The Southern Scuffle
At McKenzie Arena
Admission -- $5 18-under, $15 adults
Noon -- workout areas available at McKenzie Arena main floor and UTC wrestling room.
7 p.m. -- team and individual registration
9 a.m. -- ticket office and doors open to public
10 -- pigtail and round of 32
1:30 p.m. -- pigtail & consolation first rounds
3:30 -- Round of 16 (eight mats)
5 -- consolation second round
6:30 -- championship quarterfinals; consolation third round
9 a.m. -- Doors open
10 -- consolations fourth round
Noon -- semifinals; consolation quarterfinals
2 p.m. -- consolation semifinals
6 -- Medal-round matches
The 2013 field
Air Force, American University, Appalachian State, Arizona State, Army, Boston College, Campbell, The Citadel, Cleveland (Ohio) State, Cornell, Duke, Minnesota, Missouri, Navy, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Ohio, Oklahoma State, Old Dominion, Penn State, South Dakota State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, UTC.
Niko Brown struggled the last time he wrestled at McKenzie Arena.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga senior, severely limited by torn rib cage cartilage, won his first match but then lost two straight and finished out of the medals in the 2012 Southern Conference tournament.
He's back, though, and stronger and faster. He also is carrying a new mindset into his return to McKenzie for the loaded Southern Scuffle on Tuesday and Wednesday.
"I took it as a positive. I knew I wasn't going to wrestle really well," said Brown, who already had battled back in the 2011-12 season from a torn MCL. "I decided that instead of moping I wanted to succeed that much more the next year. My parents were like 'Whoa,' because I had always blamed somebody else. At that point I asked God to get me ready for this season."
He is ranked among the nation's top 20 197-pounders by Amateur Wrestling News and enters the Scuffle with a 17-1 record.
"I'm pleased but not happy," Brown said. "I have worked extremely hard, so I'm not surprised. I figured hard work would pay off eventually."
He turned to boxing over the summer for conditioning. There are only so many miles and practice-room sessions one can take without getting bored, and the boxing worked, at least for him.
"I wanted to get quicker with my hands and feet, and it was something I found I enjoyed," he said. "I couldn't even raise my hands after the first day. I was working muscles I'd never worked before."
He'll need his arsenal because the Scuffle field is loaded with challenges he could see again at the NCAA tournament in March. Included are third-ranked Quinten Wright of Penn State, seventh-ranked Jake Meredith of Arizona State and 11th-ranked Brett Haynes of Missouri.
Wright is a three-time All-American, finishing sixth in 2009 and second last year after winning the NCAA tournament in 2011. He is a returning Scuffle champion, as is Haynes.
"If Niko's hot, he's capable of placing [at the nationals], but that's half the battle for anybody when you get to that point," Mocs coach Heath Eslinger said. "He's having a great year -- very consistent in the practice room. I'm happy for him, because he's reaping the rewards of his hard work."
Brown had was dedicated but ramped up all areas of preparation.
"I have probably grown up some. I know this is my last shot," he said. "Honestly, I found God. Instead of wrestling for Coach Eslinger, my parents or myself, I wrestle for God. I pray before my matches and I have no fear."
Brown has become more aggressive, in part because he was able to discard the apprehension.
"I was never afraid of competition, but I was afraid of letting people down," he confided. "In the past if I lost I was afraid people would think I wasn't good. I worried about letting Coach and the team down. I wasn't afraid of people but scared of losing, and sometimes you need to lose in order to win."
That mindset shift has made a big difference.
"That's the biggest change," Eslinger assessed. "In a lot of ways he has taken some of the pressure off because he's thinking more about competing than letting somebody down. You can overcome fear in a lot of ways.
"For Niko it has been a spiritual awakening. He has a new direction, and it has set paths for every avenue of his life."
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...