(Editor’s note: MTN Sports began recognizing some of the best wrestlers in Montana history on Jan. 16 with the launch of the #MTTop20. Athletes will continue to be featured until Friday, Feb. 10 when No. 1 is unveiled.)
Top 20 rankings: No. 20 – Jarrett Degen; No. 19 – Luke Weber, No. 18 — Ben Stroh, No. 17 — Curtis Owen, No. 16 — Chris Currier, No. 15 — Chris Nedens.
No. 14 – Kyle Smith, Butte
Montana has seen some outstanding middle to higher-weight class wrestlers roll through its mats over the years – from Bill Spring of Bozeman in the 1960s to Belgrade’s Jake Kallestad in the early 2000s to Ben Stroh in recent years – with many sizing up their opponents before making a move. Former Butte standout Kyle Smith wasted little time attacking the athlete on the other side of the mat.
Kyle Smith stat sheet
Smith was a three-time Montana high school state champion for the Bulldogs in the late 1990s. He compiled an incredible prep record of 148 wins and only eight losses, with one of those coming in the 145-pound state championship match his freshman season.
Smith followed his first prep season with three consecutive titles, a 152-pound championship and 36-1 record as a sophomore, 171-pound title and 37-1 mark as a junior and a first place finish at 189 pounds his senior season, which he wrapped with a 42-2 record. A few of the losses occurred out of state leaving Smith in rare company as a two-year undefeated athlete within Montana wrestling.
Butte High School finished as the Class AA team champion during Smith’s freshman and junior seasons. The Bulldogs also earned third place and second place trophies during his career. Two of his three individual championships were won by pinfall (1:44 as a senior, 3:03 as a junior) while his first title came in a 6-2 decision.
Smith continued his career in the prestigious Big Ten Conference for the University of Michigan where he twice qualified for the NCAA Championships. In 2002, he finished seventh in the nation and earned his first all-American status. The following year, Smith again places seventh to become a two-time all-American at 197 pounds.
His career record at UM was 84 wins and 40 losses, leaving him with a winning percentage of 68 percent. Smith was also a captain for the Wolverines and was ranked in the Top 15 in the country by numerous publications during his collegiate career.
Known for his work in the classroom as well as the wrestling room, Smith was an academic all-Big Ten selection as well as an NWCA all-academic honoree.
… on Kyle Smith
Great Falls High head wrestling coach Steve Komac: “Kyle was a lot of fun to watch wrestle. He was offensive-minded at those big weights which is not something you see everyday. He was always an aggressor, he always went out there to score points and his skillset for those weight classes was much like you would see in middle weights or lighter weights, he just had a great skillset. I always think about Kyle and think about that intimidating physique that he had, he had the physique of a Greek god in high school, he was just a chiseled young man. The real important thing about Kyle and the reason he was so successful is that he had a great competitive nature about him – he loved to compete. His technique and his skillset was so much above most kids you would find in those weight classes.
“I think he ended a lot of matches before they got that late – I can picture a match or two in my head, I know one from the CMR Classic against a tough kid from Bozeman. I think a lot of people who have been around for a bit remember that match. The young man had moved to Bozeman from out of state and he was a very good wrestler so a lot of people were excited to see a good, hard, tough match and it wasn’t that much of a match to be honest with you. I think Kyle made a statement in the state at that time that he was the big dog, he made it known that day with an impressive showing. I think a lot of people weren’t very surprised when he went on to be successful in college.
“The Big 10 and the sport of wrestling is ultimately where the strongest coemption for several decades has been and those kids who walk into Big 10 schools and compete there are competing in the hardest wrestling in the United States. That’s where he went and found success which is really impressive in itself to come out of the Big 10 successfully. To go on to be an all-American twice is something very few people in our sport can say period and in the state of Montana, as you sort through your list, you’ll find out it’s not very common. It was an impressive level that Kyle hit and the competition he went into at that Big 10 level is pretty cool.
“Wrestling aside I know him as a great young man who is a lot of fun to be around and a good person, but just straight wrestling talk when I think of Kyle, immediately I think there’s a fierce, tough competitor. That’s all that goes through my mind.”