Wrestling shoes have always held a unique place within the sport of wrestling. The degree to which wrestling shoes matter to a wrestler can vary greatly. While some wrestlers have little to no preference when it comes to their footwear, other wrestlers have style, sole, color and brand preferences. Asics and Adidas dominated the wrestling shoe market in the 1980s and 1990s. Other brands like Nike, Rudis and ScrapLife have since emerged in the wrestling shoe market and produced well-selling wrestling shoes.
As time has passed, vintage wrestling shoes have become collector's items. A subculture of passionate wrestling shoe collectors has emerged. With each passing year, certain wrestling shoes become rarer and more collectable. Some vintage wrestling shoes fetch over four figures on secondary markets like eBay, Flickr and Instagram.
Many of America's most accomplished wrestlers ever have their own signature wrestling shoes. In a two-part series, MatBoss examines American wrestlers who have had their own signature wrestling shoes.
Accomplishments: Dan Gable was one of the most dominant folkstyle wrestlers ever, compiling a record 181-1, winning three state championships and two national titles as a competitor at Iowa State. After getting upset by Larry Owings in his last collegiate wrestling match in 1970, Gable would go on to dominate at the 1972 Olympics, capturing a gold medal without surrendering a single point. Gable would then transition to coaching and became the most accomplished college wrestling coach ever at the University of Iowa, guiding the Hawkeyes to 15 NCAA Division I titles and 21 Big Ten championships.
Shoes: Gable became the face of Asics' wrestling division in the 1980s as the sport's biggest icon. His first signature shoes, Asics Tiger Super Flex, had a simple design. Asics later released the Gable XL and Gable Ultra XL shoes that became extremely popular in the mid to late 1980s and early 1990s. The Gable Comp wrestling shoes came out in the early 1990s. Later, Asics would release Gable shoes like the Ultraflex, Ultimate and EVO. Gable's impact on the wrestling shoe market could be compared to Michael Jordan's impact on the basketball shoe market.
Accomplishments: John Smith has long been considered the GOAT of American wrestling. He won two NCAA titles in college at Oklahoma State but became a legend for what he accomplished in freestyle wrestling. Smith won two Olympic gold medals and four world titles. He is the only American wrestler ever to win six consecutive world-level titles, which he accomplished from 1987 until 1992. Smith has served as head wrestling coach at Oklahoma Smith since 1991 and won five national championships as a coach.
Shoes: In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Brute made signature wrestling shoes for John Smith called the Brute Olympic Gold. Smith wore his first signature shoes -- a red/white/blue version -- during the 1988 Olympics and in the following years at major international wrestling competitions. In the 1990s, Brute released Smith signature shoes like the Kudos and Bucklyte. Smith wore the Bucklyte shoes when he won gold at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. After Smith's competitive career ended, Adidas released Smith signature shoes like the Elite International, Mat Wizard and Adistrike. Interestingly, Brute made a return in 2013 with John Smith signature shoes called the JS25. At the time, Suplay CEO Gary Frey called the shoes "the definition of ugly."
Accomplishments: Dave Schultz is among the greatest American wrestlers ever, along with being one of the sport's most beloved figures. As a high school wrestler, Schultz won a California state championship and already started to make his mark on the senior level, winning a Greco-Roman national title and pinning two-time NCAA champion Chuck Yagla in freestyle on his way to claiming a title at the Great Plains Championships. Schultz would start his career at Oklahoma State, where he became an All-American in 1978 before transferring to Oklahoma where he would add two more All-America honors, including a national title in 1982. The next year, Schultz became a world champion in freestyle, and the following year he claimed a gold medal at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Schultz won seven world-level medals and 10 U.S. national titles (eight in freestyle, two in Greco-Roman) over a 19-year span before his tragic death in 1996.
Shoes: In the late 1990s, Asics released the Dave Schultz Classic. The shoes had a simple design mirroring the popular Asics Ultra Flex Quicksilver shoes. Asics rereleased the Dave Schultz Classic several years later because of their popularity and Schultz's impact on the sport. In 2015, Dave Schultz's widow Nancy became a partner at Rudis, a wrestling apparel company. Rudis has developed the Dave Schultz signature wrestling shoes called The Sly Fox Tbilisi. Schultz was called "Sly Fox" by the Russians and is the only American ever to win two Tblisi titles.
Accomplishments: Bruce Baumgartner had an incredible run in the freestyle heavyweight division during the 1980s and 1990s to cement his place among America's greatest wrestlers ever. Baumgartner put up some mind-blowing numbers. He made 15 consecutive world or Olympic teams from 1982 through 1996. Baumgartner won four Olympic medals, including gold medals in 1984 and 1992, along with a silver medal in 1988 and a bronze medal in 1996. He also earned nine medals at the World Championships, with three being gold medals.
Shoes: In 1997, Asics released Baumgartner's first signature wrestling shoes, called The Baum. The initial release had a simple design and came in black/gold. Later, Asics released another version known as the The Cow Baum, which had a slightly different design and came in black/maroon.
Accomplishments: Cael Sanderson is widely considered to be the greatest college wrestler ever. The Utah native became the first wrestler ever to finish as an undefeated four-time NCAA Division I NCAA champion, which he accomplished at Iowa State. After his college career, Cael earned a silver medal at the 2003 World Championships in freestyle. In 2004, Cael became an Olympic champion in Athens, Greece. After serving on Bobby Douglas' coaching staff at Iowa State for two seasons, Cael became the Cyclones head wrestling coach in 2006. In 2009, Cael left ISU to become the head wrestling coach at Penn State. Cael has guided the Nittany Lions to 10 NCAA titles in his 14 seasons.
Shoes: To no one's surprise Cael would get his own signature wrestling shoes after going undefeated in college, winning four national titles and becoming an Olympic champion. Asics signed Cael and released the Cael Sanderson V1 wrestling shoes, which were very popular at the time and now command a lot more money on the secondary market than the original retail price. Asics continued to release subsequent versions of Cael's signature shoes, with the last version being V8, which were released in 2018. Asics rereleased the popular V1 shoes in 2016. Interestingly, Cael's wrestlers at Penn State cannot compete in their coach's signature shoes because the school has had an apparel contract with Nike since 1993.
Accomplishments: Kendall Cross, known for his flexibility, unorthodox style and creativity, had a very successful college wrestling career at Oklahoma State, becoming a three-time All-American and national champion in 1989. Cross was overshadowed in the late 1980s and early 1990s by American wrestlers like John Smith, Alan Fried and the Brands brothers, among others. In 1992, Cross broke through and earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, placing sixth at the Barcelona Games. After failing to make a world team from 1993 to 1995, Cross stunned the wrestling world in 1996 by knocking off two-time world champion Terry Brands to make his second U.S. Olympic team. Cross carried that momentum through the Atlanta Games, winning an Olympic gold medal and becoming a household name in the wrestling world.
Shoes: Kendall Cross' name became synonymous with the Adidas Adistar wrestling shoes after the 1996 Olympics. During the Atlanta Games, Cross won gold wearing white Adistar wrestling shoes. The Adistar would become his signature shoes with a later release of the shoes in black/white with his signature. In 2016, Cross told FloWrestling, "It's pretty cool to have my name associated with Adistars. I was as the only American to wear Adidas in the '96 Olympics. I'm not surprised every kid in the country wants them. They fit like a strong moccasin. Sole placement was perfect for me. And they have a cool look. Frankly, one of the best, if not the best, wrestling shoes out there. Let's bring them back."
Accomplishments: Rulon Gardner, like the aforementioned Cross, became a household name because of his Olympic triumph. In 2000, the dairy farmer from Wyoming pulled the greatest upset in the history of Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling when he defeated three-time reigning Olympic champion Aleksandr Karelin in the gold-medal match, snapping the Russian Bear's 13-year unbeaten streak in international wrestling competition. Gardner's upset over Karelin was called the Miracle on the Mat. Four years later, Gardner added another Olympic medal when he captured a bronze at the Sydney Games.
Shoes: Asics signed the Olympic legend and gave him signature shoes. The Asics Rulon became an instant hit. Initially, the Asics Rulon came in two colorways, black/gold and black/red, but eventually two more colorways were released. The Asics Rulon remains one of the most sought-after, desirable shoes in the market, with some of the highest sales of any wrestling shoes ever.
Accomplishments: Gutches was one of America's biggest wrestling stars in the mid to late 1990s. He was collegiate wrestling standout at Oregon State, winning two NCAA titles and finishing his college career with a record of 134-10. The same year he concluded his college wrestling career, Gutches earned a spot on the 1996 U.S. Olympic team. In 1997, Gutches won a world title. Two years later, Gutches added a second world medal, claiming a bronze at the 1999 World Championships.
Shoes: Gutches signed with Asics after winning a world title. In 1999, the Asics Gutches wrestling shoes were released. They were premium, lightweight shoes the became very popular. Interestingly, Cael Sanderson wore the Asics Gutches wrestling shoes when he faced Gutches at the U.S. Open in 2000.
Accomplishments: Kolat is one of America's most accomplished wrestlers ever for what he achieved at every level of wrestling. The Pennsylvania native is considered by many to be the greatest high school wrestler ever. He was an undefeated four-time state champion and was placing at the Midlands Championships and U.S. Open while still in high school. In college, Kolat competed for Penn State and Lock Haven, becoming a two-time NCAA champion and four-time All-American. On the international level, Kolat was a two-time world medalist, winning silver in 1997 and bronze in 1998. He competed for Team USA at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. It's virtually impossible to discuss Kolat's international wrestling career without bringing up the fact that he was on the wrong end of some controversial calls and decisions by the world's governing body, which was FILA at the time. He currently serves as the head wrestling coach at Navy.
Shoes: After Kolat won a silver medal at the 1997 World Championships, Nike signed him to a deal. The Nike Kolat shoes were released in 2000 and came in two colorways, black/silver and blue/silver. At the time, Asics and Adidas ruled the wrestling shoe market, so the Nike Kolat was overlooked. Things changed with time. It has become one of the most desirable wrestling shoes on the secondary market and extremely rare, especially new pairs. When a pair does surface on the secondary market, it typically fetches a hefty price tag. Subsequent releases of Kolat shoes included the Kolat Speed, Kolat 2k4 and Kolat International. Kolat helped Nike become a major player in the wrestling shoe market, and college teams like the University of Illinois even started wearing Kolat's signature shoes designed with their team colors.
Accomplishments: DeAnna was a college wrestling standout at Iowa in the late 1970s and early 1980s, finishing as a two-time NCAA finalist, four-time All-American and four-time Big Ten champion. He won AAU national freestyle titles in 1983 and 1984 and was an alternate on the 1984 U.S. Olympic team. DeAnna would later go on to become head wrestling coach at Edinboro University.
Shoes: In 1990, after DeAnna concluded his coaching career, he established Mike DeAnna's Wrestle Wear, a company that produced wrestling apparel, which included shoes, T-shirts, shorts and bags. The company produced the Mike DeAnna Lightning wrestling shoes. The all-suede shoes with a lightning bolt came in two colorways, red/black and black/white. The shoes can still be found on the secondary market, but in limited sizes and much more expensive than the original retail price.
Stay tuned for Part Two of the MatBoss American Wrestling Greats with Signature Wrestling Shoes series.