Nelson Brands

Austin Hanson, Sports Editor

Fresh off a team national championship in 2020-21, Iowa men’s wrestling will return to the mat and kick off the 2021-22 season with a dual against Princeton Nov. 19.

All 10 of Iowa’s 2020-21 starters are back for the 2021-22 season. That doesn’t mean the Hawkeyes’ lineup will look the same as a year ago, though.

Iowa is unlikely to change its starting wrestlers at nine weights. At 184 pounds, however, Hawkeye head coach Tom Brands might be making some changes.

In some preseason promotional materials, sophomore Abe Assad is featured with the rest of Iowa’s starting lineup.

Assad was Iowa’s 184-pound starter as a true freshman in 2019-20.

In 2020-21, Assad was benched in favor of junior Nelson Brands — the son of Iowa’s associate head coach Terry Brands and the nephew of the Hawkeyes’ head coach Tom Brands.

Nelson racked up an 8-6 overall record as Iowa’s 184-pound starter last year. He placed fourth in the Big Ten tournament and qualified for the NCAA tourney as the No. 12 seed at 184 pounds.

Last year, Nelson beat seven ranked opponents and scored 10 dual points for Iowa.

Nelson’s career record isn’t as good as Assad’s, nor is his résumé. Nelson is 17-10 on his career.

Assad is 22-7, a Midlands Championships runner-up, and a 2019-20 NCAA second-team All-American.

Nelson started his career at Iowa as a 165-pounder but has since bumped up to 184 pounds. Assad began his career in the Black and Gold singlet at 184 pounds.

So, if Assad’s résumé is better than Nelson’s, and his natural weight is 184 pounds — unlike Nelson — why shouldn’t he be Iowa’s 184-pound starter?

Well, the last time Assad and Nelson wrestled head-to-head publicly, Nelson handled Assad. In last November’s Hawkeye Wrestling Club Showdown Open at Xtream Arena in Coralville, Nelson beat Assad, 9-0.

I’m sure Nelson and Assad have wrestled each other since November 2020. Though, I haven’t seen the full breadth of Iowa’s practices over the last year.

Still, if the eye test is to be believed, Nelson is the better wrestler. He won the last head-to-head I saw him and Assad wrestle.

So, unless Assad has dethroned Nelson in closed practices, I say start the season with Nelson at 184 pounds. If Nelson struggles, and it becomes clear it’s time to make a change at 184 pounds, then go to Assad.

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