The public-address announcer inside a sold-out Madison Square Garden hadn’t even finished introducing the wrestlers for the 197-pound semifinals before Missouri junior J’den Cox already had Minnesota junior Brett Pfarr’s leg in the air.
Cox, who became the fourth three-time All-American in Tigers wrestling history, wasn’t able to finish the takedown before Pfarr hopped out of bounds, but it was only a matter of time.
During the last few months, Cox hasn’t been shy about his desire to reclaim the NCAA national title at his weight class. He’s described his journey as a mission.
It’s now one step from completion after Cox — the 2014 champion, who finished fifth at nationals as a sophomore — pinned Pfarr in 6:29 to advance to his second championship bout in three seasons.
“My intensity is higher (than last year),” Cox said. “My want for more is higher. I’m not sitting back with 15 seconds left in the match and saying, ‘I’m going to ride this dude out.’ No, I’m trying to turn him, trying to reach new heights and trying to do that for myself — not for everybody else, but for me. I love what I do.”
It showed Friday as Cox opened with a 6-0 win against Princeton’s Brett Harner in the quarterfinals and again with the third-period pin in the semifinals at a tourney that has sold 71,777 tickets through the first four sessions across two days of competition.
“He’s just wrestling hard,” Mizzou coach Brian Smith said. “We always say, ‘When he’s on, he’s a scary dude.’ He’s scary right now. He’s so confident right now, but it’s from what he’s been doing all year. It’s the way he’s been training.”
Cox was one of three Tigers to reach the semifinals, but redshirt freshman 165-pounder Daniel Lewis and sophomore 184-pounder Willie Miklus lost one match shy of the title bout.
Miklus scored a takedown in the final 5 seconds of a match with Nebraska’s Timothy Dudley during a Feb. 21 showdown in the NWCA National Dual Series to secure a one-point win.
Dudley made sure there would no final-second heroics from Miklus in the rematch, overcoming an early takedown for a 12-4 major decision.
Meanwhile, Lewis, who was seeded fourth, ran into a buzz saw in his semifinal against top-seeded and unbeaten Oklahoma State senior Cody Dieringer.
Dieringer, a two-time national champion, won his 81st consecutive match with a 14-4 major decision against Lewis, who advanced in Friday’s morning session with a 3-0 quarterfinal win against the No. 12 seed, Rider’s Connor Brennan.
It was a similar story for Oklahoma senior Cody Brewer, an Oak Park graduate and the 133-pound national championship from last season.
He faced Cornell’s Nahshon Garrett in the 133 semifinals, got taken down to his back right off the bat and was pinned by the 21-second mark.