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Inside The Rivalry: Mack Reiter (Don Bosco) vs. Justin Swafford (Mepo) PART 5, Mack and Justin’s Final Thoughts On The Rivalry

After that matchup in the quarterfinals in 8th grade, I know Mack beat Justin in freestyle at least once at the IC High tournament, but I am about 80% sure Justin took 3 out of the final 4 meetings. All freestyle matches. Two of them were at freestyle state duals, but in different years (Freshman and Junior years I believe) and the other win Justin notched was at this tournament (sorry Justin, film for your W’s could not be found):

Interestingly enough, about a half year later Reiter and Pollard won state as Freshmen. Reiter in 1A, Pollard in 2A.  Justin got beat by Pollard in the finals at state that year.  

So these guys continued to meet in high school and I don’t think they ever had a match that disappointed the crowd. Every match was intense, close and hard-fought.  While Justin certainly expressed his low-point as the 8th grade quarterfinals match in terms of how upset he was over a loss, there was one that seems to bug Mack more than some of the other losses as well and that was the last match they ever wrestled against each other… at Freestyle State Duals as Juniors in HS. 

Mack Reiter: I never really took losses well! Wasn’t a skill set I developed! I think the one I struggled with the most was the one at junior freestyle duals at Marion High School. After that I had to do a bit of soul searching. I was at that age where I was starting to take interest in girls and I think I had a girl friend at the time. Anyway, again I don’t think I wrestled to the best of my ability and I think a large part of it was that I wasn’t focused on my wrestling as much as I needed to be at the time. I made some life adjustments after that!


And of course, while that loss brought an array of negative vibes to Mack, Justin, as expected couldn’t have been any more satisfied. Mack and Justin are two guys who have some of the most ferocious appetites for winning…


How did you feel when you won against him?

Mack Reiter: Usually that meant I was going to win another state title so I felt pretty good! At that time in my life that was about the only thing that mattered to me!

Justin Swafford: Oh so sweet. Felt great to get that redemption no matter how many times we wrestled, especially the first win against him after my loss at AAU to him in 8th grade – which was at State Duals held at Blackhawk Arena while wrestling for Monster USA. This would have been my Freshman or Sophomore year. In my mind he had robbed me of 2 state championships my 7th and 8th grade year, so I always had something to prove against him which made beating him all the sweeter. I was happy to win the last match against him when we were Juniors and as usual, that match was crazy too and came down to the last 1-2 seconds, but this time it was in my favor.


Mack and Justin went on to have very successful wrestling careers. Mack is widely considered one of the best ever, for he won 4 titles and was a 4X AA for Minnesota.  Justin had his hiccups, but also had his shining moments and was a 3X finalist in HS and a 1X state champ. His college experience was a negative one, mostly due to the shoulder injuries he succumbed, which shattered his heart for years.  

These two were so intense that if you would have told me back then that I would be writing this, I would have called you crazy.  

To conclude this article, Mack and Justin answered questionnaires based on their rivalry and gave some very interesting answers.  There is certainly a mutual respect there, which is just awesome to see.  I’d love to get these two together sometime, for holy cow did they ever accumulate some memories together doing what they loved to do and were great at it. 


Out of all the guys you had ongoing competition with, where does Justin/Mack rank as far as significance to your career? Was he one of your biggest rivals?

Mack Reiter: I think my biggest in state rival would probably have been Corey Kalina. I would imagine that him and I probably wrestled 50-60 times in our careers. That being said, Justin is probably a close second. We didn’t wrestle nearly as many times, but I probably had more losses to Justin from 2nd grade to senior year than anyone else.

Justin Swafford: That’s a tough one. We never really stood in each other’s way as far as winning a high school state championship because we were in different classes, but that sting of that first loss to him carried with me through the years and we wrestled a lot in the freestyle season and every meeting was fiercely competitive. He was one of my biggest rivals up there with Moza Fay, and Jacob Naig.


Would you consider the rivalry between you guys as being friendly or heated?

Mack Reiter: I would say now that it was friendly, but I’ve also significantly mellowed out in the last 10 years! I imagine if you asked junior in high school Mack that same question he might have a different answer!

Justin Swafford: Probably heated, based off my first loss to him and the response from the side that was pulling for him to win. That led to a monumental meeting and beginning of a friendship between our dads that everyone thought was going to be a fight between them. We were both fiercely competitive and we both hated to lose so it led to a more heated rivalry at times.  Mack and I became friends, but when we were on the mat, it was pretty heated. There was no love on the mat. The way I looked at it, he was trying to take something that I felt very strongly was mine and I didn’t want to give that up, so it was game on on the mat.  Off the mat, we were great.


When you practiced during the season, did you have times where you were practicing to beat Justin Swafford/Mack Reiter  or was it always just to win state?

Mack Reiter: For me it was always just to win state. I didn’t change my style for anyone. I wanted to impose my style of wrestling on my opponent so I never really pictured any one person.

Justin Swafford:  My 8th grade year I did a lot of specific drills and worked on techniques specifically to beat Mack. It was always a mind set of winning state, but I knew that particular year he was one of my biggest competitors and wanted to prepare myself the best I could, all while wrestling my match. When meeting in freestyle, if I knew I was likely to wrestle him, I’d work on defense to low singles and working out of a sucker drag position, but other than that it was just working on good freestyle techniques like tough guts, leg-laces, sealing my hips on finishes to takedowns, and more big move throws and positioning.


How would you describe your wrestling style?

Mack Reiter: My senior year I was cutting a lot of weight and I was going through a real tough time. J Robinson brought me into his office and showed me a picture of myself after a win in college where I was displaying a particularly large amount of emotion. He said I needed to get back to that guy. I remember in that meeting he described my style as “wreckless abandonment”. I always liked that description. Going into something wholeheartedly, with no concern for consequences or danger. I was always trying to score, always trying to do more.

Justin Swafford: It is hard to describe your own style, but I’d say slick technical aggression with a side of funk. On top I was mostly an arm bar wrestler who was always looking for the pin. I also had a motor and made sure no one out-worked me in the practice room so my conditioning was always a factor to my style, I kept good positioning throughout the match and always worked to score points.


How would you describe Justin/Mack’s wrestling style? Can you compare his style to any other wrestlers?

Mack Reiter: From what I remember Justin was extremely technical and had a length advantage on most people. He was very hard to finish on from leg attacks because of that length and his scrambling ability.

Justin Swafford: Explosive in-and-out style with solid positioning. His style changed through the years, as I’m sure mine did too. Early on it was a lot of dropping to his knees and doing low singles, as he got older it developed more of a style in-line with solid collegiate wrestling skills on his feet; solid positioning and quick explosive high crotches. He wrestled a lot like his brother Joe Reiter with a few more leg attacks, as opposed to Joe who scored a lot more from front headlocks. And of course he had that nearly unstoppable cradle on top – he was always looking for the pin.

Mark Swafford (Justin’s Dad): Mack was an absolute grinder who had an unbelievable sense for always maintaining great positioning. He was smart and was the best situational wrestler in the state.  He was a ferocious warrior in literally any situation you can find yourself in on a wrestling mat. He is one of the greatest wrestlers I have ever seen go through the state of Iowa in my decades of experience.


What was your game plan against him when you met up?

Mack Reiter: Win, I guess. I know thats a pretty simple statement, but as I said before, I never tried to change my style to fit the person I was wrestling. I would try to make myself aware if they had a dangerous move to watch out for, but I approached every match the exact same. Impose my style and win.

Justin Swafford: On my feet it was a lot of shot and reshot work as he liked to stay low and beating him with angles as he had a tendency to have short lapses where he tended to be straight forward with low single attacks and high crotches and a difficult to penetrate defense. I felt this was a display of his confidence. He was very confident. So there was that as well as keeping short arms in a go behind situation as he liked to get underneath and score out of a sucker drag position. He was good out of a front headlock too so you didn’t want to hang around and get beat on while underneath of him from the feet. Underneath it was head up and control of hands and never stop moving, and absolutely no stand-ups with the knee up on the side he was riding. On top it was just tough riding and working to my arm bars, tilts, Erickson ride (cross body turk), and cradles as much as possible.

Mark Swafford (Justin’s Dad): When going against Mack, if you were not on top of your game in terms of being “mat-smart,” you stood no chance. You HAD to be in good position with him, you HAD to create angles on your feet against him and you HAD to set up every offensive move that you executed against him.  If you failed to do any of these three things, he would make you pay for it.  Don’t roll with him on the mat, for he WILL bury you…period. You had to have 2-3 moves planned along with the one you hit, for he was good at stopping shots and creating scrambles and was dangerous in those positions. And keep in mind that Mack had an answer for any game plan we could write up, so when it came down to it, we just had to coach him to go out and wrestle fearless.


Did you respect their wrestling skills?

Mack Reiter: I absolutely respected his skills. He was extremely technical and knew how to use his length well.

Justin Swafford: Oh absolutely. He was a gamer and matched my desire and fury to win, which I didn’t encounter very often. He was so well-positioned and had a great balance of being intelligent and dangerous on the mat. You had to game plan against him.


How confident were you coming in to each match? Did you ever have to battle any nerves when you wrestled him?

Mack Reiter: One of my strongest attributes in wrestling was my mental approach. I never lacked confidence in myself when I put my foot on that line. I wouldn’t let myself walk out there until I had convinced myself I was going to win and I did that for every match I ever wrestled.

Justin Swafford: I was confident before every match I ever wrestled and felt no fear. I knew what I was capable of doing and I had total confidence that I’d find it in me to display the top of my game. I never went into a match with Mack with the slightest notion that I would lose. I never felt this with anyone. That type of thinking will force you to lose. It’s counterproductive.


So you guys were practice partners throughout JH and HS… How did it go when you practiced against each other’s Future Hawkeye WC? Still competitive?

Mack Reiter: Absolutely. I think we would roll around with each other quite a bit back at the practices at Iowa City West that Mark Reiland would organize. We had a pretty good room back then and it definitely prepared us for Fargo. We helped each other immensely, but it was very competitive in that room.

Justin Swafford: Oh yes. Reiland pushed a lot of King of the Mat drills where the winner of the takedown stays out, and those got pretty intense. It was always a mindset for me of being the guy out there the longest while dominating on the feet, same as the par terre position – it’s a mindset of “I’m going to turn everyone, and not give up any points underneath.” That was a Hawkeye mindset that I picked up while Terry Brands would be the clinician at those Sunday practices (while staying with the Paulson twins and training at a summer camp in Underwood at the Barn Ray Brinzer described wrestlers’ stubbornness as an analogy of two guys holding onto car battery terminals and whoever let go first loses, lol!). I am the kind of wrestler that always kinetically learns within the sport, which meant the more I wrestled a tough guy and got to figure their style out the better I do against them and can shut down their offense or use it to score my offense and close the gap. That being said I think it went pretty well, good days and bad days in the practice room. The weeknights I was doing track practice from 3:30-5:00pm, then driving an hour to Iowa City to practice at 6pm, so I’m sure I probably had some club practices where I came in already spent, but it made me tougher. I mostly remember Mack being at club practice on Sundays though as it was a haul from Gilbertville to go to Iowa City West high school.


Do you know each other well off the mat? Were you guys friends?

Mack Reiter: I never really got to know Justin that well off the mat. I’ve lived in Minnesota for almost 18 years now and haven’t stayed in touch with some of the people I grew up with in Iowa as I probably should have. You (Josh) recently shared a picture with me that I never knew existed of Justin and I from a restaurant I believe in Fargo, ND. Judging by the fun we were having in that picture I’d say we were friends.

Justin Swafford: Eventually got to know him off the mat mostly during training camps for Fargo or though the Future Hawkeye Wrestling Club. Think he let me borrow the self-titled Godsmack album once which was my introduction to songs outside of their radio singles, that was always fun (sharing albums pre smartphone and streaming days). The summer leading into my Freshman year of college at UNI I was working the summer camps and staying with the Ettelson’s off and on through the summer while training for Fargo. Mack and I would see each other around, killing time doing the typical things any 18/19 year old was doing, at places like Club Shagnasty’s in Cedar Falls, hanging out, or golfing/disc golfing with CJ and Charlie, it was always amiable solid hangs at that point. For a brief time there our Senior year I’d say yes we were legit friends. I do recall going to his high school graduation party at the farm just before Highway 20 near the Gilbertville exit and doing more stuff that summer before college. It is hard to wrestle for the same wrestling club for years and not become friends, unless you’re just a difficult person to get along with or you can learn to shut your ego off the mat off lol!


When did you first wrestle each other? When you first wrestled against each other, did you know you had someone good, or was it just another guy to you?

Justin Swafford: The first time I ever wrestled him was at the State freestyle tournament in 6th grade, I beat him 6-1. I was told of his success at the AAU state tournament in weight classes below me by my brother at the time, but I was never a wrestler to get too worked up or psyched out by how good another wrestler was – I would focus on going out there and doing my stuff trusting my hard work at practice would pay off.

Mack Reiter:  The first time we ever wrestled was in 6th grade at Freestyle state. Gilbertville and Mediapolis aren’t exactly close so we wouldn’t usually see each other on the Saturday 4 man tournament circuits. The wrestling world is a lot different now then it was back then. There wasn’t Trackwrestling where you could look up someones stats. Amazingly we would almost always win AAU state titles one weight apart, but I didn’t really know a lot about Justin. Obviously that changed quickly because he won the first time we wrestled. 


With you being a 4X state champ, you are forever in history as one of the best ever and well deserved… what do you feel the legacy for Justin should be? How should he be remembered?

Mack Reiter: The margin for error at that level is so small. I don’t see any real difference between the career I had up until and through high school and the career Justin had. In some ways, maybe I just got lucky? There is a ton that goes into being a 4 time state champion, but you would be foolish to think that luck isn’t part of it. So in that sense, I wouldn’t say he should be thought of any less than some of the other people we competed with in that era.


When you saw Mack at state being inducted to the HOF, were you happy for him? Did part of you want to be up there with him?

Justin Swafford: I was happy for him and it is good for the sport of wrestling. Can’t say it wasn’t painful kind of coming to the realization that I did not accomplish enough at state to ever be voted in myself. I was only a few heart-wrenchingly close losses away from getting similar recognition. I have moments where I can’t help but to think that my rather unsuccessful collegiate career that was riddled with injury, being at the wrong place and some crazy bad luck sealed the deal in terms of me never being mentioned for HOF recognition. The state of Iowa places a lot of emphasis on 4Xers for the HOF. Unfortunately, that wasn’t always my best tournament where I was wrestling my best.


With you guys being in different classes, you didn’t meet in HS sanctioned events, but did you follow Justin’s career? His career ended on a discouraging note his senior year… what were your thoughts about that?

Mack Reiter: I know that I followed it when we were going through high school, but I had a way of being extremely selfish through high school. When we would go to Des Moines I didn’t worry about anything other than what I needed to do and what I was doing. And as much as I was only focused on state and winning a state title, as soon as I would accomplish that I would immediately shift focus to nationals. Where can I get qualified for Fargo? What do I need to do to win Cadet/Junior nationals.


Mack has made comments here and there about feeling upset with himself for not accomplishing as much as he would have liked to in college… do you think he should feel this way… any words of encouragement?

Justin Swafford: I don’t think he should feel down at all! He’s in the national wrestling HOF and came out his freshman year really proving himself with 40 wins and a 4th place finish. He continued to prove he was a high caliber wrestler that is vital to the Minnesota organization (even today) as a 3x AA, even battling through a knee injury. That’s nothing to feel down about at all. I think I understand his mindset and perfectionism for being one of the best on the mat though. When you have that mindset, the goal is a national NCAA title or world championship and if you fall short it can feel like a death in your life, especially when your goal is that integral to your existence/identity. Best advice I could give Mack as cliche as it might sound is hold your head up and enjoy the success he had in a wrestling program that he really clicked with that took him in as one of their own from the beginning. That’s something special and he should know he is still looked up to among wrestlers in Iowa, Minnesota, and across the nation.


Justin has had moments where he has felt ashamed of his career for he felt he underachieved. Do you think he should feel this way? What advice would you give him?

Mack Reiter: I absolutely do not think that he should feel that way. This sport is so dang hard and he accomplished so much in his career. Competing on the stage that he competed on requires so much inner strength and he put it on the line just as much as anyone else.


Did you ever follow or hear about Mack’s younger brothers? Was it cool to see their success?

Justin Swafford: Oh yeah! I was not all that surprised to see Bart’s success because I saw him in the wrestling room for freestyle club and I knew that family lived for wrestling – it was cool seeing his success. Eddie was tough too and I enjoyed watching him as well, he had a different style than the other Reiter’s due to his length. I also watched Joe Reiter wrestle Nick Lee in the finals in 1999 while at home with my brothers watching it on IPTV channel 12, and win his title in 2000 and followed his career as well.


Justin’s baby brother Brennan developed a nasty cradle and a lot was based on watching your instruction video on YouTube… how does that make you feel?

Mack Reiter: I love that! I spent a lot of time working on my cradle series and I love showing it. I think there are so many small details that get missed to often, but if you do it right it works!

Brennan Swafford (Justin’s Brother): Mack Reiter? Hell yeah. He was a household name for Shea and I growing up with he and Justin’s battles. When I watched his tape/technique clips, he immediately became one of my favorites. A cradle guy like myself appreciates other cradle guys and when someone like Mack Reiter masters it and is willing to show young wrestlers like myself tips on how to do it, it’s awesome, for now my already great cradle has become almost unstoppable.


Should Mack be remembered as one of the best ever in Iowa HS history?

Justin Swafford: Absolutely, anyone who puts the hard work and dedication into winning 4 titles deserves to be considered among the best in Iowa History. He had a nearly unstoppable cradle that was rightfully feared by his opponents and made him pretty famous in the state for being a hammer on top.

Mark Swafford: Anyone who doesn’t classify Mack as one of the greatest is just very, very…wrong.  I’ve never seen anyone who I can say with a straight face is a better wrestler than Mack Reiter.


With you guys being in different classes, you didn’t meet in HS sanctioned events, but did you follow Mack’s career? Were you happy with him winning 4?

Justin Swafford: Of course, he was another top wrestler my age who I had a rivalry from middle school with. I was happy for him winning 4.  I have had times where I have felt down on myself, because that was the goal I set out to accomplish…which I had to settle for only becoming a 3x finalist and 1x state champion, which was crushing.

Mark Swafford (Justin’s Dad): I was absolutely elated for Mack after he won his 4th title. I saw how good he was and how hard he worked and noone was more deserving.  The fact that Doug Reiter was his father made it even more sweet to see. I will remember all 4 of the Reiter brothers for the great class they showed on the mat as well as their amazing wrestling skills.


Any chance we could see a rematch with you and your rival at an old man’s tournament?

Mack Reiter: Ha I don’t think I will be wrestling at an old timers tournament ever! I still wrestle with our guys at PINnacle, but my competitive days are done.

Justin Swafford: Very unlikely, I’m far too out of shape and don’t know how I’d ever get time to train when I’m chasing around my 2 boys and daughter(who is still a 7 month old baby). Might be fun, but I’d have to have the time to fully commit to it, because you know, I’m far too competitive to just fake it haha!


If you are to think back on your wrestling career, would it be the same without Justin Swafford in it?

Mack Reiter: I don’t think my career would be the same. I learned a lot from the losses I took in my life and Justin gave me a couple losses when I probably needed them the most.


If you are to think back on your wrestling career, would it be the same without Mack Reiter in it?

Justin Swafford: No, it wouldn’t be the same at all. As competitors we sharpened each other, gave each other the first experience of having a top notch wrestler in our sites to beat and a target on our own back. I’d like to think we left an impression on each other.

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