Gwiazdowski transitions to new lifestyle, focused on freestyle after graduation

By Kala Ibarra, USA Wrestling | Jan. 11, 2017, 5:08 p.m. (ET)
Nick Gwiazdowski works a leg trip against Zach Rey at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Iowa City. Photo by John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com

In this past year since completing a memorable career at North Carolina State, Nick Gwiazdowski has been making the transition from college wrestling to freestyle wrestling.

Gwiazdowski was a two-time NCAA champion and four-time all American for the Wolfpack. By winning 88 of his last 89 matches, he is considered one of the best heavyweights in history, even though his college career didn’t end quite where he had hoped.

Gwiazdowski was an All-American at Binghamton, then transferred to NC State after his coach Pat Popolizio took over the Wolfpack program. He claimed NCAA titles as a sophomore and junior and went into his final season looking to become a three-time NCAA Champion.

In what is regarded as the best NCAA heavyweight final ever, he lost to 2015 World Champion Kyle Snyder of Ohio State in overtime in his final college match.

He has bounced back and continued to press forward into his training in freestyle. His transition from college to freestyle has gone smoothly overall.

“It was all planned [training freestyle], you learn things from it and you take them onto to the next thing,” he said.

His loss to Snyder is behind him now, especially since they compete in different weight classes. They are teammates with the Titan Mercury Wrestling Club and training to be the best in the world.

“It’s a sport, it’s nothing personal. There are a lot of guys here that lost to each other in college and are now teammates. You just try and get better and be the best in the world,” said Gwiazdowski.

Just a week after the NCAA Championships, Gwiazdowski began training again for the U.S. Olympic Trials that took place in April in Iowa City, where he finished fourth at 125 kg/ 275 lbs.

With the intent to stay and train at North Carolina State after graduation, he was able to get right into training after his final college match and prepare for the Olympic Trials.

The history and strong relationship Gwiazdowski held with his college coaches played the biggest role in him staying at NC State. He felt it was going to be most beneficial if he stayed in Raleigh as he continued his freestyle training.

“It’s somewhere I felt comfortable and I felt I could accomplish my goals, along with attending training camps,” said Gwiazdowski.

After following Popolizio from Binghamton to NC State, staying with him while he trained freestyle only seemed right.

In October, Gwiazdowski competed in the Intercontinental Cup in Russia and received a silver medal. He dominated tough Anzor Hizriev of St. Petersburg, Russia, in the semifinals, advancing to the finals where he fell to Batraz Gazzaev from Alania, Russia, 2-1.

In November, Gwiazdowski traveled overseas to Ukraine for the Freestyle World Clubs Cup, the world championships for club programs. He played a key role in Titan Mercury winning the World Club Title.

He was the last to wrestle on Titan Mercury’s team and with the score tied in the final dual against Bimeh Razi of Iran, he had to step up and make the moves to win for the team.

Gwiazdowski was able to beat veteran Iranian star Parviz Hadi, 3-2, clinching the World Club title for TMWC for the first time.

“Being the last one out there was fun but there were six guys that wrestled before me that put me in that position [to be the winning match], I just happened to be the last one out there,” he said

Being constantly on the road is difficult to adjust to, but Gwiazdowski has embraced his new lifestyle. In just the past couple months he has traveled multiple times overseas, to countries such as Russia, Pakistan, and Ukraine. He has a couple more trips coming up this winter.

“You get to see a lot of cool things and place. You get go to locations that people normally don’t go on vacation but are actually pretty cool” he said.

Even with a busy schedule, Gwiazdowski still enjoys being able to relax when he gets the time to be in Raleigh.

“It’s nice to be able to get back home in your own bed and back into a routine,” he said.

Gwiazdowski has been No. 4 on the U.S. National Freestyle team for three straight years. His goal is to make his first Senior World Team this year, with a focus on the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.