What happened in the match between Brandon Mason and the Michigan kid who “wanted” to wrestle him at AAU Nationals in this Intro is one of my all-time favorite personal wrestling stories.
So way back in the day,2000, I think, Veterans Memorial Auditorium hosted a pretty big wrestling tournament a couple weeks AFTER hosting the notoriously electric Iowa High School state wrestling tournament. This was the AAU National Folkstyle Wrestling Championships. That tourney hosted several epic matchups with unexpected results that have since kind of faded from most people’s memories.
Anyways, the Mepo-Burlington hybrid wrestling crew that I was part of my whole wrestling life had a block of rooms at the Savery Hotel, I believe…One of those hotels that you can get to from the skywalk. Early on in the weekend, my brother Justin, Chris Johnson, Phillip Klees, Aaron Drain, Micah Keller, Josh Keller and I were randomly stumbling through the halls of our hotel when we came across the Lewis Central crew. My brother stopped and talked to them which stuck out to me, for I was generally the more social brother when it came to wrestlers from other schools, so I knew Justin must have liked these guys a lot, in order for him to initiate a big Lewis Central-Mepo crew conversation. And once I realized that it was the Lewis Central crew, I knew what was up… Justin loved those guys. Ya see, the Summer before, he had gotten to know a lot of them, for he spent the night at the Paulson twins’ house for a week so he could attend a Keith Massey camp. And one of these guys we were talking to at the hotel was Trent Paulson… I never had a difficult time telling Trent and Travis apart, for I had watched them compete in the semis at AAU state with my best friend, Aaron Drain, for years. Plus, they addressed me differently. Trent went from referring to me as “the Bigger Swafford,” to simply, “Big Swaff” our last couple years in high school. Travis always knew me as, “I think that’s Justin Swafford’s brother.” 🙂 I am about 75% he would say this just to razz me a bit, for I had seen them act squirrelly like that with other wrestlers and quite frankly, the Paulson Twins were absolutely hilarious people.
So I want to say we were talking to Trent, Gabe Rostermundt, Aaron Smith and a couple other guys I didn’t know. However, one that I knew for sure was a guy named Brandon Mason, who was relaxing on a bed in their hotel room, watching Bugs Bunny and appearing to be having the time of his life. I knew Mason, for in the middle of a stretch where Justin won like 125 straight matches and racked up 3 AAU titles, he didn’t have a blemish at state with an exception of his 4th grade year where he was beaten by a kid named Henry Wahle from Underwood in the quarterfinals and that kid eventually lost to Brandon Mason, who won the bracket. The kid seriously showed up out of nowhere…and no one seemed to ever have a solution in terms of beating him. He was freaking good. And there he was a month after winning a state title as a Freshman in HS, laughing his tail off to Bugs Bunny and not caring in the slightest if anyone thought he was silly for doing so. I knew I respected Mason from that moment… a guy who was willing to be himself even if it may have come off as “dorky” to others and could punish anyone who dared give him crap about it on the mat… Yeah, I thought it was cool… and it was reassuring to see someone besides Justin, Drain and I watching a cartoon like that and shamelessly having a good time in doing so.
After a few minutes of shooting the bull with these guys, a group of Michigan wrestlers approached us and we all looked at each other’s hands to see what weights we were all wrestling at, for our weights and divisions were written on our hands. One of those guys were in Mason’s bracket. We pointed Brandon out to this guy and there he was, still sitting on the bed watching Bugs Bunny and chuckling…without a care in the world. The Michigan kid made the comment, “hell, I HOPE I wrestle THAT guy…I’ll have the fastest pin of the tournament if I do!” Trent Paulson’s reaction to this was epic. His face formed the most subtle of smirks and he replied, “I don’t blame you. That kid is a pud. Our workout dummy. You should try to shoot for the fastest pin of the tournament when you wrestle him.” And the Michigan guy just nodded his head and laughed, not knowing how utterly facetious Trent’s response was. If I didn’t know who Brandon was, I wouldn’t have caught on to it myself.
The next day, the Michigan kid and Brandon Mason DID meet up. The result? I couldn’t tell you any specifics, but Mason OBLITERATED him. And we all laughed our asses off. IT WAS AWESOME! I always, ALWAYS root for the Iowa guys on the national level and watching him do this to a kid who was laughing at him the day before, it was great. I ran into Mason and his dad on the skywalk and told them how awesome I thought that was and proceeded to have an hour long conversation with both of them. Great people… Very intelligent. I talked to Brandon’s dad probably 10X more than I talked to Brandon himself.
Brandon Mason didn’t give people the vibe that most 3-4 time state champion/future D1 guys did. Not that he didn’t look like a wrestler. He just didn’t share a lot of the same characteristics as a lot of your world-beaters do. He wasn’t physically imposing. He was freakishly strong, but didn’t look like an ox. Heck, Mason won state as a Freshman in 2001 at 3A 135 and looked like a skinny little kid in doing so. He wasn’t a real intense guy to talk to either. He was very friendly to everyone. In fact, a 3rd string JV guy with no wins could approach the guy and talk to him and he’d carry on a conversation with them as if they were equals in wrestling skill level. My brother once made the comment, “Brandon Mason is more likely to converse with people in the weigh-in line about the anatomy of weight cutting than he is to converse about how thirsty he is or about anything wrestling.” The dude always walked to the beat of his own drum and in Brandon Mason’s case, the beat of his drum was like taking John Bonham from Led Zeppelin to a rinky-dinky Battle of the Bands contest.
So let’s catch up with Brandon Mason…one of the best Iowa high school wrestlers to grace the mat. I have produced tons of these articles by now and have gotten to the point where I have no idea how I’d answer some of the standard questions… for example, my GOAT changes all the time… Of course there are the “no-brainer” 4-timers that the best arguments can be made for, but then again… there are guys who won less than 4, sometimes just 1 and I never saw anyone wrestle than them as they did when they won it. Take Cory Connell for example. He only won one title. It seemed like he was always a close Ryan Heim-type loss away before his Senior year. However, I can’t say I’ve seen someone whose skills were more polished than his when he was a Senior. Wil Kelly from Wahlert is another that just amazed me as an upperclassmen. He won 3. Jason Kelber, Kent Streicher, Chad Zaputil, etc. So much depends on when they wrestled, where they wrestled, who they wrestled, what weight they started out as, etc. Heck, you can make an argument for several Lewis Central guys. Dave Kjeldgaard, both Paulson twins as well as Jimmy Waters, etc. One of the Paulson’s actually were stopped by Connell when Connell was a Senior, Paulson’s were Sophomores. Jimmy Waters is definitely up there for “best multi-sporter wrestler of all time.” An argument can also be made for Brandon Mason. If you take into consideration, the weight he started at as a Freshman (a lot of middle and upper weight guys get left out in the GOAT conversation) being 135, which is tough for anyone, let alone a Freshman, the dominating fashion in which Mason defeated guys, the resumes of the guys he would beat, etc… Sometimes, I feel like the GOAT argument is pointless unless you separate them into weight-ranges…lower, middle and upper. If you factor that in, Brandon Mason is one of the best ever middle weight wrestlers in Iowa HS wrestling history.
When did you start wrestling?
I was 6 years old when I started. My dad took me to a wrestling tournament somewhere in southwest Iowa and I got 2nd place in the round robin tournament (lost to Dane Petersen) and I was hooked. Thomas Sweeney asked me to join the Panther wrestling club after the tournament.
How did you do in youth wrestling?
I had a successful youth wrestling career. I didn’t have a specific rival.
What was your record in HS?
How did you do at state each year?
1st, 3rd, 1st, 1st
What was the highpoint of your HS wrestling career?
Being on a team that set the record for most champions in 2001 with 6 champs and also winning the state team championship my senior year as significant underdogs in the team race.
What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?
To Anthony Watson at state, Sophomore year. It hurt a lot. The goal is to be a state champion on top of that podium in the barn. When you put in the time and effort training it hurts when you don’t accomplish your goals.
Do you have any family members who wrestled?
Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?
Wrestling was year round for me
How would you describe your wrestling style?
I was aggressive and pushed the pace. I was also pretty good in the top position.
If you could change one thing about your HS wrestling tenure, what would it be?
For high school I would like to have not lost that match at state to Anthony.
Did you wrestle after high school?
Yes, I wrestled at Oklahoma State University.
Who is the GOAT Iowa HS wrestler of all time?
That is a tough one since there are so many quality wrestlers who have wrestled in Iowa. The one that comes to mind first is Jeff McGinness as he was a 4x state champ and I believe won a JR world title also.
Who was your most influential coach?
I had many influential coaches thru my career from youth wrestling all the way into college where I was coached by John Smith. I was fortunate to have two excellent high school coaches during my time at Lewis Central in Keith Massey and Chad Beaman who both took the time to put in extra work with me outside of practice. For all the coaches who have helped me throughout the years thank you.
How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?
It has helped me stand out in my medical career as someone who doesn’t cut corners and who can be relied upon. Plus because of wrestling things most people think are tough aren’t that bad for me. As the saying goes once you have wrestled everything else is easier.
What kind of music do you listen to?
I usually listen to Country music; however, sometimes I will put on some 90’s rock or rap while I work.
What do people in Oklahoma think of Iowa wrestling?
This is a difficult question. I think that educated wrestling fans appreciate good wrestling no matter who is on the singlet. I think most people down here think the coaching staffs up in Iowa (Iowa, ISU, and UNI) are doing a great job and have had their wrestlers wrestling really well. All that being said people from Oklahoma probably won’t be cheering for someone in an Iowa singlet any time soon.
Most notable competitors for you?
Honestly I didn’t wrestle the same person too many times in my high school career. I had some battles with Ben Stedman my freshman year where all the matches were pretty close. The loss I took my sophomore year at state to Watson I wrestled him again the next week, but those were the only two times we wrestled.
What do you do now?
After finishing my wrestling career I went to medical school at OSU-CHS. Following medical school I got into a radiology residency and then did a Body MRI fellowship. I am now a Radiologist in Stillwater Oklahoma at Stillwater Medical Center. I also travel with the OSU wrestling team as a doctor for them.
Are you still involved with wrestling?
I travel with the OSU wrestling team when my hospital schedule permits. I also go up to the wrestling room from time to time and will seldomly get on the mat with some of the guys. I did miss wrestling quite a bit the 10 years of my medical training.
Do you think John Smith is the greatest wrestler of all time?
I think accomplishments speak loudly. Because of this I think John is the greatest freestyle/greco roman wrestler from the USA. Collegiate wise it is hard to argue against Cael. Overall best wrestler of all time is difficult with so many multiple time world and Olympic champions out there for other countries mostly the former USSR and Russia. Some of my favorites were Arsen Fadzayev and Buvaisar Saitiev.
Is John Smith a cool person?
Yes, he is a great guy and family man. He cares about all of his current and former wrestlers. He would check in on me from time to time while I was in my medical training. He asked me to travel with the team as soon as I moved back to Stillwater.
How would Lewis Central of the early 00’s stack up against powerhouses today?
That is also a difficult question as I’m not a fan of hypotheticals. The team from my freshman year (2000-2001) I think would have been extremely competitive against any Iowa high school team since then. We ended the season ranked number 2 in the nation to arguably the best high school team ever up at Blair (Mocco, Esposito, Perry, Cooperman, and etc.) We also had 6 state champions that year which is a record that still stands and I am proud to be a part of.
Who were your practice partners at each level (youth, HS and college) and how did they help shape you into the wrestler you were/are? Anyone who stuck out as being most influential to you?
During my time in youth and my early high school years I had many successful wrestlers around me that would push me to be more successful. For example, my teammates from my freshman team at Lewis Central were extremely important to me. All 13 of the other varsity wrestlers as well and the other guys on the team who pushed us. I don’t have one specific influential wrestler, I am grateful for everyone on my journey.
Did you play any other sports? If so, how did you do at them?
No, I just wrestled.
Are you married? Got kids? Do they wrestle?
Married with 3 daughters.
Do you have any hobbies off the mat?
Not many hobbies with 3 little girls in the house. I enjoy golfing and fishing when I get a chance.
Do you have any advice for upcoming wrestlers?
Wrestling is the greatest sport. Put in the work and enjoy the ride. The work you put in on the mat will help you with everything throughout your life.
Any chance we could see a rematch with you and any of your rivals at an old man’s tournament?
I would say one in a billion… (So you’re saying there’s a chance!
Aaahhhh, the good ‘ol days.
Awesome young man. Enjoyed the story, and wish you much success