J'den Cox (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
The date is March 18, 2017. J'den Cox has just defeated Minnesota's Brett Pfarr, 8-2, to win his third national championship in front of 18,000 fans at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis. In his home state, he has just finished one of, if not the most magnificent collegiate career in Mizzou history, becoming the first three-time National Champion in Mizzou Athletics history.
Three national titles. Four All-America honors. Four conference championships. 136 victories. The resume is lengthy. But when asked about his journey to get to where he is, Cox simplifies it.
"I'm just a boy from Columbia, Missouri, named J'den Cox and I just love to wrestle," said the homegrown talent after finishing off his spectacular collegiate career.
It's a mindset he still carries to this day.
"Obviously there's more that stems on to it, but that right there carries it," said Cox. "I'm just a boy from CoMo who likes to scrap it out. That will never change. It will always be that for me and I am proud of that. I'll carry that for a long time."
But for Cox, life has always been about more than wrestling. On top of his training and sponsorship fulfillments, Cox has become an advocate for the mental health and hearing-impaired communities. His weekly instructional videos on sign language have become a hit within his following.
The relationships and interactions he has made throughout his journey have meant the world to him.
"My goal has always been to not be recognized as a wrestler, but as a person," said Cox. "My growth can't just come on a mat, it has to come throughout my life. I think the person, the man I've become to be and still am growing to be, it's something that I take seriously and I hold to a very high standard. I think people see that and respect that. With time, as I grew, it really started to show. And I think people were really able to take in who I was and I think that added to how awesome it was and what I accomplished. But I definitely think fans cheer for the person more than the wrestler."
In the summer of 2016, just weeks after winning his second national title, Cox exploded onto the international wrestling scene, cumulating in a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics. His remarkable summer began with a run through his weight class (86 kg) at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, where he was seeded 10th and beat the likes of Dan Hodge Trophy winners Jake Herbert and Kyle Dake to earn his first spot on the U.S National Team.
With his weight class not yet qualified for the Olympics, Cox's next step to Olympic glory included a trip to Mongolia for a Qualifying Tournament. One issue, Cox didn't have a passport. So he hopped on a quick flight to Denver, and drove to Colorado Springs so the US Olympic committee could assist in the sped-up process. The Columbia-grown superstar was ready for international travel.
Once in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, Cox needed to finish in the top-three of his weight class to qualify the red white and blue for Rio. In dominating fashion, he finished first, outscoring the opposition, 36-3, in five matches. He was ready for Rio.
On that fateful day in August, Cox came so close to wrestling gold, falling in the semifinals in controversial fashion. But he rebounded in fashion, just like he always has, to earn the bronze medal at 86 kg following a win over Cuba's Reineris Salas Perez. He became just the seventh Mizzou athlete - and the first since 2008 - to win a medal at the Olympics.
Fast forward four years to 2020. Add on another World bronze medal and two World Championships to Cox's resume. This was supposed to be Cox's year. He was ready to win gold at the Olympics.
Until life changed. For Cox and for the entire world, as the Olympics and every other sporting event around the globe was postponed or canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"That's where we are right now, people's health and people's well-being have to come first," said Cox. "So we are making the adjustments as we go along, I think it's hard because there is a lot of bad news as far as how we train and how we want to go along things as athletes, but we have to roll with the punches and do our best and make the adjustments as we need to."
"My goal has always been to not be recognized as a wrestler, but as a person. My growth can't just come on a mat, it has to come throughout my life. I think the person, the man I've become to be and still am growing to be, it's something that I take seriously and I hold to a very high standard. I think people see that and respect that. With time, as I grew, it really started to show. And I think people were really able to take in who I was and I think that added to how awesome it was and what I accomplished. But I definitely think fans cheer for the person more than the wrestler."
Don't worry, though. Cox is confident this will not slow him down.
"Whenever I get the chance again, I'll be ready to take it back out there," said the Olympic hopeful.
Cox's goals have always been ambitious, but that's not what he hopes to be remembered for.
"My career is going to happen however it sees fit," said Cox. "Whether I make teams or don't. Whether I win medals or don't. But I believe the things that I have done, the interactions that I have had, the person I am and how I carry myself is what makes Missouri proud. And that is what I would like people to recognize, because at the end of the day, there are going to be plenty more Olympians after me. There will be plenty more World Medalists and Olympic Medalists, and all that, but there will forever be one J'den Cox. My goal to make Missouri proud is to carry myself with dignity, honor and respect, and treat others with love and care and passion and go from there living day-by-day."