You Can't Take Iowa out of the Wrestler

Jan. 24, 2014

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.


IOWA CITY, Iowa — Joe Williams is making a comeback, but only in the most literal of terms. So far, anyway.

The three-time NCAA champion returns to Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday to serve as Iowa’s honorary captain when the Hawkeyes host Minnesota at 1 p.m. (CT).

Williams has called Iowa City home for a number of years. He earned four All-America honors competing for the Hawkeyes from 1994-98, and stayed on campus after graduating in 1998 to train with the Hawkeye Wrestling Club.

He eventually moved back to his home state of Illinois, but in 2012 Iowa City called him back.

“It has changed,” Williams said about the town he first set eyes on as a sixth grader. “It has definitely changed, but I think for the better. There are a lot of good things happening.”

Family and business pulled Williams back to Iowa. He resides in North Liberty with his wife, Kimberly, and sons Kaleb, 11, and Wyatt, 8. You could say he traded his wrestling shoes for a pair of wingtips, but that would be stating a half-truth. Yes, he’s now working in the finance world, but he’s never closed the door on a return to the mat.

“I really haven’t come out and officially retired,” said Williams, who owns a record 10 Midlands titles. “I’m pursuing more things in the business world. That’s where my attention has been since 2009. I don’t know if there is ever room for a comeback story, but man… that would be great.”

Williams is still on the mat. He runs a youth wrestling academy through City High School. He has returned to a community that embraces wrestling. In Iowa City, water cooler talk include wrestling youth tournaments and upcoming college duals. For a man that Dan Gable once called “The Best,” living in that environment can create a scratch that needs to be itched.

“Around here you see Tom Brands, you talk to Tom Brands, and you have people like that that constantly motivate you,” said Williams. “I’m back in a wrestling town and community, and all that stuff makes a huge difference in thinking about it.

“Now that I run a wrestling academy, I’m able to see and coach some of the kids at tournaments, and it lights a fire underneath you that makes you want to grab the shoes and get them laced up.”

Today, the talk of a return is not impossible, but it is just talk. The passion Williams speaks with, however, is very real. Wrestling is something he lives with every day. He calls it “everything.” It has built his career, and it has laid the foundation for his family.

“Wrestling is the heart and soul of me,” he said. “My DNA, everything I’ve strived for in life I can associate back to my competing and training days at the University of Iowa.”

On Saturday, Williams will share the day with his wife, two sons, and a pupil from his wrestling academy. His entourage will watch from the stands as a husband, father, and coach is celebrated for a Hawkeye wrestling career that is second to none.

By the time wrestling begins, Williams will take his seat on the bench reserved for the honorary captain. How long he’ll stay there remains to be seen.

“I might get excited and run out there,” he said. “Sitting that close to the action with some of the best wrestlers and coaches in college … that’s exciting, it doesn’t get any better than that.”