OKLAHOMA CITY – J’den Cox has always said he wanted to win four national titles when he came to Missouri.
On Saturday night in the Chesapeake Energy Arena, Cox accomplished step No. 1 when he beat top-seeded Nick Heflin from Ohio State, 2-1, at the 2014 NCAA wrestling championships.
“This is a dream of mine,” Cox said. “It's something I put all of my heart and work to and I always tell people I see it this way: There's no point to do something if you're not going to push yourself to try to do it to the best of your ability.”
Cox made Missouri wrestling history, as he became the youngest Tiger to win a national championship. Two-time national champion, Ben Askren, previously held the record when he won a title as a redshirt freshman at Missouri.
“I’m so happy for him,” coach Brian Smith said. “He’s an amazing athlete and student of the sport. He was so confident and focused coming in after high school and then he lost. He is always focused, but after, it was this new, unbelievable, intense focus, and he just kept getting better and better and better. He is an amazing kid.”
Cox, who is typically relaxed, said he was nervous before the finals.
“I was like, ‘This is something big to me. It means a lot to me and I have something to prove to myself,” he said. “I proved something to myself today, and I'm very proud of myself.”
The seven-minute match was close: scoreless after the first and tied after the second period. In the third, Heflin got called for stalling, which awarded one point to Cox. In the final 10 seconds, Heflin made a move, but time ran out before the Buckeye could score a takedown. That stalling call made the difference, and the Columbia native and Hickman High School graduate emerged victorious.
“It felt like a big weight lifted off my chest,” Cox said of his win. “I've told people in interviews about my goal. My goal is to be a four-time national champion. This is the beginning. And I think this was probably going to be one of the hardest ones just because it was trying to get the train started, trying to get the motion going toward that.”
With 16,217 fans looking on, Cox began forging the path to achieving his goals.
He got his first taste of life under the lights before the finals festivities began, when Smith took him up to the stage and had him practice walking up the stairs.
The stage is elevated for all to see, and it rests in the middle of the arena. Two red carpets lead up to the mat.
Smith said Cox was smiling as he walked around the stage and took it all in.
“This kid is so happy to be here and relaxed, but that’s J’den,” Smith said. “He loves to compete.”
Cox is the first Missouri wrestler to win a national title since 2010 and the fifth under Smith. He finished his first season with just two losses.