Five to watch at NCAA Division I wrestling championships

Maggie Hendricks

The NCAA Division I wrestling national championships start on Thursday in St. Louis, and it will undoubtedly feature future stars of MMA. Randy Couture, Mark Munoz, Urijah Faber, Phil Davis, Ben Askren, Chael Sonnen, Tyron Woodley, Daniel Cormier, Chad Mendes, Frankie Edgar, Gray Maynard, Josh Koscheck, Brock Lesnar and so many more familiar names from the fight world once wrestled in this tournament. MMA fans should tune in, so here's what you need to know.

Penn State has the ability to repeat as champions. They won the Big Ten title last week, but will have plenty of challengers. Minnesota won the dual meet championship earlier this year. Missouri won the Big 12 and was the only team in the country to qualify a wrestler at every weight class. (Ed. note -- GO TIGERS!) Cornell won their sixth straight EIWA title. Perennial powers Oklahoma State and Iowa will also be expected to challenge for a team trophy.

The 2012 field isn't as star-studded as some of the top wrestlers, like Mizzou's Dom Bradley, took a redshirt to focus on making the U.S. Olympic teams. Well known wrestlers like Anthony Robles and Bubba Jenkins from Arizona State and Jordan Burroughs from Nebraska have graduated. However, there are plenty of wrestlers to watch during the tournament.

Kyle Dake, Cornell: When Dake was a freshman, he wrestled at 141 lbs. and won a national championship. His sophomore year, he moved up at 149 lbs. again took home the title. This year, he is a junior and at 157 lbs. His goal is to keep the streak alive.

Ian Miller, Kent State: The freshman has taken the MAC by storm this season, going 28-3. He won the MAC at 149 lbs., and already has 11 pins and nine major decisions (winning by 8-14 points).

Frank Molinaro, Penn State: When you picture a wrestler in your mind, you are most likely picturing Molinaro. He's looking to become a four-time All-American and win his first championship in St. Louis this weekend and is the favorite at 149 lbs after winning the Big Ten title with a technical fall (winning by 15 points or more) in the finals.

Jordan Oliver, Oklahoma State: The same school that produced Munoz, Cormier, Mo Lawal, Johny Hendricks and Shane Roller has another star in the making with Oliver, the returning national champ at 133 lbs. He won the Most Outstanding Wrestler award at the Big 12 tournament for plowing through competition and racking up bonus points. (Wrestlers earn their teams bonus points for winning by pin, technical fall or major decision.)

Zack Rey, Lehigh: As the returning champion at heavyweight, expectations will be high for Rey, who is known for having insane strength. He lost to American's Ryan Flores in a sudden victory match at the EIWA final, so he'll be on the lookout for revenge.

See a complete list of qualifiers and brackets here. The finals will air live on Saturday on ESPN at 7:30 p.m. ET. Other rounds will air on ESPNU, so check local listings. Also, follow me on Twitter for updates from the tournament.

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