Imagine staring down the nation’s top-ranked wrestler, who also happens to be the defending national champion.
At the same time, try having to drown out 4,800 screaming fans all hoping that you falter.
This was the scene in Stillwater, Okla., at the NWCA All-Star Classic on Nov. 21 for 149-pound Michigan sophomore Eric Tannenbaum, who was gearing up to face Oklahoma State’s Zack Esposito. Just eight months earlier, Esposito defeated the overwhelmed freshman in the 2005 NCAA national semifinals on his way to becoming the champion. This time, Tannenbaum – now a more experienced sophomore – was determined to exact revenge on the senior Esposito, who had a career record of 93-8 at the time.
“I went into the match with a nothing-to-lose attitude,” Tannenbaum said.
The third-ranked Tannenbaum started off sluggishly, falling behind and allowing Esposito to score the first two points of the match. Tannenbum finally took command and reeled off three consecutive points. The momentum shift and Tannenbaum’s tight grip on the lead was too much for the Cowboys’ wrestler to overcome, and Tannenbaum came away with a shocking upset and his first win of the season.
Growing up in Naperville, Ill., Tannenbaum picked up the sport of wrestling at a young age, often working out with a family friend in a local wrestling club. In high school, Tannenbaum compiled a record of 176-1 and won the state championship three out of four years.
When the time came to make a decision about college, the four-year honor roll student saw Michigan as a logical choice.
“Michigan offered a great combination of an excellent wrestling tradition and strong academics,” Tannenbaum said.
Tannenbaum made an immediate impact on the Wolverines. He posted a 36-5 record in his first season, won the Big Ten Championships in the 149-pound division and finished fourth in the nation while also being named an All-American.
Tannenbaum’s rock-solid mental toughness helped him.
“I think it’s my stubbornness that gives me that refuse-to-lose attitude and mental toughness,” the sophomore said.
Tannenbaum’s coaches have quickly taken notice of how special he is as an athlete.
“He’s just tough,” Michigan coach Joe McFarland said. “He has the confidence and dedication to fight through any situation he is presented.”
A Pre-Med student, Tannenbaum was also named to the NWCA All-Academic and Academic All-Big Ten Conference teams last year, and he’s found a way to extend his smarts to the mats.
“He is one of the most cerebral and smart wrestlers I’ve come across,” McFarland said.
After the Wolverines’ second-place finish at last year’s national championship meet, Tannenbaum and his teammates set lofty goals for the team this season. Individually, the tough-minded Tannenbaum will settle for nothing less than a national championship. When asked about his anticipation for a possible grudge match with Esposito in the championship, Tannenbaum shook it off.
“I take any kind of win I get,” Tannenbaum said.