Similar styles clash at heavyweight


File photo: Manfred Brugger/Iowa State Daily

Iowa State’s Matt Gibson prepares to take on Boston’s Kevin Innis during the meet Nov. 11 at Hilton Coliseum.

Jake Calhoun

Standing at 6 feet, 6 inches, both Kyle Simonson and Matt Gibson have been confused for basketball players on the campus of Iowa State.

However, Simonson and Gibson are both heavyweight wrestlers in contention for the starting spot at that weight class on the team.

“Those guys are pretty even,” said coach Kevin Jackson. “It could go either way in the wrestling room with those two guys.”

The team’s “too tall tandem” has split time in its four dual meets so far this season, fighting for the spot vacated by David Zabriskie, who won the national title as a senior last season and is the only three-time All-American at heavyweight in school history.

Filling the big shoes Zabriskie left has stirred up some competitive scrapping between the two.

“We push each other to wrestle harder,” Simonson said. “That makes us both stronger by having good practice partners to push each other.”

Despite some minor advantages either may hold in one category or another, both of their wrestling styles are strikingly similar.

“We’re pretty much the same,” Gibson said. “Me and Kyle are pretty similar in a lot of areas.”

Interestingly enough, despite their uniquely similar build and style of wrestling, Simonson and Gibson hail from very different environments. Simonson, a native of Algona, Iowa, was never pushed to participate in athletics but took to sports on his own accord.

“I made myself the best that I could be without having too much pressure put on me or anything like that,” Simonson said. “I think that helped a lot.”

In high school, Simonson placed eighth and third in the state at 189 pounds his sophomore and junior seasons before winning the state title at 215 pounds his senior season.

In his career at Algona, Simonson posted an overall record of 82-22 before coming to Iowa State to continue wrestling. So far at Iowa State, Simonson has an overall record of 49-18 with a dual record of 4-1. This year, he has a record of 13-1 with a 2-0 mark in dual meets.

One day after pinning then-No. 14 Brendan Barlow in Iowa State’s dual win over Kent State, Simonson came back from a first-round loss in the Hokie Open to reel off six straight victories to place fifth in the event. The following week, he dominated his competition en route to a first-place finish in the Cyclone Open.

Gibson’s background, however, doesn’t reflect his rival’s.

Growing up in Vallejo, Calif., Gibson was not heavily influenced by his environment to wrestle. However, he became motivated to pursue a career in wrestling after being told he had a talent in the sport.

In the California state high school wrestling tournament, Gibson placed fourth at 189 pounds his junior year and third at 215 pounds his senior year while wrestling for Jesse Bethel High School.

Jackson and then-assistant coach Chris Bono had begun building a rapport with Gibson in December 2009 while he was wrestling at Sierra College in Rocklin, Calif. At the end of that season, Gibson would go on to win the California junior college state title at heavyweight as a redshirt freshman.

Gibson transferred to Iowa State for the 2010-2011 season, a move he does not regret.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for so long since I was little,” Gibson said after his 13-2 major decision victory over Kevin Innis in Iowa State’s dual meet victory over Boston on Nov. 11. “I grew up watching Iowa State and then I’m finally able to wrestle here. It’s a really good feeling.”

In his first-ever match at the Division I level, Gibson fell in a 7-4 decision to David Marone in the Cyclones’ season-opening dual meet against Virginia Tech. The loss would later be avenged by an 11-8 decision against Marone in the championship match of the Hokie Open the next day.

Gibson is 5-3 on the year with a 1-1 mark in dual meets and is currently ranked 20th by InterMat.

The competition between Simonson and Gibson has heated up as the season has progressed, showing signs of what is at stake for them both.

“The live [practice matches] are a little bit more intense between us now,” Gibson said. “It used to be a little bit laid back, just like a normal live go in practice, and now it’s a lot more like there’s something on the line. It’s definitely more intense.”

Jackson has initiated wrestle-offs between the two at numerous points throughout the season to determine who competes in what event, but says the ultimate decision on who will earn the starting spot should become clearer after the Midlands Championships in late December.

“As we move forward and as we get to Midlands we’ll know for sure after Midlands who our guy is, and that guy will be thrown out there every single time,” Jackson said after his team’s dual victory over Boston. “I’m very, very happy with what we have at heavyweight. I wish we had that kind of competition at each and every weight class.”