Collegiate wrestling will be on the big stage in one of the largest and most historic venues in America this weekend when the first-ever Grapple at the Garden invades Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Included in the lineup card and on the biggest stage is Iowa's fifth-ranked wrestling team as the Hawkeyes will face Hofstra and Bucknell in back-to-back duals beginning at 9:30 a.m.
"It's going to be fantastic," UI coach Tom Brands said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. "This is the world's stage. You are in a marquee facility and you're putting wrestling on that stage. It has been marketed and promoted in a first-class way."
The Hawkeyes are undefeated at 7-0 but were still jumped in the rankings by Big Ten foe Ohio State. There are four Big Ten Conference programs ranked in the top five as Penn State, Minnesota and Ohio State are one, three and four, respectively, while Oklahoma State sits at No. 2.
Joining Iowa in the Grapple at the Garden lineup will be Oklahoma State and Ohio State as well as seventh-ranked Missouri and eighth-ranked Cornell.
Because Iowa faces Oklahoma State and Ohio State during the regular season, the Hawkeyes have a fairly easy draw at the Garden. The Hawkeyes will battle Hofstra (0-9) and Bucknell (2-1).
Madison Square Garden will provide the history. Brands hopes his team can bring the fireworks on the mat.
"There has to be fireworks involved and we have to do our job, too," Brands said. "It's about putting a high-powered team on the mat and everybody is trying to score points up and down the lineup. Don't get conservative and win, 3-2. It's about the pin. That's how you create a buzz."
Seven of Iowa's 10 starters are undefeated and Matt McDonough, Tony Ramos, Mark Ballweg, Derek St. John and Bobby Telford are all 7-0. Nick Moore and Mike Evans also are 5-0.
McDonough, top-ranked at 125, is a two-time champion and one-time runner-up at that weight and has won 35 straight matches. Ramos has recorded bonus points in all seven of his matches at 133 pounds and is currently ranked No. 3, while Ballweg has claimed 21 straight wins at 141 and is 32-3 at that weight in his career. McDonough's all-time record is 107-4.
St. John was named Big Ten Conference Wrestler of the Week on Tuesday for his efforts against another top-five ranked opponent. St. John, the top-ranked wrestler at 157, recorded a 6-0 shutout victory over No. 4 Joey Napoli during the Hawkeyes' dual with Lehigh last weekend.
The Grapple will feature 65 nationally ranked wrestlers and will be the first-ever wrestling event at Madison Square Garden.
Besides McDonough, other well-known nationally ranked wrestlers include Cornell's Kyle Dake, Ohio State's Logan Steiber and Oklahoma State's Tyler Caldwell.
Dake is seeking his fourth national title at a fourth different weight class this season, while Steiber won a title as a freshman last season. Caldwell transferred to Oklahoma State this season after earning national runner-up honors for Oklahoma in 2011 and a fifth-place finish in 2010.
Iowa leads the series with Hofstra, 6-0, and the Hawkeyes are 2-0 against Bucknell. Hofstra returns NCAA qualifiers Steve Bonanno (125), Jamie Franco (133), Luke Vaith (141), and Justin Accordino (149). Bucknell returns NCAA qualifiers in Austin Miller (125) and Corey Lear (165).
The Hawkeyes conclude their East Coast swing with a dual at Buffalo on Monday beginning at 6 p.m. It will be the first meeting between Iowa and Buffalo.