Mason Gibson may be small in stature, but he’s not short on confidence (Photo by Sam Janicki).

The 14-year-old from District 6’s Forest Hills Middle School believed heading into the Super 32 tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina, that he could become just the second eighth-grader to bring home a belt from the varsity division.

Gibson, who entered as the No. 17 seed, made believers out of everyone else at the Greensboro Coliseum and watching online, as he beat Alabama’s Cory Land 5-4 for the 106-pound title on Sunday afternoon.

“I knew I was going there as the best. I knew that I was going to win it,” said Gibson, a three-time PJW champion who FloWrestling ranked as the No. 1 junior high wrestler in the country. “That’s the mindset I always have.”

 

Finding his ‘Happy Place’

 

Bill Bassett, who coaches Gibson as part of a stable of studs for Ranger Pride Wrestling (RPW) and Young Guns, said that isn’t cockiness on his wrestler’s part, but the outlook that has been drilled into him.

“Over the years, with the opportunities with these national events, he’s been wrestling older kids his entire life,” Bassett said. “That takes the barrier away in jumping up an age level. It doesn’t matter how old you are, how old they are, it’s just a matter of going out there and doing what you do every single day.”

Bassett said he and Young Guns coaches Jody and John Strittmatter shared Gibson’s confidence heading to Greensboro, even if few others did.

“Other than only a few of us, not many people believed,” Bassett said. “It’s hard for an eighth-grader to do that. We knew Mason had a chance. He works so hard and he’s so talented. What separates him is he loves wrestling. He comes in the room every day happy to be there. That’s what separates him, ultimately. Wrestling is his happy place.”

 

Creating a Buzz

 

Gibson joined Ryan Crookham, who won a state title for Notre Dame Green Pond in March, as the only eighth-graders ever to capture a Super 32 varsity title. After a pair of technical falls to start the tournament, Gibson started to draw some comparisons to Crookham, who won the Super 32 in 2017.

“He was the buzz,” Basset said of Gibson. “He won a couple matches and people were asking, ‘How good is this kid?’ His confidence just kept building and building.”

Gibson beat another PJW state champ, Waynesburg Central’s Mac Church, 11-3 in the quarterfinals.

The semifinal matchup against California’s Maxximus Martinez might have the most difficult one for Gibson. After Gibson escaped in the second period, Martinez immediately shot in and took him down. Gibson escaped again to tie it, but cut the California wrestler to start the third. Gibson kept pressing the action and it paid off, as he got a stalling point with 2 seconds left to tie the score. A scoreless sudden-victory period sent it to ultimate tiebreaker, and Gibson escaped for the 4-3 victory.

“I knew I was going to get out,” Gibson said.

By comparison, the victory over Land was relatively easy. Gibson built a 5-0 lead and held on for a 5-4 win to put his name in the record books.

“It feels great,” Gibson said. “I thought it was amazing.”