IOWA CITY, Iowa — Thomas Gilman sat relaxed on a couch in Iowa’s wrestling lounge Wednesday afternoon and began discussing his comeback victory against Minnesota’s Ethan Lizak three days earlier.
At that moment, Gilman heard his name from a nearby television. The channel was turned to BTN, and the network was airing the match he planned to discuss.
“Oh, there’s the match we’re talking about,” the Iowa 125-pound senior said.
In one of more incredible wrestling bouts in Iowa history, top-ranked Gilman rallied from an 8-0 deficit to take the lead and then pin the sixth-ranked Lizak in 5 minutes, 58 seconds on Sunday. The match cost the Hawkeyes a point for celebrating afterward. It also earned Gilman the Big Ten’s Wrestler of the Week Award.
There wasn’t anything magical about Gilman’s comeback; it was all about his tenacity. Gilman gave up an early takedown and twice was put on his back. With riding time also against him, Gilman scored a reversal late in the second period to cut his deficit to 8-2. Entering the third period, the wrestlers opened in a neutral position.
“I give this guy credit, but I don’t want to give him too much credit,” Gilman said. “I don’t think he wore himself out; I wore him out. Even though he was riding me for 4-1/2 minutes, or 4:45, I was making him work. I didn’t lay on my belly. I didn’t concede. I was losing by really nine points because he had the riding time locked up. I didn’t concede at all.
“Most guys would have said, ‘Well, next time.’ I made him work. I broke him from the bottom position. Even though he was scoring points, I broke him from the bottom position. Then once I got on my feet, it was game over.”
The nation's No. 1 wrestler trailed 8-0.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) February 5, 2017
Gilman picked up a pair of quick takedowns to start the third period, and let Lizak up twice to trim his deficit to 10-6. Then Gilman struck again, snagged Lizak in a headlock and took him to his back. The 6-point move put Gilman in the lead. Then Gilman switched positions while on top and pinned Lizak in 5:58.
“That’s not a hold that’s going to work if a guy feels you trying to look for it,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “It was there, he hit it and it was hard.
“The biggest thing is his composure and not just laying on the guy in the end. That guy was ripe to get pinned. It doesn’t matter what the score is. There’s still (1:02) left when he pinned him. So there’s a lot of wrestling left. He did a good job in all those areas.”
Gilman (21-0) has earned extra team points in all but two of his matches this year. Even trailing as badly as he was against Lizak, Gilman refused to give up. Brands was agitated even with the question.
“It never crossed my mind,” Brands said about Gilman potentially conceding defeat. “That question is like very foreign to me because that question doesn’t make any sense to me because it’s about Gilman. That doesn’t enter my mind ever. What enters my mind is when you’re in that situation, and you have a chance to beat a guy do you just lay on him once you go ahead?
“The thing is, he continued to try to dominate the match when he was behind 8-0.”
Gilman said conditioning and mental toughness kept him in the match.
“It’s kind of cliché but winners find a way to win,” Gilman said. “Was I looking for that pin there? Not necessarily, but I found it.”