UNIVERSITY PARK — David Taylor and Kyle Dake are far from strangers.
You’d have to figure two wrestlers who went head-to-head in a collegiate wrestling bout billed as the ‘Match of the Century’ by event promoters two months ago would know a thing or two about one another.
Sure enough, each can talk strategy, how they might counter the other’s shot should they meet again in the Southern Scuffle Tournament that starts Tuesday in Chattanooga, Tenn.
They can recite each others’ most notable achievements — Dake acknowledges Taylor as the Hodge Trophy winner. Taylor brings up Dake’s three national title wins at three different weights. There’s one more thing: Dake is on a quest to win a fourth and it’ll have to come in the 165-pound weight class, the one Taylor reigns over as champion.
“I have nothing to lose,” Taylor said. “He’s the guy that’s ranked No. 1 in the country, so at this point in the season, I’ve just got to go out and compete.”
Before Penn State wrestlers dispersed for a short holiday break, Taylor said he wouldn’t overlook anyone in his weight class but understands the hype surrounding a possible third meeting with the Cornell senior. It could come in Wednesday’s championship match as they are seeded first and second, with Dake garnering the top seed.
After wrestling for the first time over the summer at the Olympic Team Trials, Dake and Taylor met again at the NWCA All-Star Classic, an exhibition match Dake won 2-1 in a tiebreak period.
Since then, Taylor has said he’s worked himself ragged inside Penn State’s Lorenzo Wrestling Complex while posting a 9-0 record thus far.
“I’m pretty excited, obviously for a couple of reasons,” Taylor said about a possible rematch with Dake. “I lost to him at the (All-Star Classic). That was an exhibition. This counts for real, so this is obviously a very important match for what is going to happen at the national tournament, seedingwise.”
Taylor has put a loss to Dake at last summer’s Olympic Team Trials behind him. In that meeting, Dake won the first period 5-0 before pinning Taylor in 1:28 to win the freestyle match.
A potential Southern Scuffle rematch will have the folkstyle feel Taylor and Dake grew up learning together.
They’d continuously see one another at youth wrestling tournaments and eventually developed a friendship.
“We were just the typical wrestling buddies,” Dake said. “Everyone goes on tournaments when they’re little to all these different places and you see all the same people week in and week out and you start to get to know them and the parents see each other often and they get to become friends.”
The summer before Dake’s freshman year of high school, they decided to train together. Dake traveled to Ohio, where Taylor worked out at St. Paris Graham High School, and eventually Taylor made it up to Ithaca, N.Y., to train with Dake.
“We kind of just hit it off,” Dake said. “We were both goofballs and we’re still goofballs.”
And now both play the same roles for their respective teams.
Dake takes a by-the-book approach to the sport for Cornell while Taylor is one of Penn State’s undisputed leaders-by-example.
Each is the face of his team.
“I’m sure there are many, many people who were on Dan Gable’s team or Cael Sanderson’s team and they talk about that year where Dan lost it or Cael won it,” Big Red coach Rob Koll said. “It’s a part of history.
Both wrestlers shrug off the hype surrounding a third possible meeting. Odds are they haven’t heard about it much inside their respective practice rooms.
Taylor has repeatedly arrived early and stayed late at practices this season while Dake, having the benefit of his family living a few miles from campus, worked out through much of his team’s break.
“He’s a perfect example of what every kid on the team should be doing, working toward beating the next opponent,” Penn State senior Quentin Wright said of Taylor. “I’ve seen him in here. He’s working with coaches every day after practice, asking them questions and that really sets a good example with the rest of the team, not what we need to do, but what we strive to do. Because everyone on the team is doing that.”
For Taylor, that next opponent could be any number of 165-pounders. Eventually, he knows and is anticipating, it’ll be his old buddy in a Cornell singlet.
“I’ve made adjustments in the room, working on some different ideas to open him up,” Taylor said. “He’s a very good defensive wrestler. He’s just really good in all positions. He knows how to win.”
So does Taylor. His 79-1 career record is proof enough.
Can he beat Dake, however? For the first time in a long time, Taylor feels like a legitimate underdog, and he’s fine with that.
“I think (David) was the aggressor in the (All-Star) match but you’ve got to be smart,” Sanderson said. “Dake’s a very smart wrestler. He knows how to win. He’s an extremely good athlete with very powerful and quick hips. He’s very tricky. He’s the guy obviously to beat right now.”