Iowa men’s wrestler Real Woods falls in 141-pound title match at 2023 NCAA Championships

The Hawkeyes finished second in team points, trailing behind Penn State, 137.5 to 82.5. 


Ayrton Breckenridge

No. 1 seeded 141-pound Iowa’s Real Woods talks with Iowa head coach Tom Brands during Session II of the NCAA Wrestling Championships at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. on Thursday, March 16, 2023.

Matt McGowan, Sports Reporter

Iowa men’s wrestler Real Woods lost, 6-4, to Northern Colorado’s Andrew Alirez in the 141-pound title bout at the 2023 NCAA Championships on Saturday at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The Hawkeyes finished second in team points, trailing behind champion Penn State, 137.5-82.5. 

Woods transferred from Stanford this offseason. While with the Cardinal, he qualified for the national championships three times but never advanced beyond the semifinals. Having earned his degree from Stanford, Woods’ next goal was to reach the top of his weight class. 

Woods started this quest with a bang in his debut match for the Hawkeyes, defeating then 10th-ranked  Casey Swiderski of Iowa State, 4-2 on Dec. 4, 2022,, and taking a parade lap around the Black and Gold mat after his hand was raised. 

A native of New Mexico, Woods continued this dominance to the tune of an undefeated regular season. He added a Big Ten individual title on March 5 to go along with two Pac-12 championships from his four years with the Cardinal.

The top seed in this year’s NCAA tournament, Woods cruised to the finals, picking up three major decisions and outscoring his opponents, 40-7, in his four matches leading to the championship, where he faced the second-seeded Alirez. Woods and Alirez were both undefeated on the season, combining for 47 wins heading into the finals. 

After a scoreless first period, Woods tilted Alirez for a takedown. Alirez, a Big 12 champion in 2022, answered promptly by throwing the Hawkeye to the mat near the edge of the circle to even the scoring at two apiece. With Woods now on the ground, Alirez was close to a pin, and the referee signaled for a two-point near fall.

Northern Colorado head coach Troy Nickerson challenged the call, arguing that Alirez scored a four-point near fall and should have six points instead of four.

The referee had swiped his hand three times and appeared to be halfway through a fourth one, signaling a four-point near fall, when the motion stopped. After an unprecedented review of more than five minutes, the call was overturned and Woods found himself trailing, 6-2, with less than a minute to go in the second period. 

“I wanted it so bad that I put myself in an exposed position and it bit me in the butt,” Woods said in his post-match media availability. 

After escaping to close the period, Woods found himself in a do-or-die situation in the final two minutes. He scored another escape point, but couldn’t overcome the deficit, giving Northern Colorado its first national champion since Jack Flasche in 1962. 

“I am always proud of myself, I never let that fly,” Woods said. “I am never disappointed in myself.  Interestingly enough, after this outcome, I am not disappointed in myself. I am simply angry. It hurts, I am not disappointed in myself, I am proud of myself. I am ready to move forward.

 “That is what life is about and that’s what is so beautiful about this sport,” Woods continued. “This is the kind of stuff you’re going to deal with in life, through any hardship, you’re going to deal with this pain and the fact you need to move forward and move on and continue to grow.  That’s just life.”

Woods has one more chance to reach the top of the podium when he returns to Iowa City next season. A three-time All-American, Woods will join other accomplished Iowa grapplers such as four-time All-American heavyweight Tony Cassioppi, who finished fourth at the 2023 NCAA Championships, the next-best individual finish for the Hawkeyes. 

Even though five-time All-Americans Spencer Lee and Jacob Warner, along with two-time All-American Max Murin, graduate this season, the Iowa lineup for the 2023-2024 season will most likely feature 2023 All-American Nelson Brands, 2020 All-American Abe Assad, and past NCAA qualifiers Drake Ayala, Brody Teske, Cobe Siebrecht, and Patrick Kennedy.

 “We have to come back strong, we will, we have character and I believe that,” Iowa head coach Tom Brands said. “The hard part is putting the right look on your face that has optimism for the future and that’s hard to do right now. I said it last year, I am an envious guy, I am jealous and here we are again.” 

After completing a three-peat in NCAA titles in 2010, Iowa has won just once in the next 12 years. Penn State has claimed the title in 10 of those seasons. The Nittany Lions won the Big Ten title this season and eight times in the last 13 seasons.

The Hawkeyes won the national title in 2021,  have had 33 straight seasons with a national title finalist, and have had at least five All-Americans in 10 consecutive seasons. 

“The other thing that has to be said is you have to give celebration status to the guys that earned it,” Brands said. “We had six All-Americans. It’s not sucking your thumb walking out of here. You have to build and you have to move on.”