July 18, 2019 | 76° F

Rutgers sophomore earns larger role in new weight class

Photo by Edwin Gano |

Sophomore Phil Bakuckus beat out Pafumi at 174 pounds, allowing Pafumi to earn a starting spot at 184 pounds in Rutgers’ lineup.

When an average person thinks about wrestling, thoughts of cutting weight and grapplers starving themselves come to mind. 

While that stereotype is largely fabricated and exaggerated, it is rare to see a wrestler that has the freedom not to worry about his eating habits. 

Sophomore 184-pounder Tony Pafumi knew what it was like to worry about cutting weight his first three seasons with the Rutgers wrestling team and the challenges it presented. 

Pafumi was one of the Scarlet Knights’ backups last season at 165 pounds and also competed in open tournaments at 174 pounds. Earlier in his Rutgers career, Pafumi was strictly a 165-pounder coming out of high school, where he wrestled at 170 pounds. 

This season, the Westfield, New Jersey, native has moved up in weight since last season, and it has lessened the stress of cutting weight.

“It feels good, and I have a lot of energy moving up to the new weight. I feel strong and fast because I have 100 percent of my body in training every day,” Pafumi said. “I’m not going to go in there 50 percent or 75 percent anymore. I can focus on sharpening up my skills and training [since] I don’t have to worry about cutting any weight. It’s definitely a benefit.”

With the switch up in weight, Pafumi has found a spot in the regular starting lineup at 184 pounds. The spot became vacant after Dan Seidenberg graduated last season.

And Pafumi has created success at his new weight. Through the Knights first three dual-meets, Pafumi is 2-1 with his most recent victory, coming from a 16-1 tech fall against Hofstra’s Jermaine John. 

It was a no-brainer for head coach Scott Goodale, who felt that Pafumi got lost in the mix at 174 pounds and was too heavy to try to go at 165 pounds. 

“He’s probably a 174-pounder. He can wrestle, so it’s just a matter of maintaining his strength,” Goodale said. “It was [174-pounder] Phil Bakuckas. They had a rivalry, they wrestled every open tournament together when they were freshmen, and Phil had a really good year for us last year. They are both talented — the more talent you have, you want them all in the lineup … 165 pounds was just too much for him, so it was an easy transition.”

The grappler who beat out Pafumi when they were both incoming freshmen in 2012 was Bakuckas. Bakuckas won the spot in last season’s wrestle-offs and hasn’t lost it, going 20-11 since then with a 15-5 record in dual-competition. 

While Bakuckas has one extra season in the lineup, he is jealous of Pafumi for a specific reason but supports his teammate regardless.

“That’s probably a huge change — he was cutting a lot of weight for 165 and you could tell he didn’t have that much energy or pop,” Bakuckas said. “I think [with his] wrestling up a weight class, he can eat whatever he wants. He has energy all day, every day at practice, and he can drill every day with purpose, instead of worrying about weight because he is already there. For me, food is always nice, but I’m comfortable at 174.”

But for Pafumi, it still feels great to break into the lineup for Rutgers. He said he found a spot to stay at 184 pounds.

“It feels good to break into the lineup. It definitely was a goal in mind, breaking into the lineup this year and in the previous years,” Pafumi said. “Things happen for a reason, and I think not starting last year happened for a reason. It set me up to go bump up a weight, get stronger and train for the next season.”

For updates on the Rutgers wrestling team, follow @TylerKaralewich and @TargumSports on Twitter.

Tyler Karalewich

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