CLEVELAND — The NCAA wrestling championships were always going to be the Kyle Snyder show.
The most famous wrestler in the world played host to college wrestling in the state he’s called home for four years at Ohio State. For three days, ESPN broadcasted from the Quicken Loans Arena. The sports network dedicated dozens of features to the Olympic gold medalist. The broadcasters discussed Snyder at times when he was nowhere near the mat.
He gave them one hell of a finale.
Closing out the championships, Snyder and Michigan No. 2 Adam Coon met on mat and stage in the middle of 19,776 fans in Cleveland. Each of the 330 wrestlers that competed in the days before gathered in the arena to see the sport at its best.
The Buckeye senior defeated Coon and left Ohio State and college wrestling with his third national championship.
“I’ll look back at my career at Ohio State and just be thankful for not what I was able to achieve, but all the moments and camaraderie and experience I’ve had with my teammates and coaches and my improvement as a wrestler and as a man and my faith especially, all that’s grown so much,” Snyder said. “So that’s what I look back on.”
Snyder’s final match with Coon was a 3-2, standoffish affair. Both wrestlers only registered one escape point each before the last crucial moments. With under 30 seconds left and a 1-1 score, Coon surprised Snyder with an attempt to shoot. What followed was a counter by Snyder in the form of a slide takedown, ensuring a victory despite a late Coon point for an escape.
The clash of the titans on Saturday night served as the rubber match for the 2018 meetings between the two. Coon won in what was a monumental upset on Feb. 11 in a dual meet. Snyder hadn’t lost collegiately in 1,058 days prior to that match. In the Big Ten championship finals on March 4, he got his win back by way of a 4-2 decision.
Snyder weighs 58 pounds less than Coon due to the fact that he wrestles at his international weight, around 225 pounds. Coon is one of the larger wrestlers in the heavyweight class in Division I at 283 pounds. It was Snyder’s last time competing at the highest weight class.
“I’m excited to just continue my international career at 213 [pounds],” Snyder said. “That’s where I feel really comfortable competing at. And not much strategy involved at that weight class, just going out there and wrestling, trying to score as many points as I can. So I’m glad heavyweight is done.”
Snyder leaves behind a legacy that is unmatched. Three national championships, three Big Ten championships, four All-American distinctions and a team NCAA title, three team conference titles and two Ohio State Male Athlete of the Year awards. And that leaves out his international accomplishments.
The youngest Olympic and World champion in United States wrestling history plans on continuing to wrestle internationally in the coming years. He hopes to sign an endorsement deal soon. Ohio State head coach Tom Ryan estimates Snyder passed up between 250 to 300 thousand dollars by returning for his senior year. Additional opportunities like coaching, mixed martial arts or professional wrestling won’t be hard to come by either, if he’s interested.
Snyder will remain in the Columbus area as he trains for Olympic appearances and international competitions, but he will no longer be on the Buckeye roster. Ryan is sad to see him go.
“His example will spill over for years here,” Ryan said. “Myles [Martin] saw his example. [Joey] McKenna saw his example. They will represent his example in the room all year. [Luke] Pletcher will see Myles’ example. And they guys coming in will see their example. And the trickle-down effect will be felt for years. Not for one year or for two years, but for years this program is now in a place to do things like we’ve been doing, at a high level.”
One goal of Snyder’s will go unfulfilled. He came back to Ohio State for his senior season to win a team championship with the Buckeyes in Cleveland.
That wasn’t in the cards. Ohio State saw upsets in the quarterfinals and only sent two of six semifinalists to the final session on Saturday, one being Snyder. The Buckeyes finished second behind Penn State by a margin of 141.5 to 134.5.
With three matches remaining in the finals, Ohio State did surprisingly control its own destiny with potential victories by Snyder and Martin. Martin was then pinned in a decisive, yet jarring fashion in the first period, dashing Ohio State’s national-championship aspirations. Snyder was forced to take the mat without much time to let it sink in.
“When the match stops like that and you feel like you had some momentum going, that really stinks,” Snyder said. “If they would have just beaten us without that happening, and they wrestled the whole match through, then it is what it is. But the way that match ended really stinks.”
The rough end with a bittersweet individual championship capped a collegiate career and a weekend in which Snyder was under the spotlight of the wrestling world once again. He embraced the cameras, tweets and casual conversation in the always crowd tunnels.
“I try to speak and live a life that shines brightly and that inspires people to be the best that they can be,” Snyder said. “I do feel like I’m a leader and I can help people. And if people watch me warm up or people can see me do whatever I do before matches and the way I talk after matches and those type of things, it might be able to help someone.”
Snyder only wrestled 13 matches during Ohio State’s 2017-2018 campaign this season due to his international schedule, amassing a 12-1 record to bring his career collegiate record to 75-5. That only leaves one question to ask upon his exit from college wrestling.
“The greatest of all time,” Ryan said. “This is a guy that was doing double duty. He was overseas winning world championships while also winning national championships. Unheard of. There has not been a wrestler like him in my opinion at this point in his career.”