The recruiting world of NCAA wrestling is a shark tank. When there are programs like Penn State, Iowa and Ohio State, competition to get the next National Champion is fierce. Among the best schools is Oklahoma State. With names like Daniel Cormier and Kyle Crutchmer, Oklahoma State has put out some of the best wrestlers in the world. Next on that list is AJ Ferrari. The freshman National Champion made waves all season talking the talk and walking the walk.
The first thing that’s on everyone’s mind is where is AJ Ferrari sitting at on the deadlift? After his “665 pound deadlift, baby!” comment last season, it’s become his mantra appearing on his T-shirts for sell which is allowed under the new NIL laws. While he is trying to pump his numbers up, Ferrari reminds everyone that big lifting numbers aren’t always great for a wrestler.
“We’re trying to hit 700. I’m working for a lot of explosive power. I haven’t decided if I’m going to stay at 197 or go up to heavyweight. Deadlift is going up to for sure. It will probably be at 700 soon. But I’m trying to stay explosive. I’m not like a power lifter or a body builder. My performance in the weight room is completely applicable to the wrestling mat.”
Coming from Texas, Ferrari has the Texas style about him. Balls to the wall and brash, he has Texas in his blood. Wrestling came out of that. Being the number one recruit in high school, AJ Ferrari said that it’s wrestling that found him and that his love for the sport comes not from the brute force but from the finesse.
“Originally, I’m from Texas. We moved to Plano from Dallas. There was lots family there. My dad put me in wrestling there and we just fell in love with the grind and outworking people. A lot of sports is genetic based or athletic based. But in wrestling, you do show off your athleticism but if you’re not the most athletic, you can work with your own style. I feel like I can teach anybody to wrestle. Anyone can wrestle, any girl, any guy. I feel like I can have them be the best version of themselves.”
AJ Ferrari the National Champion
AJ Ferrari is in a unique spot. The Oklahoma State native went through a who’s who of 197 NCAA wrestling beating third ranked Jacob Warner of Iowa, number one ranked Amine Myles of Michigan, and for the championship, fourth ranked Nino Bonaccorsi of Pittsburgh. After the finals match which he won 4-2, Ferrari was calm, cool, and collected. He expected the championship. But despite the composure on the outside, Ferrari says it was an emotional moment for him.
“I 100% expected to win. Going in, I was the number one recruit. I was the greatest wrestler coming out of Texas ever. Going into college, I had all these accolades and I’m going in as essentially a 19 year old kid wrestling 25 and 24 year old grown men. Everybody was doubting me. For me it was like I am who I am with my faith in God, my family and my work ethic. I knew I could do it. When it came down to it, it was crazy. After I won, I had a huge celebration planned out. It was so emotional, I went back to my room and all my buddies was like, “Man, what are you going to do? You going to party, talk to girls or have a good time?” I was just so emotional in my room, I was crying. All the work, the thousands of hours that me and my dad put in when I was in my basement, all the extra stuff I did when nobody was watching, it showed.”
After winning, he dropped the idea of moving up to heavyweight and taking on the newly minted champion and Olympian, Gable Stevenson. The two have gone back and forth for a while and Ferrari says all that is water under the bridge. He also is not entirely sure about moving up from 197.
“It’s more my coaches, my body, and my team. Gable was talking a lot of crap online a while ago but now we’re good. Everything’s fine now. We kind of made up and talked through it. We had different views is all. People with different views who are strong kind of butt heads a little bit. I’m not sure, I could go to heavyweight and throw myself in that realm. Or I could stay at 197 and be the greatest light heavyweight ever. If I win five [national championships], that would be insane. If I do that, I would probably be at light heavyweight fighting in MMA.”
Despite the seemingly come out of nowhere vibe that’s been around Ferrari his freshman season, he says that it’s been a process that is years in the making. AJ Ferrari says it’s the hard work that really put him in the spot to succeed and accomplish what he’s done so early on.
“The thing that separates me is that I love training. A lot of people want these rewards, they want these accolades but I love training just as much as I love competing…I love working out, it’s my passion.”
From a young age, it was not much of a choice. I have to be a gladiator.AJ Ferrari
NCAA and New NIL Rules
At the end of June the skies opened up for collegiate athletes. The NCAA announced that student-athletes can now profit off of their name, image and likeness opening up the doors for brands, sponsorships and so much more. Ferrari is one of the ones that can benefit from the new rules tremendously. A screw you attitude that garners a lot of attention, the new rule changes can be very profitable for Ferrari going into his sophomore year and beyond.
“It’s great. Student athletes work so hard and the colleges benefit off our name, image and likeness. Especially someone like me who showboats and has such a following and built up so many people who know how I got here and what I stand for. It’s good. I just started dropping T-shirts. I’m working on all other types of sponsorships and endorsements. We work so hard in college and someone like me, I would have had to wait until I graduate and or drop out to make a living. With wrestling, there’s not that much money. With this new NIL thing, the amount of money I can make is limitless.”
Earlier, AJ Ferrari mentioned the transition to mixed martial arts. Of course, I couldn’t let it go and asked if he was interested in the Olympic Games. He does have that into his plans, but at such a young age, said plans are always in motion.
“I’m interested in [MMA and the Olympics]. I’d like to do either 2024 or 2028. I’m thinking about wrestling until 2025 regardless on if I go up in weight or not. I’d probably rather stay at 197 because it’s easier on my body. I can focus on staying athletic and staying functional versus having to put on this muscle mass. It’s not healthy to eat to put on that mass. I’d rather stay and go out and win five titles then for the next three years after that and then fight at 205 in the UFC. I have a lot of opportunities, I can always coach and give back to the sport.”
The transition has already begun. Ferrari has been striking some time and narrowing the learning gap from wrestling to striking. Knowing the work ethic Ferrari brings, it won’t be much to do once he’s done wrestling to transition over to MMA.
“I really begun [striking] seriously recently. I’ve done it in and out from a young age. I’ve got a super, super long reach for my size. I’m 5’11” and I have 78″ reach.”
AJ Ferrari and His Sophomore Season
With the wrestling season approaching rapidly, Ferrari says fans of the sport can already know what to expect. He’s bringing the hard work and explosive wrestling back another season and is putting his faith, his family and his coaches in his mind instead of anyone negative.
“It’s the same AJ that you are always going to get. I am the type of person who really doesn’t care what people think that much. It’s what God, my coaches and my family want to see. I am going to do my thing. I’m going to bust my butt and no matter what my hands do I do it with all my might.”
Despite his success, Ferrari knows not to rest on his laurels. He says that he knows how big the target on his back will be and that the hard work will not stop. Staying on the top requires constant improvement and Ferrari is ready to bring that.
“There are some of the best guys coming, like 40-50 guys coming for my head. I always have to be getting better and can’t stay complacent. Being the reigning National Champion, I’ve got a target on my back and I understand that. I’m ready and willing to do whatever it takes to win it again. Stay tuned, a lot more is coming.”
AJ Ferrari has lofty goals going into his sophomore year and beyond. The Oklahoma State Cowboy has all the tools to get to his goals and higher. Be sure to get in on supporting the new NIL rules and support AJ by checking out his new clothing line!