Dan Gable won states three times, DIV I’s three times, and the world championship, and an Olympic gold medal. Throughout all, he lost just once. In the Olympics, no one ever scored a point on him. And he was arguably even better as a coach at the University of Iowa.
There he won the NCAAs nine times in a row, and 15 times in total. He coached 152 All Americans, 45 national champions, and 10 Olympians (four gold, one silver, and three bronze). There’s a seven-foot-tall bronze statue outside the Carver-Hawkeye Arena showing Gable calling for stalling, against his own wrestler. It was the only bronze he ever found acceptable.
Incoming prospective wrestlers each had a sitdown with Gable, and were told their goal was a 4.0 GPA and an Olympic gold medal, and if they aimed for less, they would be more comfortable elsewhere.
Early this month President Trump awarded Gable the highest honor a civilian can receive – the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He was the first wrestler so honored in US history.
Damon Martin for MMA Fighting recently spoke about it all with the legendary coach, and the conversation naturally turned to mixed martial arts. If you’ve ever used the derisive “Butt Scoot” reference for the Guard, Gabe coined the term during John Peretti’s The Contenders submission grappling show in 1997. Gable retired 20 years before the birth of MMA, but he acknowledged that his style of wrestling would have been well suited to the sport.
“People always said that I was a punisher wrestler,” said Gable. “Yeah, I think I was. Cause I kind of ripped their arms off when I got on top of them. But there’s rules and regulations, especially in amateur wrestling and I’m sure there’s rules and regulations in mixed martial arts but probably not to the extent that we are in safety for wrestling.”
MMA has grown to heights unthinkable in the 90s, and folkstyle wrestling too is on the rise. Gable appreciates that MMA has provided wrestlers with a means to make a living, and hopes as well that many stay on the mats.
“I like what I call lifers, what I call lifers in the sport,” said Gable. “I’m a lifer in the sport but it just so happened the opportunity to make money as a participant after the Olympics really wasn’t there until after the Olympics in 1976, they started being able to pay people and have a decent living. I want to keep the good wrestlers in the sport as long as possible and if there’s another avenue that they can work after that, that’s fine as well.
“Because like I said, wrestlers have that feel that you need in a fight. They have that feel that if they are smart, they can make the jump and I’m sure that some of them may be better in mixed martial arts than they were in wrestling and the wrestling will help. You’ve got to kind of analyze each person to see where they need to be and the love of it. Whether you really like which one better. Mixed martial arts may be a little tougher in terms of what is expected out there from the fan and it depends on whether you really want to administer some real pain.”
“Back in the day when I was wrestling in high school and college, really the coaches did everything for the sport. Now organizations, several organizations led by USA wrestling and Rich Bender. Now we have just being a male sport, it’s a female sport. It’s one of the fastest growing sports in colleges. It’s at the Olympic Games for females.”
Gable showed Martin the medal.
“That’s the Presidential Medal of Freedom right there and I’m pretty proud of it,” said Gable. “It’s a lifetime of work and I’m not letting up yet.”