It is the most intimidating glare in college wrestling.
It starts when Iowa senior Tony Ramos walks to the center of the mat.
He drops into his stance, right leg forward with his right forearm resting on top of that leg. His left hand rests on his left knee.
A scowl spreads across his face as he stares directly at his opponent.
“Mike Tyson said every time he looked in his opponents eyes he could see fear and nervousness,” Ramos said. “When I look in my opponents eyes, everyone has pretty much looked away. That lets you know they are scared of you a little bit and that they have a breaking point. If they don’t look me in the eye, it gives me an edge even before the match starts.”
It is more than the glare that strikes fear in Ramos’ opponents. His hard-charging, push-the-pace style can be equally as intimidating. He’s one of the most dynamic and exciting wrestlers in the country.
Ramos starts his final college season ranked No. 1 nationally at 133 after placing second and third at the NCAA Championships.
Ramos is scheduled to bump up a weight class to face Virginia Tech All-American Devin Carter at 141 pounds in the NWCA All-Star Classic on Saturday at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
“It’s a great event and I’m excited to have a chance to compete,” Ramos said. “They are trying to get the best possible matchups and it’s going to be a great event for the fans. It is awesome to see some guys taking matches out of their weight classes. It’s great to see them building this event back up. I’m looking forward to it.”
Ramos is 2-1 in his career against Carter, winning the last two times they met at 133. Carter has moved up to 141 this season.
“He was a bigger 133-pounder and he will obviously be even bigger now,” Ramos said of Carter. “It’s something I’m prepared for. I have always wrestled with bigger guys to get the best competition I can.”
Ramos finished third at the 2012 NCAA tournament before reaching the finals last season at 133. He dropped a 7-4 decision to Ohio State’s Logan Stieber in the 2013 NCAA finals in Des Moines, Iowa.
Ramos locked Stieber in a cradle and tipped him to his back late in the match, but no points were awarded despite the sequence going to a video review.
“I’m not going to forget about what happened, but you can’t control it,” Ramos said. “There is nothing I can do about it. The referee didn’t give the points. I just have to move forward. What I learned from it is that I need to hold onto that lock longer next time.”
Stieber won his second NCAA title last season and has moved up to 141 for junior season.
The aggressive Ramos style has become a huge hit with Iowa’s large and passionate fan base.
“My mentality is to dominate and score as many points as possible,” he said. “If someone gives me an opportunity to put them on their back, I’m going to take it. I go out there to put on a show for the fans and showcase all the work I’ve been doing. The biggest thing about wrestling that style is it helps the team when I score a lot of points.”
Ramos is part of a veteran Iowa team expected to contend for an NCAA team title this season. The Hawkeyes finished fourth at the 2013 NCAAs.
“There are a lot of places where we could’ve scored more points,” Ramos said. “A lot of people are counting us out this year because of our performance last year, and that’s fine. It’s going to be fun to compete with those top teams. I can’t wait for us to show people what we can do.”
Ramos also is a top prospect in freestyle wrestling. He placed fifth for the U.S. at the 2009 Junior World Championships.
“I definitely want to pursue freestyle full-time when I’m done with college wrestling,” he said. “I want to get my national championship first at Iowa and then go to the next thing. I want to win a World title and an Olympic gold medal. I want to be the best.”
For now, the focus for Ramos is squarely on his final collegiate season.
“This is my last shot,” Ramos said. “You have to take advantage of every opportunity and make it happen. You don’t have any more shots after this. You can’t waste any moment, any second. Nothing really changes – your preparation is the same, your training is the same.
“I just have to perform and get the job done. What happened last year is real motivating for me. There’s only one place for me to go and that’s getting to the top of the mountain.”