Earlier this week, TJ Fabian explained how his two passions are similar – the competition, the drive, the practice, the adrenaline as he works toward the finish line.
However, there is a big difference.
“I’m not that good at dirt biking,” Fabian said of one of his favorite activities. “I love to do it and I’ve gotten a lot better, but I don’t think I’ll ever be the #1 racer around.”
That may be true. But after his championship in a loaded bracket at the Eastern States Classic last weekend in his other passion, wrestling, he is now the #1 126-pound grappler around. Not only in Long Island — but in the state of New York. Rankings are here.
The Shoreham Wading River senior won all five of his matches at SUNY Sullivan, topping a weight class that featured four former state or national champions as well as at least three other placers and several additional qualifiers.
In fact, he had to overcome New York titlewinners in both the semifinals and finals, William Koll of Lansing and Dylan Realbuto of Somers, respectively, to earn what his father Ted called “probably the biggest tournament win of his life.” His efforts didn’t go unnoticed as he was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler in the lightweights as well as the Champion of Champions at the event.
He can thank his mat wrestling. After all, Fabian is known as a pinner. According to Ted Fabian, TJ has amassed 168 wins in his career, with 113 coming by fall.
And it’s not just his work turning opponents from the top. Many of those results have come from underneath, where Fabian typically works for the defensive fall.
That was the situation on Saturday, where he changed the course of his matches against both Koll and Realbuto from the bottom, which he calls his best position.
All of his points in his 5-1 victory over the Lansing wrestler came when Fabian reversed Koll to his back.
And against Realbuto, Fabian trailed late in the third period 2-1, but earned a key reversal with little time left on the clock to capture the title bout 3-2.
“When [Realbuto] was riding me, I was thinking the whole time of trying to do a reachback for the defensive pin,” Fabian said. “He was a crab rider and it actually helped me because he rolled himself and allowed me to get the reversal. Then, I was able to hold on for the win.”
According to TJ Fabian, it was the first time he defeated the Somers senior after losing to the Section 1 wrestler in eighth grade by five and later at the Eastern States by a point.
“I was just so excited,” Fabian said. “He beat me before and he is one of the tougher kids I’ve beaten in my career. It’s also the first big tournament I ever won.”
That may the case. But it was an incredible performance at an event in which he didn’t even place that set the stage for his 25-0 start to the 2012-13 campaign.
Back in October, Fabian had high hopes going into one of the nation’s most prestigious tournaments, the Super 32 Classic in North Carolina.
In a bracket of more than 60 competitors, however, he began with an opening round loss.
“I barely remember my first match,” Fabian said. “It took a lot to drop the weight at the time and my body wasn’t up to its normal fitness. I remember just sitting around and thinking of what was ahead of me.”
What was ahead was a long road back. And Fabian got to work. He won his next bout. And then another. And another.
In fact, in a grueling event, Fabian won seven consecutive contests, including a triumph over nationally-ranked Ken Bade of Michigan to get to the round of 12. It was there that his streak finally ended against Pennsylvania’s Colby Ems.
“He was down in the dumps after his first match after he came in expecting to place,” Ted Fabian said. “Lots of kids would have packed it in, especially knowing what it would take to place after that. For him to win seven in a row – that shows the heart he has and what he’s all about. He has that quiet drive; he knew he could do better and he was determined to do better. After that he started to truly believe in himself 100%. I think the Eastern States made him believe that even more. He was always confident, but I think this weekend was fulfilling for him. It’s like he knows that he can compete with the best because he is one of the best too.”
The staff at Sacred Heart certainly thinks so. Fabian has given a verbal commitment to the Connecticut-based institution and looks forward to continuing his wrestling career in Division I as a 133 pounder.
“I am excited about Sacred Heart,” he said. “The coach [Andy Lausier] there believes in his wrestlers and their potential. I feel like he really wants me and all the wrestlers to reach our goals and mine are to become an All-American and then a national champion.”
He knows that it won’t be easy. Ted Fabian was a Division I wrestler at Wagner and said that it was challenging.
“I was a big fish in a small pond in high school but once I got to college, it was physically more demanding than I ever expected,” Ted Fabian said. “I got beaten up a lot, which never happened in high school. But I did enjoy it. It was a good experience, but it definitely takes a special breed to wrestle DI for four years.”
Fabian believes his son is part of that special breed, especially given the trajectory his wrestling career has taken.
“I really like his progression,” Ted Fabian said. “Each year, TJ has improved, record wise and status wise.”
Indeed, he has. He took fourth at the state tournament at 120 pounds last year after earning third in the county two years prior.
Those results came after a youth career which Fabian labeled as “okay” where he once took seventh in the Suffolk kids tournament but “never really placed in kid counties or states otherwise.”
Like in his early years of wrestling, Fabian is in the learning stages in dirt biking.
“I pretty much do it for fun,” he said. “I haven’t gotten great results. I think I got second in a race once and another time, I think I was third.”
Fabian said he was satisfied with those results, for now, on the bike. But in his other passion, it’s a different story. Because after last weekend, Fabian isn’t second or third as a wrestler – he is at the top.
TJ Fabian wished to thank his father Ted as well as coaches Joe Condon, Darren Goldstein, Steve Hromada and Nick Garone, among others.