To get to the top, J’den Cox knew he must go up.
The two-time defending freestyle wrestling world champion in the men’s 92 kg. class, Cox announced Tuesday that he’s moving up to the 97 kg. class for the 2020 Olympic year, a decision that puts him on a collision course with fellow American and defending 97 kg. Olympic champion Kyle Snyder in order for either to make the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team.
It’s a scenario in which two of the best wrestlers in the world, both Olympic medalists and world champions, will meet at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Wrestling April 4-5 at Penn State but only one can advance to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
For Cox, it proved to be the best option in a decision with no easy answers.
With freestyle wrestling having 10 weight classes at the world championships but only six at the Tokyo Games, Cox, who turns 25 next month, had to decide whether he would move up and potentially have to get through Snyder, one of the most dominant wrestlers in the world over the past five years, with two world titles and four total world medals to go with his Olympic gold medal, all in that 97 kg. weight class.
Alternatively, Cox could also have moved back down to 86 kg., the class in which he won an Olympic bronze medal in 2016, but one that could feature 2018 world champ David Taylor as well as possibly Kyle Dake, the two-time defending world champ at 79 kg. who faces the same up-or-down decision as Cox.
Cox explained his decision to move up in “The Latest Stuf” presented by OREO.
“My Olympic journey is taking an interesting turn,” he said, adding, “In this 2020 Olympics, though, I’ve chosen 97 kilos. Kyle Snyder’s there. He’s the youngest Olympic champion that we’ve ever had in the sport of wrestling in the US of A. He’s medaled in every world or Olympic event since (2015). So, tune in.”
Cox, a native of Columbia, Missouri, broke out on the world stage in 2016 while still in college at his hometown University of Missouri. Competing at his first Olympic Games that summer, the then-21-year-old beat Cuba’s Reineris Salas Perez in dramatic fashion to claim a bronze medal.
Returning home a local hero, Cox went on to win his third consecutive NCAA title in 2017. After competing folkstyle in college, he switched his focus fully to freestyle wrestling, which is used in the Olympics, and continued his ascent.
Moving up from 86 kg. after the 2017 season to 92 kg. – a difference of just over 13 pounds – Cox thrived, winning back-to-back world title in 2018 and ’19. However, with the Olympic weight classes looming, that was always going to be a temporary home.
In competing at 97 kg., Cox will be in a weight class that’s a little more than 24 pounds heavier than in Rio.