Finally back at full strength after wrestling through a torn pectoral muscle last year, former Husker offensive lineman Tanner Farmer is looking to earn a spot at Final X in his pursuit of a Greco-Roman World Team spot for Team USA.
“I really think that as far as football goes, if you play in the box you should wrestle because they complement each other so well,” Farmer said. “Really, the wrestling helps the football player more than football helps the wrestler.”
Farmer will compete Wednesday and Thursday at the US Open in Las Vegas where the winner earns a spot in Final X (a best-of-three series to determine who will represent Team USA at the World Championships this fall). The other Final X participant will be determined at next month’s World Team Trials.
Farmer has taken a long and winding road to this point.
In high school, Farmer was a two-time state champion wrestler at heavyweight in Illinois before coming to Nebraska to play on the offensive line. As a freshman, Farmer competed for the Husker wrestling team, going 5-1 in open tournaments before focusing on football. He did stop in and work out with the Husker wrestlers from time to time though.
“(Husker head wrestling coach) Mark Manning is a great man and a great coach. He creates a wonderful atmosphere to be a part of. I felt it right away and wanted to be in there and help those guys,” Farmer said. “I miss my Nebraska family. I’m very appreciative of my time there and the support everyone gave me. I still have a lot of love for Nebraska.”
After graduating, Farmer briefly played professional football. After getting some looks by NFL teams, Farmer eventually landed with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the CFL.
Then Farmer found himself enrolled in classes at Concordia University in nearby Seward, Neb. After finding out he had a semester of eligibility remaining, Farmer started cutting down from his football weight of 315 pounds to wrestle one season for Concordia at 285 pounds. He went 26-1 with his only loss a 5-3 defeat in sudden victory to Brandon Reed in the NAIA Championship final in 2020.
After that, Farmer decided to move on to the Senior level in Greco. He’s enjoyed much success over the past couple years as he’s already one of the best in the country at 130kg.
“Being an offensive lineman really helps that Greco aspect of feeling the push and working on the balance,” Farmer said. “I think it’s helped me a lot and helped me come onto the scene and compete with some of the best guys right away.”
Two years ago, Farmer won the Last Chance Olympic Qualifier which qualified him for the Olympic Trials. Although he failed to make the Olympic team, Farmer kept at it.
In 2022, Farmer won the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament, earning him a spot at Final X where he took on young phenom Cohlton Schultz. Before Final X, Farmer represented Team USA at the Pan Am Championships where he suffered his pectoral injury.
“I wasn’t 100-percent sure it was torn,” Farmer said. “I knew it was an issue, but the way I saw it was it doesn’t really matter whether it’s torn or not because I want this opportunity to make a World Team.”
A former NCAA finalist who’s about to be a junior at Arizona State, Schultz downed Farmer twice (5-1 and 5-2) to earn the World Team spot.
“I think it taught me a lot of things about how I need to persevere through moments of adversity and learn to adapt even though a major aspect of my strength is not there anymore,” Farmer said. “How tough can you be to push through and still find a way to win? Unfortunately, I didn’t win at Final X, but it’s not like I went out there and got teched every match. I was able to at least hang in there.”
After that loss, Farmer went in and found out his pectoral muscle was completely detached. He then had to have reattachment surgery and went through six months of rehab before being fully healthy at the beginning of this year.
Farmer is seeded No. 2 at the US Open and could see the 1-seed Schultz in the final.
Getting to the final is no guarantee, as he could see the resurgent former Olympic Champion Rulon Gardner in the semifinals. Also a former Husker, Gardner has surprised everyone by registering for the US Open at 51 years of age. Gardner is a living legend in the sport of wrestling as he took down then-reigning 11-time Olympic/World Champion Aleksandr Karelin who hadn’t been beaten in 13 years at the 2000 Olympics.
Another possible semifinal opponent for Farmer would be 3-seed Adam Coon. After a successful wrestling career both collegiately at Michigan and at the Senior level where he won a silver medal at the 2018 World Championships, Coon has been away from the sport in pursuit of an NFL career with the Tennessee Titans. He’s now returned to the mat for another shot at a World Team.
“It’s kind of funny because Coon kind of took the exact opposite path that I took, but now he’s back into wrestling,” Farmer said. “His entire life was in the wrestling world and he tried to go pro in football.”
If Farmer can get through his half of the bracket, he would get a rematch against Schultz for a spot at Final X.
“I’ve improved a lot and I’m finally completely healthy, so I’m excited to see what I can do,” Farmer said. “I feel good going into international competitions too. I’ve wrestled those guys and I feel like I can compete at that international level. I just got to beat the guys at home first.”