DETROIT — On Saturday night, Nick Suriano trotted out from the underbelly of the Little Caesars Arena and entered wrestling’s biggest stage for the final time of his career to face Princeton’s Pat Glory in the NCAA finals.
Lights shone, music blared and around him, the crowd greeted the 125 lb graduate student with a mixture of applause and animosity.
This moment was everything that Suriano had dedicated his lifestyle to. The relentless training, the dieting, and the intense focus on mindset was all in preparation for this, a chance at his second individual title three years after his first.
And amid the commotion, even with the immense psychological pressure Suriano had placed upon himself, he looked unperturbed, robotic even.
The music quieted, the whistle blew, and seven minutes later, Suriano’s hand was being raised. Once again, his surroundings were in pandemonium, but Suriano remained calm. There was no explosion of emotion; he didn’t flex or scream like he had earlier in the tournament. Instead, he slowly shook Glory’s hand, walked over to the side of the mat and pointed to his mother before turning back to the crowd and soaking the moment in.
Suriano had done it. He’d reached the pinnacle of collegiate wrestling once again, and in the process became the Michigan wrestling team’s first individual champion in over a decade.
“He did a really good job of finding a way to make sure he stayed in front and got his hand raised at the end of that match,” Michigan coach Sean Bormet said. “He’s a really really gritty, tough, fierce competitor.”
Suriano started the bout on the front foot, testing Glory defensively with single legs and snapdowns, which he fended off each time. Late in the first period, Suriano fired for Glory’s lead leg, and spun behind him for a takedown before running the clock out on top.
Suriano then chose bottom to start the second period, but quickly hit a switch, slipping his hips away from Glory’s pressure and turning into him while grabbing his legs to take him to the mat for two points. He rode Glory for the remainder of the period and entered the final two minutes with a commanding 4-0 lead
In the third period, though, Suriano’s tight grip on the match faltered.
Given the choice of starting position a second time due to Glory’s use of injury time, Suriano once again started the period on bottom. But this time, he couldn’t get up, and minor mistakes made earlier in the match compounded and started to cause problems.
Twice in the period, Suriano false started. This made for his third caution, and Glory was given a point. And Midway through, Suriano became complacent; three straight stalling warnings gave Glory another two points.
Suriano was now up just one, technicalities threatening his dream.
It wouldn’t be enough. Suriano prevailed 5-3, and finished his career as a two-time champion.
But unlike his earlier championship, this title wasn’t just about victory or about conquering Glory, or anyone in the bracket for that matter. It was about conquering fear.
“It was a little different this time. I kind of reinvented myself and I came back to the circle and it was a whole new me,” Suriano said. “ … You know, this tournament for me was facing fears more than winning any wrestling match, more than any wrestling match I could ever dream of.”
Luckily for Suriano, he didn’t have to dream of a world in which he could attain both victory and internal calm. Because under the lights in Detroit, he went out and found both.
“You have a choice to break through,” Suriano said. “I could have got turned. I could have packed it in. I said no way. No way. He can’t beat me. I’ve come too far.”
Suriano wanted to conquer his fears that external factors could affect or change him, that the lights, media and crowd could shift him away from what he calls his purpose. And on Saturday as the match wound down and the crowd booed, screamed and applauded all at once, Suriano remained calm and looked to his family. He would bask in the moment later, but he wouldn’t let it distract him from who he wants to become, even at his peak.
“I’m just so proud for my mom,” Suriano said. “They’ve been a part of it. There’s been ups and downs and a lot of adversity. And that’s life. It took me to my knees. I just had to put it into perspective and decide if this is the type of man I want to become.
And on Saturday, Suriano became that man. Again.