohio State. Many many more to be mentioned.
ban basketball (2) about 2 years ago
I've come to believe over the years that these "best of" rankings need to be based solely on eras, with people being ranked only within their eras.

Bottom line is that today's competition is SO MUCH better, with many more of great wrestlers than what was in previous decades. It's tougher to be a Cael Sanderson today than what it was in the 50's and 60's and to compare Cael with anyone of those earlier eras is folly.
Bebe1993 (2) about 2 years ago
Well, Palmer says he wants a conversation. So here goes. Consider this fellow crazy wrestling fans. Gray Simons from Lock Haven. Started his freshman year 2-2 and then proceeded to win his next 89 straight matches to end his college career 91-2. Freshman in his era were not permitted to wrestle in the NCAA tournament. His next three trips to the big dance he won the championship, two of those years he was the OW. Lock Haven at that time also wrestled in the NAIA tournament. Freshman were permitted in that tournament. What did Simons do in that tournament you ask? He won all four years and was the OW all four times. That makes a total of seven national championships and six outstanding wrestler awards under his belt.....Who else on this list has those kind of credentials?
bobbyking (1) about 2 years ago
Wow! Gray Simons was amazing! Only other guy that comes to mind is Carlton Haselrig in the 80's with 6 titles. Great reference with Simons. Nobody should ever be overlooked with these stats.
MrP (1) about 2 years ago
As a Lock Haven grad, Gray Simon's was incredible and Bebe hit the nail on the head. I would also seriously consider Wade Schalles of Course Clarion, the greatest Pinner of all time!
MrP (1) about 2 years ago
Bebe hit the nail on the head with Gray Simon's. He was incredible! I also think Wade Schalles of Clarion should be highly considered. The greatest Pinner of all time..
Calhoun157 (1) about 2 years ago
Great article, Mark.

Gray Simons was a fantastic, technical wrestler. Allow me to throw a few names out there.

Stanley Henson, Oklahoma State, 1930s era. I believe he was a three time champ. Perhaps only two-time. Undefeated in college. His brother Joe was an Olympic champ.

Rick Sanders, Portland State. NAIA, D2 and D1 national champion in the 60s. Criminally forgotten wrestler that met a tragic end hitchhiking in Italy in the weeks after winning silver at the Munich Olympics. Even beat Gable at Freestyle in Gable's early freestyle days.

Lee Kemp
Gene Mills
Les Gutches

Honestly, I believe that most modern era guys would take the old timers to school and putting a guy like Hodge above Dake is pretty insane. Lol. But, I too have quite a soft spot for the rough and ready battlers of old.
pappap (1) about 2 years ago
kyle Dake 4 ncaa titles at 4 different weight classes. come on anybody that wrestles know how hard that is to do//
TonyD (1) about 2 years ago
Please don't make a top 5 list...You leave out Pat Smith, Lee Kemp, Logan Steiber, etc... Too many... Top 10 list at the very least. Thx.
mpitts125 (1) about 2 years ago
It is hard to compare all these guys depending on which era they competed in, but I believe one thing is true about all these greats. Put them in any era and they would've done what was needed to be the best. While someone like Dake might have wrestled tougher competition, put a young Dan Hodge or Uetake in the early 2000s, they would've found a way to be the man, just like they were in the 50s & 60s.
ban basketball (1) about 2 years ago

If people compile a top ten list, then people will say that it should be top twenty, as so and so and so and so were left off!

As I said earlier, I think these lists are never going to be perfectly accurate, due to people wrestling in different eras, but it would seem that similar criteria to how the Hodge is determined could be used to try to get a sense of the top five "all-time greats."
JohnWonder (1) about 2 years ago
I think a gentleman by the name of Carlton Hasrlrig should be mentioned here for winning 6 ncaa titles.
jnabors88 (1) about 2 years ago
It's hard not to see Lee Kemp on this list. The fact that he was a 3x National Champ and runner up his freshman year due to a official decision. Lee also beat Gable while in college after Gable came out of retirement. Overall good list but Lee should be on here in my opinion.
Double (1) about 2 years ago
Bill Nelson, Iowa 3 time national champ---would have been 4 time national champ but he was down with the flu in his sophomore year.
ban basketball (1) about 2 years ago

Not to rain on your parade, and, yes, Nelson is a good choice, but among us longtime UNI fans, Bill Koll is generally regarded as UNI's best college wrestler. Yes, it's like splitting hairs, but both Koll and Nelson won three titles at UNI, but Koll never lost, whereas Nelson did.

So, most of us at UNI would place Koll just slightly above Nelson as a collegiate wrestler.