100 days of Kansas City-area Olympians: J’den Cox, wrestling

Rio Olympics Wrestling Men
Posted at 8:00 AM, Jun 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-16 09:00:28-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Fresh off his second NCAA wrestling championship at Madison Square Garden in 2016, Mizzou star J’den Cox initially waffled about whether he’d enter the Olympic Wrestling Trials that summer.

He went — and began a journey to international stardom.

After qualifying his weight at the World Games Qualifying Tournament in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, Cox, 26, went to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and won a bronze medal.

Rio Olympics Wrestling Men
United States' J'den Michael Tbory Cox bites his medal after winning the men's 86-kg freestyle wrestling bronze medal match at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016.

He dominated his first two matches before a 2-1 loss in the semifinals against eventual silver medalist Selim Yasar.

He returned to Columbia the next year and capped his incredible collegiate career by becoming the first-time national champion in Tigers history in any sport, having won 197-pound titles in 2014, 2016 and 2017.

Cox, a graduate of Columbia-Hickman High School, was a bronze medalist at 86 kilograms during the 2017 World Championships in Paris. He then bumped up to 92kg and won gold at the 2018 and 2019 World Championships.

J'Den Cox, Nick Heflin
Missouri's J'Den Cox, left, wrestles Ohio State's Nick Heflin, right, in the 197-pound match in the finals of the NCAA Division I wrestling championships in Oklahoma City, Saturday, March 22, 2014. Cox won the match and the championship.

Along the way, he won the 2018 U.S. Open Championships, the 2019 Pan American Games and the 2019 Yasar Dogu title at 92kg.

Cox planned to bump up to 97kg for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials and challenge 2016 97kg gold medalist Kyle Snyder for a spot at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, because 92kg isn’t a contested Olympic weight class.

The Cox-Snyder match was among the most anticipated matches at the Olympic Trials, but it never materialized when the former MU star missed weight after a mix up with the weigh-in time.

Cox said he was informed of the wrong time for weigh-ins ahead of the Olympic Trials by his coach, Kevin Jackson, and didn’t officially get under 97kg until after the 8 a.m. deadline.

USA Wrestling removed Cox from the tournament, a decision he didn’t learn about for several hours.

He’d won 26 consecutive international matches at the time of Olympic Trials controversy.

J'den Cox, Takashi Ishiguro
United States' J'den Cox, left, celebrates after defeating Japan's Takashi Ishiguro, right, in their 92 kg match in the Freestyle Wrestling World Cup, Saturday, April 7, 2018, in Iowa City, Iowa.

“They voted that I wouldn't wrestle, and I swallowed that and accepted that ...,” Cox said in a recent podcast. “I took that news about as well as anyone could.”

Cox said he decided not to pursue a lawsuit due to the high cost and likelihood it wouldn’t succeed, but he admitted that he was hurt by some comments made on social media about his discipline and acceptance of responsibility.

Trying to put the episode behind him, Cox plans to move back down to 92kg ahead of the 2021 World Wrestling Championships from Oct. 2-10 in Oslo, Norway.

Snyder will automatically be granted a spot at 97kg on the U.S. team if he wins a medal in Tokyo, which seems likely.

“After that, I am going to give up my spot at 92 (kg), go back up to 97 (kg) and I’m going to take what’s rightfully mine,” Cox said.

He plans to continue working with Jackson, who he calls “KJ,” and vowed to use the recent Olympic Trials failure as fuel to reach new heights.

“The monster they create today is the one they’ll fear tomorrow,” Cox said. “I looked KJ in his eyes and I promised him, ‘I’m going to bring the wrath of god on these people.’”

Cox added, “It’s never been more clear what my path is and what it is to be. ... I’m here to destroy people’s lives. That’s what I’m here to do. I’m here to take people out. I’m here to tear up the world. It’s not out of spite; it’s not out of vengeance. It’s just what will be. It’s to prove to everyone what I’ve known and to prove and show what’s been shown in the last two years — that I’m the best wrestler in the world. I truly believe that, and I’m going to do even more to showcase it.”

Watch for Cox, who finished fifth as the NCAA championships as a sophomore, to be a factor ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympics.

J'Den Cox
Missouri's J'Den Cox celebrates after defeating Ohio State's Nick Heflin in the 197-pound match in the finals of the NCAA Division I wrestling championships in Oklahoma City, Saturday, March 22, 2014.

The Kansas City region has a deep, rich history with respect to the Olympic Games. As the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games approach with the Opening Ceremony scheduled for July 23, we will profile an athlete with ties to Kansas City, Missouri or Kansas each day.

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