Friends off the mat, enemies on it

AUSTINTOWN – Mike Audi and Camran Rezapourian have been friends since junior high, and they’ve been enemies since then too.

They live in nearby cities, attend different school districts and hold similar interests.

One is wrestling. Another is winning.

“I’ve always been good friends with him,” said Audi, a senior at Poland who was matched up with Rezapourian, an Austintown Fitch senior, in the finals of the Joshua Hephner Memorial Tournament at Fitch High School. “Once you’re out on the mat, you don’t have any more friends. That’s the kind of mentality that you’ve got to take. So, it doesn’t really matter once you’re out there, whoever it is.”

Sure, they still talk at tournaments, swap a few texts every now and then and even root for each other when they’re not wrestling, but once the whistle blows, that all goes out the window.

“It’s just another person you’ve got to beat,” Rezapourian said. “You do know that, off the mat, he’s your friend, but once you’re on the mat, you don’t think of anyone as your friend. It doesn’t matter if you’ve known them your whole life, or you’ve never seen them before. You want to win.”

On Saturday, that competitive nature trumped any kinship the two have created since they first wrestled more than five years ago in seventh grade.

Talk about an awkward moment.

That was the feeling for both after Audi secured a takedown in the third period to clinch a 5-3 victory over Rezapourian in the finals of the 170-pound weight class. While Audi earned the win, the match was important for both wrestlers.

Audi was a state qualifier in Division II last year, while Rezapourian was a state alternate in Division I. Both have aspirations of placing at the state tournament this season, and they may need to learn from each other to reach such a goal.

The pair wrestled numerous times as seventh- and eighth-graders, with Rezapourian winning the majority of those battles. Audi, however, has claimed the only two matchups in high school (once last year at the Top Gun Tournament and the other on Saturday). Their friendship is currently taking a back seat, not only because of bragging rights but also because they are aiming to improve in the final weeks of the regular season as they prep for a postseason run. Rezapourian, for instance, admitted that the neutral position (both wrestlers on their feet) is an area he needs to improve upon, and it just so happens that being on his feet is where Audi excels.

“I know he’s more of an athletic wrestler and he moves a lot more than most guys do, so I know I have to be on my toes and move a lot,” said Rezapourian, who narrowly missed out on a first-period takedown. “That (the near-takedown) was a huge step in the right direction. Early in the tournament, I was getting kind of frustrated because I didn’t feel like I could shoot. I felt more active today. I took shots more freely, and my single-leg felt good, which is really big for me.”

Audi, ranked as high as 10th in the state, struggled at times last year from the bottom position. Wouldn’t you know it, Rezapourian, ranked 12th by some media outlets, has been known to dominate opponents when he’s on top. Audi took that into consideration when preparing for the match.

“He’s real tough on top, so I know when I’m down there I need to have constant movement and not give up anything stupid,” Audi said. “Once we got into the later periods, I thought I had better cardio than he did, and I’m a little quicker. So, in the third period, I knew if I got out, I was going to be OK.”

He was right.

Audi escaped in the third period to take a 3-2 lead and added a takedown to seal the victory. About 45 minutes later, when the two were stepping off the awards podium, life was back to normal – for now.

“After we stepped down from the podium, I said nice match, and we went right back to messing with each other,” Audi said.

Their tones will likely change once again next week when they could again square off, this time at the Eastern Ohio Wrestling League Tournament, which begins Friday at Canfield.