J’den Cox has reached the pinnacle of college wrestling twice, and next week, he looks to do it a third time.
Fresh off his fourth conference title, Cox, a two-time national champion, enters the NCAA Division I Championships as the favorite at 197 pounds.
The Mizzou senior will compete for his third and final national title in his home state at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Mo., March 16-18.
“I feel great,” Cox said. “I’m wrestling great. I feel on point and like everything is moving smoothly. My training is precise, and I’m continuing to evolve and gain even more confidence. I’m really enjoying the ride and enjoying what I’m doing and the passion that I have for it.”
Cox has been on a roll this year, riding a 43-match win streak, the second-longest current winning streak in the country among Division I wrestlers.
Prior to the 2016-17 season, Cox earned an extraordinary opportunity to represent the United States at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, competing in freestyle at 86 kg/189 lbs.
With only months of international competition under his belt, Cox emerged among many freestyle veterans with an Olympic bronze medal.
“I was proud of it. It was a feat accomplished by a guy, who had a dream since he was a little kid to wrestle in the Olympics,” Cox said. “It means a lot to be able to say that I’m an Olympian and an Olympic medalist. When I came back, I had the confidence, but I was wrestling for a long time, so I needed a break. It stepped up my confidence, but there were some adjustments that needed to be made.”
Although he admitted to a slow start to his senior season, Cox maintained a No. 1 ranking in all the top polls throughout the entire season, thanks to a perfect 23-0 record for the year.
Of his wins, 10 came over ranked opponents, including a 6-4 decision over then-No.2 Brett Pfarr of Minnesota in the Southern Scuffle finals. It was his second Scuffle title, one of the toughest mid-season tournaments in the country.
He’s also recorded 16 bonus-point wins, including five falls, six technical falls and five major decisions.
Most recently, Cox picked up his fourth MAC title in Cedar Falls, Iowa, last weekend with two pins and a decision. It was an historic feat as Cox became only the seventh wrestler to ever win four MAC titles as well as the second four-time conference champion in Mizzou history, joining 2015 NCAA champion Drake Houdashelt.
Next week, he and the Tigers will drive two hours east from Colombia, Mo., to St. Louis to compete at the 2017 NCAA Championships.
Although the country will be watching closely as Cox looks to reach the top of the podium once again, the senior said he doesn’t feel the pressure and remains confident in everything he’s done throughout the season.
“Nationals is like a roller coaster in many ways, emotionally and physically,” Cox said. “It’s like when you’re going up the hill and climbing and climbing. You’re excited, but at the same time you’re like ‘I don’t know if I can do it. Can I get off? I want my money back. I shouldn’t have had nachos before the ride.’ You get caught up in all that, but once it starts going, you just have to let it go and go with the twists and turns if you want to be successful. That’s what I plan to do, and I think that comes from the confidence in my training and the belief in myself.”
Should Cox win a third NCAA title, he will become the first wrestler in program history to win three titles. He is now in the Mizzou record books as one of two Tigers to win two NCAA championships, with 2006 and 2007 national champion Ben Askren in his company.
At the conclusion of the NCAA Championships, Cox plans to pursue his dream of playing college football, suiting up for the Tigers for spring ball.
As far as wrestling goes, Cox isn’t sure what his future holds, but plans to take it one step at a time.
“I plan to continue wrestling to a point,” Cox said. “There are so many parts to me that are more than just wrestling. There are so many things that I have to offer and want to explore and show the world. I want to share my music. I want to show that I can express myself in more ways than wrestling. Also with traveling, I’ve been to places but I haven’t really experienced those places because I was there for a tournament. Those are some things I want to take care of. I want to contribute to the world and do more with what I have and who I am.”
For now, Cox is focused on closing his collegiate wrestling chapter with another first-place trophy.
Keep up with Cox and the rest of the Tiger wrestling team at the NCAA tournament on themat.com, where we’ll have complete coverage all three days. All sessions will be broadcast by ESPN.