(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, No. 13 — Jade Rauser, No. 12 — Scott Barrett.
No. 11 – Gary Albright, Billings West
The heavyweight class can be one of the more grueling bouts on the wrestling mats. Opponents often wear down and tire after battling with brute strength for three periods. Former Billings West standout Gary Albright was in a league of his own, physically dominating competitors on the mats.
Gary Albright stat sheet
Noted for his quickness, Albright began winning at an early age, travelling the country to numerous youth wrestling tournaments. He captured one state championship and a runner-up finish for Billings West, compiling a 55-2 overall record for the Golden Bears.
His career continued at the University of Nebraska where he was a Big 8 champion and a member of the all-academic team. Albright was a three-time all-American who finished seventh, third and runner-up at the NCAA national championships. He was named the 1982 and 1986 Gorrarian Award Winner at the NCAA championships for owning the most falls in the least amount of time (4 in 15:51 in 1982, 5 in 15:34 in 1986).
Albright finished his Cornhusker career with 112 wins, the 12th most in program history, with 70 coming by pin. His 112-19-4 record caught the attention of the United States national team, where he competed from 1981 to 1984.
A master of Greco-Roman, Albright won the 1981 world Greco-Roman elite championship and followed suit with a national open freestyle championship the following year. At the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials, he earned a third-place finish in freestyle and fourth in Greco-Roman.
Albright’s success also spread to those involved in “television wrestling” where he competed in numerous shows. But choreographed wrestling didn’t meet Albright’s desire to win, so he expanded his career to Japanese shootfighting, a form of combat fighting and martial arts, much like today’s Ultimate Fighting.
He captured numerous championships in shootfighting, including topping the No. 1 wrestler in the world. He continued to compete for televised wrestling as well, and he collapsed in the ring during an indepdent show in Pennsylvania in January of 2000. He passed away of a heart attack at the age of 36.
To this day Albright is remembered for his quickness, particularly at the heavyweight class, and his ability to dominate opponents no matter their size. He is still recognized as one of the great wrestlers in Nebraska Cornhusker history.
… on Gary Albright
Former Great Falls CMR and University of Montana wrestler Rob Bazant: “The amazing thing about Gary was his ability to throw. The big guys, a lot of times it was 1-0 matches with not a lot of action, Gary would throw people with belly-to-belly suplex or a belly-to-back suplex, big guys didn’t really do a lot of that but he threw people like I have never seen a big man throw. He would throw anybody, no matter how big they were. He would step out front and hook up belly-to-belly or belly-to-back and throw people over the top. It was one of the most unbelievable things to watch a big guy like that throw people.
“We used to do warm-ups around the outside of the mat and we would do different things to warm up. One of them was walking on our hands. Gary, as a 325-pound guy, could walk on his hands all the way around the outside of the wrestling mat. We would have half our team that couldn’t do it for three or four feet but he was that strong and athletic that he could walk on his hands around a wrestling mat for 30 or 40 feet.
“I heard (of Gary’s passing) within a day or two from some friends. My brother was really close with Gary. … Rick had a really good relationship with Gary and we found out within a day or two. … It was horrible. He was larger than life and you would never expect something like that to happen to someone you talk to every now and again. It was quite a shock.”
Former Great Falls CMR and Northern Montana College (MSU-Northern) wrestler Joe Aline: “He was really nimble on his feet for a heavyweight. He was pretty tough. I remember he was undefeated I believe in his senior year and he got beat in the state championship in Helena in his last match. That was probably a hard deal for him but it probably gave him some incentive and when he went on to college in the NCAAs he did really well.
“That’s pretty phenomenal, especially at heavyweight. He had a lot of confidence. If your’e going to play in the big game, you better have some confidence and believe that you’re going to win. He was that type of person. He always was going to go out and think he was the best so he wrestled like he was the best. He did a great job.
“I just remember he had tremendous technique and he was really quick. For a heavyweight he had a lot of quickness – he was quick on his feet, quick with his hands and he had good technique. He was a good wrestler.”