Cox heads to Mongolia, sets sights on Olympics

J’Den Cox: “I’ve done so much and gone through so much, and I knew I could really accomplish this goal if I tried and put my heart into it.”
J'den Cox celebrates a 4-2 victory against Penn State's Morgan McIntosh to earn his second national championship title. Cox ended his season with a 35-1 record in front of a sold out crowd of 19,270 fans at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night. Courtesy of Shane Epping

Following the 2015 world wrestling tournament in September, four-time NCAA national champion Kyle Dake of Cornell announced he’d be competing in the 86-kilogram weight class in the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials as opposed to his previous weight of 74 kilograms.

Although he blamed body growth for the sudden weight change, it's not hard to conclude that this move likely dodged three-time world champion and 2012 Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs.

Little did he know what stood before him in Missouri junior wrestler J’Den Cox. He earned a trip Iowa City, Iowa, after winning an individual NCAA title at the tournament in March.

Initially, Cox was predicted to wrestle at 97 kilograms but surprisingly dropped down to 86 kilograms.

“(Losing weight) wasn’t too tough,” Cox said. “I actually lost 8 pounds in 15 minutes. Once I got it done, it was done.”

Cox entered the tournament as the No. 9 seed and faced former Oklahoma State wrestler Clayton Foster in the first round of the tournament.

Cox led 5–3 as time expired in the first period, but Foster, despite being out of bounds, foot swept Cox, launching him into the air and landing him on his head. Cox quickly grabbed the back of his head and rolled around on the mat before slowly getting up.

Foster had just poked the bear.

“I was mostly frustrated with myself, I wasn’t moving,” Cox said. “But my coaches did a great job of talking to me, and I came out cooler in the second period.”

Trailing 5–7 with just 10 seconds left, Cox got a takedown, which gave him the victory 7–7 by critical point because he scored last with a higher move.

The next opponent was Jake Herbert, who was an olympian in 2012. Cox would prove to be far too much for the top-seeded Herbert as he recorded three takedowns and two pushouts, breezing past Herbert 8–1 into the semifinals.

Interesting enough, Mizzou’s last Olympian was Ben Askren in 2008. He’s one of the few who predicted Cox to win the 86 kg bracket to begin the weekend.

In Askren’s senior campaign at Mizzou, he earned his second national title at 174 pounds, defeating Keith Gavin. Coincidentally, Gavin was Cox’s semifinal opponent in this qualifying. Just like Askren, Cox defeated Gavin 3–1 propelling him into the finals against Dake.

Cox faced Dake in a best-of-three series Sunday night in front of 11,000 fans in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Thanks to three takedowns, Cox dominated Dake in the first match, winning 8–1, but Dake wouldn’t go away that easy. He defeated Cox in the second match, 5–3.

In the third and final match, Cox recorded an early takedown, giving him a 2–0 lead heading into the second and final period. Ultimately prevailing, Cox pulled off one of biggest upsets in wrestling, becoming the 2016 U.S. Olympic trials champion at 86 kilograms.

“I think the more I’m not supposed to win, the more I just don’t care,” Cox said. “I’ve done so much and gone through so much, and I knew I could really accomplish this goal if I tried and put my heart into it.”

Although the majority of the winners at each weight class received automatic bids to the 2016 Olympic games, the U.S. has not yet given a bid for the Olympics at 86 kilograms.

Cox will now wrestle April 22-24 in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, in the Olympic World Qualifier Tournament. The top three wrestlers at 86 kilograms will advance to the 2016 Summer Olympics. If Cox fails to place in the top three in Mongolia, he’ll have one last chance in May to qualify for Rio by placing within the top two at the another “last-chance” tournament in Istanbul.

“I’ll think about all of that when it comes,” Cox said. “I know there’s going to be a lot more training.”

Edited by Alec Lewis | alewis@themaneater.com

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