Athlete of the Year: Through humility and quiet greatness, J’den Cox shows why he is Missouri’s best

Cox’s resume includes three national championships and an Olympic bronze medal.

Maneater File Photo

It’s been 46 days since senior and Columbia native J’den Cox capped off his illustrious career as a Missouri Tiger with his third national title in the 197-pound weight class.

Cox, who became the first three-time national champion in any sport in school history on March 18, walked out of Scottrade Center that night with another unheralded feat to add to his resume.

But now that the dust has settled on his career, many fans are beginning to wonder: Is J’den Cox Missouri’s greatest athlete of all time?

His career accolades certainly put him in the conversation. On top of being a three-time national champion, Cox is an Olympic bronze medalist, the second four-time All-American in Missouri wrestling history and the owner of the best winning percentage in program history among wrestlers with greater than 100 career wins.

He boasts a 136-5 career record and had arguably the best season of his career in his senior season, going 28-0. This season made him just the second wrestler in Missouri history to post an undefeated season.

He also finished second in the 2017 Hodge Trophy voting, an annual award given to the nation’s best overall wrestler and competitor.

There’s no question that some excellent athletes have come through Columbia to compete for the Tigers through the years. For baseball fans, names like Max Scherzer, a four-time All-Star and two-time Cy Young Award winner, and Ian Kinsler, a four-time All-Star second baseman, come to mind. Phil Bradley, who earned varsity letters in both baseball and as the starting quarterback on Missouri’s football team from 1977-1981 before going on to earn a 1985 All-Star game nod for the Seattle Mariners, is another prominent name. Benjamin Hochman, a sports columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said in an interview that Cox’s success away from Columbia, even before he graduated, puts him among Missouri’s greatest.

"It's almost like we have two 'Mount Rushmores' going here — one for accomplishments while competing for Mizzou and one for accomplishments by an athlete after Mizzou,” Hochman said. “Cox is clearly on the first one, arguably the best Mizzou's ever had. And with his international and Olympic success, he's probably in the conversation for other Rushmore too, along with Max Scherzer, Kellen Winslow and others."

Freshman Matt Carroll, a lifelong Missouri fan, went a step further in his evaluation of Cox’s legacy, declaring him the all-time greatest promoter of the Missouri brand.

“It’s unusual for schools to have a recognizable wrestler,” Carroll said. “It helps me believe in the global and nationwide brand Mizzou has, and shows that it doesn’t always have to be the athlete from the [revenue] sport that’s the best.”

Cox says he’s flattered by the attention but, as is typical for him, responds with humility when he’s mentioned among Missouri’s all-time greats.

“I do what I do because I want to do it and I love to do it,” he said at his championship press conference on March 18. “At the end of the day, I’m overall just joyful in doing what I’m doing.”

Just minutes after Cox accomplished something that no other athlete in Mizzou history has ever done on March 18, his mind was moving to the next task: graduating with a degree in psychology, which he’s expected to do this month.

Missouri fans should appreciate his accomplishments while he’s still on campus.

After all, it’s not often that you have the greatest of all time in your midst.

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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