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‘King Parris’ hopes to live up to nickname, claim heavyweight wrestling gold at Paris Olympics

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Mason Parris has a golden opportunity to live up to his fabulously coincidental nickname.

Parris said years ago, he was dubbed ‘King Parris,’ and it stuck.

“My old club wrestling coach kind of started calling me that in high school,” the American freestyle wrestler said. “Just being a heavyweight wrestler, they associate the biggest weight class with being the king. So whenever I see him, he always calls me that.”

Parris could become the king of the 125-kilogram weight class at the Paris Olympics.

He fully embraces the name. When he won the U.S. Olympic Trials, he was already prepared. He wore a hat with the words ‘Parris in Paris’ below the Olympic rings. Well before that, he had a shirt with a crown and ‘HWT King’ across the front on sale through his NIL deal with the Cliff Keen Wrestling Club.

The Lawrenceburg, Indiana, native will try to make the most of his first visit to Paris.

To truly be the king of heavyweights, the former Michigan star must successfully follow in the footsteps of American Gable Steveson, who won gold in Tokyo in their weight class. Parris lost to Minnesota’s Steveson 8-4 in the NCAA finals in 2021 but gave him a closer match than most. Steveson won the Olympic gold medal just months later.

Steveson since has stepped away from amateur wrestling and now is with the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. Parris said facing Steveson over the years has helped prepare him for this moment.

“He’s definitely pushed me to get better,” Parris said. “I just have felt myself improving so much, especially since then. I just felt like I’ve become such, such a better wrestler, even since the last time that we wrestled. Seeing that he went out there and got gold just shows me that I can go out there and get gold this year.”

The biggest leap for Parris came between his final two years of college. He went 19-6 in 2022 after missing much of the first semester with a herniated disc in his neck. He said wrestling while less than fully healthy was worth it because the Wolverines won the Big Ten championship.

Once healthy, Parris was nearly unstoppable and matched more of Steveson’s achievements. He went undefeated, won a national title and claimed the Dan Hodge Trophy for the nation’s best wrestler.

USA men’s freestyle wrestling coach Bill Zadick said he noticed significant improvement in Parris between those final two college seasons, and it continued into international competition. Steveson won their weight class at the Pan-American Games in 2021; Parris did the same in 2023 and 2024.

“A lot of it’s confidence, just understanding when you get to new levels, you don’t know what you don’t know,” Zadick said. “And sometimes, your discovery is that you know more than you thought you did before. You’re more prepared or more capable of rising to that occasion. And I think he’s discovered that all along the way.”

Parris’ growth curve continued earlier this month when he won a ranking event in Hungary with some of the world’s best. He pinned Kazakhstan’s Yusup Batirmurzaev in the final. Batirmurzaev had defeated Tokyo silver medalist Geno Petriashvili of Georgia in the semifinals.

“It was just an opportunity for me to kind of tune myself up two months out from Paris and just kind of figure it out and figure out the stuff that I wanted to work on,” Parris said. “And, you know, luckily for me, it was a really great confidence boost for me and helps me bring a lot of momentum to Paris and know that I’m training and doing the right things.”

Zadick said Parris’ work ethic, smarts and strength make him a legitimate contender for gold.

“When he’s faced great resistance and great odds, he makes adjustments and learns and gets better each time,” Zadick said. “And that’s why he’s been able to make progress. And he’s continued that progress. It, I think, doesn’t matter who the opponents are. He’s focused on maximizing his own opportunity, his own potential.”

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AP Olympics https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games

By CLIFF BRUNT
AP Sports Writer

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