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How would yesterday’s legends compete against today’s wrestling stars?

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Updated: December 27, 2010

By Kyle Klingman

Jack Spates thinks his strongest ally is film. He says the farther you delve into the past, the stronger his case gets.

Dan Hodge, whose name is associated with college wrestling's greatest award, compiled a 46-0 career record while winning three NCAA championships (1955-57) for the University of Oklahoma. The average number of wins -- in a season -- of the 17 wrestlers who have won the Hodge Trophy is 39.

Spates also says that a champion is a champion. That no one should diminish the incredible feats of a bygone era.

Because he is speaking philosophically about generational greatness, Spates, the current head wrestling coach at the University of Oklahoma, is wise to examine all angles of the argument. And he feels he has.

So are today’s wrestlers as good as they have ever been?

Spates says yes. So do Cornell University head wrestling coach Rob Koll and Northwestern head wrestling coach Drew Pariano.

Their argument stems from logic, modern science, and volume. Wrestlers today are better trained, better prepared, and more knowledgeable than ever before.

A college wrestler from the 1950s may have wrestled 50 college matches in a career. Youth wrestlers today often wrestle over 100 matches … in a season.

Every other sport has evolved, why wouldn’t wrestling?

But comparing eras, at least for this argument, is about using a time machine. How would a wrestler from another era, without the benefits of modern training and technological advances, fair against a wrestler from today?

Could Dan Hodge — NCAA champion for Oklahoma from 1955 through 1957 — be transported into the 2011 NCAA tournament, as is, and win it all?

Would Dan Gable—NCAA champion for Iowa State in 1968 and 1969—dominate today’s wrestlers using only the skills and knowledge he had at the time?

No on-line videos. No protein shakes. No personal club coaches. No state-of-the art equipment.

Or would adjustments need to be made? Would Hodge and Gable only be successful on a mat today if they began at age zero and trained using contemporary methods?

“As great as Dan Gable was, I don’t believe that, transported by a time machine, he would beat the top wrestlers of today,” Spates said. “There are just too many advantages in terms of the progression of technique, nutrition, strength training, and video. That’s not to diminish his brilliance or everything that he’s accomplished.

“On the other hand, put Dan in a modern environment and he would, no doubt, be even more dominant. His relentless determination to succeed would guarantee excellence in any era”

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