This season, the college wrestling community is keeping its eye on Logan Stieber, the Ohio State mat champ who will be vying for his fourth title at the 2015 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships next March in St. Louis. If he’s successful, Stieber will become only the fourth four-time NCAA D1 wrestling champ, joining Oklahoma State’s Pat Smith (1990-94), Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson (1999-2002), and Kyle Dake (2010-13).
If a referee had decided differently, this list of four-timers would also include Dick Hutton, heavyweight for Oklahoma State in the years immediately after World War II. “A split second separated Dick Hutton from becoming the first four-time NCAA champion,” is how the late historian Jay Hammond began his description of what happened in his profile of the Cowboy big guy in his 2005 book, “History of Collegiate Wrestling”.
First, a bit of background on the man who might have made history as the first four-timer.
Richard Heron Avis Hutton was born in Amarillo, Texas in 1923, but moved to Red Fork, Oklahoma as a child. Hutton took up wrestling in junior high after being cut from the basketball team, then continued the sport at Daniel Webster High School in Tulsa, where he was a runner-up at the Oklahoma state championships as a senior. After graduation, Hutton served in the US Army for five years during World War II.
Seeking a career in architecture, in 1946 Hutton enrolled at Oklahoma State (then called Oklahoma A&M). In wrestle-offs in the Cowboy wrestling room, Hutton repeatedly defeated the man who had been the top pick to wrestle heavyweight, and became the starter in that weight class all four years at Stillwater. A big bear of a man with broad shoulders and a huge, hairy chest, Hutton stood 5’10”, and weighed in at about 245 pounds. (Realize that recent NCAA heavyweight champs have tended to be taller and weigh a bit less than Hutton in his collegiate prime. Also realize that, until the 1980s, Hutton’s weight class was called “unlimited” because there was no top weight limit. In fact, a handful of NCAA heavyweight champs tipped the scales at more than 300 pounds. Today, the upper limit is 285.)
In four seasons as Oklahoma State heavyweight, Hutton compiled an overall record of 42 wins – 13 of those by fall — one loss, and one tie. That one loss was to Gagne at the 1949 NCAA finals. In writing about that match, mat historian Hammond wrote, “Many observers of the match felt that Hutton’s takedown was completed before the end of the bout and he should have received the referee’s decision based upon superior aggressiveness in the match. Jack Griffith, son of then OSU coach Art Griffith, noted that his father regarded that decision as ‘a great injustice’ and stated ‘Hutton chased Gagne all around the mat.’”
Hutton completed his college career with one last win, defeating Fred Stoeker of University of Northern Iowa (back then, called Iowa State Teachers College) in Stoeker’s home gym at the 1950 NCAAs… becoming only the second three-time NCAA heavyweight champ, following in the footsteps of fellow Cowboy big man Earl McCready, who racked up three consecutive titles from 1928-1930. Another Oklahoma State heavyweight, Jimmy Jackson, achieved the same result in the late 1970s.
Just how special is it to win four NCAA mat crowns? Just over 20,000 wrestlers have competed at the NCAA championships since 1928. Approximately 800 of those won at least one title. Just fourteen wrestlers have made it to the finals four times. Of these, only three can claim to be four-time NCAA mat champs: Smith, Sanderson, and Dake.
One other note: For a number of years, freshmen were not allowed to compete at the NCAAs – roughly from 1928 up through the late 1960s All-time greats such as Stanley Henson, Dan Hodge and Yojiro Uetake – all three-time champs – did not have the opportunity to win four titles because of the rules in place when they wrestled. So… how did Dick Hutton get to wrestle as a freshman, and win his first NCAA title? Immediately after World War II, there was a very limited time in which freshmen could wrestle varsity and compete at the NCAA championships. That window of opportunity closed right behind Dick Hutton, and remained closed throughout the 1950s and 60s.
After graduating from Oklahoma State in 1950, Dick Hutton returned to the military for a couple years… then entered the professional wrestling ring. He won a world title in 1957, and continued his pro career until the mid-1960s. Hutton was welcomed into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame of Stillwater, Okla. as a Distinguished Member in 1995, and the National Wrestling Hall of Fame’s Tragos/Thesz Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in Waterloo, Iowa in 2000. He passed away in Tulsa in 2003 at age 80.