The lion is often coined as the king of the animal kingdom. However, the way Warren Central Senior Michael Johnson-Jones hunts down the competition, it might be right to term this cat as the king of IHSAA wrestling.
"I listen to my coaches when I start wrestling," said Johnson-Jones. "And they say when you begin the match, wrestle like a tiger, and that is what I just focus on."
The Warren Central coaches are referring to the tiger-print Hawaiin shirt that Johnson-Jones can be found sporting prior to all of his matches. The former soccer player, who had never made the state tournament in wrestling before his senior year, had found the shirt complimented his winning ways.
"It is my lucky shirt and I had it all year," said Johnson-Jones. "Ever since I was wrestling over the summer, I go to every wrestling meet with it, and that's where I always take it. That's why I kept the nickname Tiger, it's awesome, and it works for me."
Johnson-Jones (44-1) took his nickname and his shirt all the way to a 189 Pound State Wrestling title on Saturday night.
"Stepping up underneath the spotlights, the nerves built up into confidence for me," said Johnson-Jones. "I don't know how I did it, but the nerves built into confidence, getting me focused, and I was able to block out every distraction."
Johnson-Jones needed that every bit of confidence and focus to get past Delphi Senior Braden Atwood (48-1), The Warrior had scored the first take-down of the match, and led the battle before Atwood tied the match up with 45 seconds left, sending the match into overtime. In the extended time, Johnson-Jones had to change his strategy for the match.
"Before it went to overtime I was thinking about the legs," said Johnson-Jones. "But once I saw the one minute left on the clock, I thought I had to get a take-down. I pushed back, he pushed me back, the ref brought us both in and said no more backing up, and I knew I had to go at him."
Johnson-Jones looked to be in trouble right away, with Atwood having clutched Johnson-Jones' right leg and torso, but the Warren Central Senior used his strength and speed to jump around Atwood, where he brought him to the ground.
"I charged after him, and I knew he had the outside single, but I kept going and I finally got my little take-down."
Warren Central Senior Brandon Wright had a much different road to his state title match in the 125 pound weight class. A former champion in the 112 and a state runner-up in the 103 and 119, with all three accomplishments taking place as a student at Indianapolis Cathedral, Wright (33-2) had the daunting task of taking on defending 103 champion in Indian Creek Junior Ethan Raley (37-2).
"At that point it is like six minutes of heart, and it might be the last match of your high school career," said Wright on his thoughts before entering the finals match. "So it was like go hard or go home, and I kept that in my mind the whole time."
Wright brought everything he could and more to Raley, defeating him by the decision of 9-1 in a match Wright sensed he could win early on.
"He (Raley) tried to his this lateral and I knew he was going to go for it because I shoved my hips into him," said Wright. "He dropped his levels and I was able to lower myself and drive into him onto his back to get back points. From then on I knew it was mine, I just had to hold onto it and stay focused."
With his fourth finals and second championship under his belt, Wright realizes that he has finished up his IHSAA career among the best.
"I made the finals four times and fell short twice, but I mean being a two-timer feels good," said Wright with a smile. "I feel like I am in an elite group."