Catching Up with John Fisher

Quick, always aggressive and possessing an outstanding leg attack, John Fisher (1985, '87-89) was a dominant force in the Wolverine wrestling room -- and on the national scene -- through the latter half of the decade. He remains among Michigan's most decorated wrestlers, listing as one of only five four-time NCAA All-Americans in program history and one of eight three-time Big Ten champions. Boasting a career record of 183-21, Fisher still holds the U-M school record for all-time wins, a mark that will likely remain untouched for a long time.

Upon his graduation from Michigan, Fisher embarked on a long, successful international career as one of the country's top freestyle wrestlers. He was crowned a U.S. champion in 1992, won a World Cup title five years later, and twice served as an Olympic alternate. Now retired from competitive wrestling, Fisher teaches in Ann Arbor, where he lives with his wife, Millie, and son, John II.

With the Wolverine wrestlers preparing for a big test at the National Duals, John took a moment before an afternoon workout to chat about his most memorable match, his recent induction in the Michigan Wrestling Association Hall of Fame, and the life lessons he learned from wrestling at Michigan.

On a slight preference for freestyle wrestling ...
"I guess if I had to choose one, I'd go with freestyle because it's on the feet more often, and I was pretty good on my feet. I liked both styles a lot. College was a good preparation for my freestyle career. When I started wrestling, it was folkstyle. I would only wrestle freestyle in the summer, and I really enjoyed it, but the majority of my matches were folkstyle. It takes a little adjustment to get used to only competing in freestyle. But I think I made the adjustment pretty well."

On his most memorable college win ...
"The one that really stands out was the Midlands final from my freshman year. I wrestled Barry Davis from Iowa. He was the defending national champion and had just come back from taking second at the Olympics. Prior to beating him, I had lost to him two weeks earlier. I had been doing pretty well against him in that match until the third period, and I don't think I pushed myself hard enough. I was pretty disappointed after the match, thinking that I could have beaten him if I had wrestled harder throughout the whole match and not gotten caught up with the fact that he was Barry Davis. I vowed to myself that if I ever had the opportunity to wrestle him again, I would do much better. I had that opportunity at the Midlands, and I beat him. I was proud of myself because I went out and wrestled hard for the whole match."

On how collegiate wrestling has changed since his competitive days ...
"The younger guys are competing a lot more and not just during the season. They are competing year round. So these guys come into college and find success right away. You're seeing freshman national champs. When I was wrestling, that was very, very rare. These days, you'll see guys performing at a higher level a lot earlier. A lot of guys are joining summer clubs. Some of the high school kids are getting college kids to train them, and that's really making them better prepared for college wrestling. They're getting better instruction, and it's not as big of an adjustment."

On wrestling in 40-plus matches each season ...
"I just liked competing. After all the practices you would go through, you just wanted to get out there and show what you know. I enjoyed having a lot of matches. I just prepared me for competition and made me better for it."

On his Hall of Fame induction ...
"It was great. I was very surprised. Often when people are inducted, they'll be in their 60s. It was just very nice to have other people acknowledge that I had a good career and show that they thought enough of me to induct me."

On the best thing about wrestling at Michigan ...
"There was so much. I would have to say the friendships that I made. I was one of the successful guys on the team, so I know that they respected me and appreciated me. But I know that they cared about me not just because I was winning but for who I was. When I found out about the Hall of Fame, I didn't tell a lot of people. Edd Bankowski found out about it, and he started spreading it around. My friend, Mike Amine, who I wrestled with, wanted to know when and where the baquet was -- this was only two days before. He called James Dye in Chicago, and he came. All these people, at the last moment, were changing their schedules to come to the banquet. That just shows me what type of friends I have. They wanted to be there. Even though we are through wrestling, we're still friends, and we're still tight. In life, most people don't have a lot of true friends. I have some true friends, who are like brothers to me. That's something I'll cherish forever."

On his longevity in the sport ...
"I just enjoyed wrestling. With anything in life, if you enjoy it, you can keep doing it longer. For me, it was always fun. I had a lot of fun, and I had success. Wrestling did a lot for me. I also really took care of myself, and that's important. If you take care of yourself, you're just going to last longer."

On how wrestling prepared him for life ...
"It really showed me that things aren't just going to be handed to you in life; sometimes you have to work for it. It's not always going to be fair. You have to make it as fair as possible. I feel that wrestling is one of the hardest sports out there, and to be successful you can't just be lucky. But if you put the time in, you can succeed. It doesn't mean you have to be the most talented or gifted person, but if you work hard, you can find success. It might even take a while, but if you stick to it, you're going to get something positive out of it. I feel life is like that, whether it's finding a job or having a family. It can be rough sometimes. Wrestling has prepared me for tough situations. I can fight through anything."

On U-M wrestlers that he has enjoyed watching ...
"There have been so many guys over the years that have really impressed me. Ryan Churella really stands out because he's recent, and I've known him a long time. I liked his attitude as a freshman, believing that being No. 1 was everything. Some people will say that but won't be willing to put the time in. I saw him working hard, and I was always really impressed with him. Every year I saw him improve and just get better and better. His senior year, he wanted to be a national champ, and if you talk to a lot of people, they'll say that he really should have been the national champ. But that's life sometimes. I really respected his attitude about that situation because he still held his head up high. He did everything he could do to become a national champ, and it was just taken out of his hands. I'm really impressed with that because I've had a situation myself where I could have been a champion and it was taken out of my hands. Something like that either makes you better or it makes you worse, and I know that made him better."


Fisher (left) with Edd Bankowski and Mike Amine at a recent U-M wrestling golf outing.
On comparing Ryan Churella's NCAA final with his 1992 Olympic Trials ...
"I handled my match the same way. There are always going to be things in your life that might not go the way you wanted, and you can't control that. But you can control how you deal with it. Either you can deal with it in a positive manner or you can sulk and feel cheated. That's not going to change anything though. I just figured that I would learn something from it, and, while it may not help me, maybe it can help somebody else. I believe in God, and I believe that sometimes he puts you in situations so that maybe you can help somebody. I would rather that situation happen to me than somebody I care about, like my son or a good friend. So I'm fine. It's been years, and my life is good."

On getting his son involved in wrestling ...
"I would like him to wrestle. He does everything right now. I think that, in time, he might like to wrestle, and I hope he does because it has done so much for me. It gave me confidence, it got me through college, I got the opportunity to travel and meet people all over the world. I think it could do the same for him. I think that I'm the type of father who could help him. Some of the things he would go through, I have already gone though myself. Eventually, I hope he does wrestle. It could be like the Churellas. Ryan has his picture on the wall right next to his father. I would love that. But if he doesn't, I just want him to be happy with whatever he does."

On being teammates with Joe McFarland and Kirk Trost ...
"They were great teammates. They taught me a lot because they just worked so hard. I was on the team with Joe for one year and Kirk for two years. Their attitudes about everything and their work ethics were the same as what they're coaching here. Kirk was a national champ his senior year, and I saw how hard he worked to accomplish that. They were great teammates, and they are still great friends."

On coming to Michigan ...
"I never even thought about wrestling in college until my junior year when coaches started calling me and I realized that I could get a scholarship. I didn't want my mother and father paying for it. My mother actually wanted me to go to Michigan State because my uncle, Don Coleman, was a dean at the school and had played football. He was one of the first guys to have his number retired. She just felt that I would be safer there. But I had been here before for camps and just thought that this was the place for me."

On his career in teaching ...
"My junior year I decided that I wanted to teach because I enjoy working with kids. It's just a great profession. You always hear bad things about teaching, like how they don't make enough money. But I'm doing fine. I've been teaching since 1992, and I really enjoy interacting with the kids. I feel that I can make a difference. It's just a joy to go to my job every day. You have to love what you're doing because you're there all the time. Of course, it's not going to be great all the time, but a large majority of the time I'll go to school and be really happy. This year has been one of my best years; it's going fast, and the kids are great. Last year, I was deathly sick, and I could barely make it through the day. Now, it's just easy because I'm healthy."

On his family support ...
"I've been a lucky guy all my life because I've always been surrounded by support from my mother, my father, my brother, my wife and my son. My son hasn't seen me wrestle that much, but he has seen me inducted into the Midlands and Michigan Hall of Fame. He went to both banquets. After the Michigan one, he said, 'Daddy, you're famous! I bet they know you all over the place, in Japan, in Tokyo.' That was really cool to hear him say that. He can understand and appreciate a bit. My mom was proud, and I always wanted to make her happy. I wish my father was around so he could see all of this. My wife has been with me since college. Having those people as support in my life has been very important for me. I've been so lucky to have a close family and people who care about me."

Note: "Catching Up" runs in The Riding Times, an inside look at U-M wrestling.

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