The number three-ranked heavyweight in college wrestling has plenty of reason to believe he’s the pound-for-pound baddest man in NCAA wrestling.
Tony Cassioppi of the University of Iowa has had All-American status three times and shared the room with some of the most gritty and successful wrestlers on the planet, and even the most decorated wrestlers out there find Cassioppi to be the most dangerous man in the room.
“Spencer [Lee] always jokes that the only way he’d ever be able to take me in a fight is if he had 30 yards and a gun,” Cassioppi laughed.
Aside from the size difference, what is it about Cassioppi that would have the face of NCAA keeping his distance?
As it turns out, not only can Cassioppi hold his own with the best on the mat, he’s likely one of the most skilled strikers in the NCAA.
“I did box growing up, too,” Cassioppi said. “I was Silver Gloves, and I went to the Ringside World Championships in Wichita or wherever they’re at a couple times.”
The great nephew of Hall of Fame pugilist Sammy Mandell, it was in Cassioppi’s blood to lace up the gloves as often as the wrestling shoes growing up. Whatever time goes into becoming a three-time All-American, Cassioppi put into boxing as a youth.
Cassioppi’s hands are so lethal he’s had success in disciplines outside of both boxing and wrestling. In a world where all eight limbs are perfected, Cassioppi only needs two.
“My last fight was a WAKO kickboxing tournament,” Cassioppi said. “I didn’t really throw any kicks; I was more of a boxer but I did the WAKO North American Kickboxing Open and I won that. They wanted me to go to the kickboxing worlds, but I had wrestling stuff.”
It may come as a surprise that with the wrestling and striking base that Cassioppi has, he’s not even the biggest fan of MMA. He one day sees a future in the sport, but until his schedule is freed up it’ll be a while before he knows what fighters may one day pop up in his crosshairs.
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“I want to keep wrestling and do an Olympic cycle at least, but I would like to get into fighting, too,” Cassioppi said. “I think I’d be good at it and it’s something I’ve always been interested in.”
While it may be surprising to hear an accomplished wrestler and boxer confess to having no interest in watching MMA, Cassioppi’s intangibles make him just as intimidating as his tangible skillset.
At the tail end of Iowa’s dominant 34-6 victory over Nebraska, Cassioppi found himself in a position that most would find hard to find motivation. At 28-6 going into the final match, there’s literally nothing he could do to change the outcome of the dual, number three against an unranked Cale Davidson. Nobody would have blamed Cassioppi for doing just enough to secure the win. After going up 16-3 with less than a minute left in the third period, Cassioppi didn’t accept the easy W, he pushed through until he was able to score a pin with only 21 seconds left.
Wherever Cassioppi finds himself in the future, he has the will to push himself to the end of the job, no matter how little impact it has in the long run.
Cassioppi is never going to take a practice off, phone in a match or ignore the task at hand. He’s got all the intangibles to be great at whatever he chooses to do, and with the weapons in his arsenal, he has what it takes to put fear in a lot of UFC heavyweights for years to come.
“I feel like the hard thing for wrestlers to pick up is the striking, and I already have a pretty solid base in striking,” Cassioppi said. “I already have that from being in boxing from nine to 18. I’m confident in my work ethic and my ability. I don’t think it would take long to be in the top ten. Obviously, you’ve got to work hard to prove that, but I think I’d do pretty well.”
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