Junior Mike Tortorice might be only 5’3” and 125 pounds, but he is dangerous on the wrestling mat.
The Warhawk wrestling team also calls him “Mighty Mouse,” because of his unlikely combination of height and toughness.
“I stand at a whopping 5’3” in height which makes me by a decent margin the shortest guy on the team and usually every tournament we go to,” Tortorice said. “But I can confidently say that I make up the lack of height with being a lot more built and stronger than all of my opponents.”
Tortorice has become one of UW-Whitewater’s most talented wrestlers over the past few years, winning several individual accolades. He is a two-time NCAA All-American, two-time WIAC champion and 2019 NCAA Upper Midwest Regional champion.
But earning those accomplishments did not occur overnight. In fact, one of Tortorice’s family members influenced him to get on the mat.
“I’ve been officially wrestling for 16 years now and I started when I was four,” Tortorice said. “My main pull towards wanting to wrestle was when my older brother who also wrestles here started. And being a little kid who looked up to his older brother, I couldn’t wait to be just like him and do it too.”
When Tortorice committed to UW-W, he did not want to be ordinary.
“My biggest concern was getting high-quality opponents no matter the division I was competing in,” Tortorice said. “The coaches at the time guaranteed me that any college wrestling division I decided to wrestle in, the competition was going to be high-caliber.”
Tortorice faced a lot of tough competition as a freshman, but quickly established a resume not many freshmen had. He tallied a 25-7 record and took third place in the WIAC championships. He did not make the NCAA championships because Zac Denny was the starter in the 125-weight class at the time. Denny was also a two-time NCAA All-American.
Tortorice did not mess around when his starting role came his sophomore year. And he wanted to do it for his brother.
“Not long after national duals happened at the end of Winterim, my brother dislocated his elbow during practice,” Tortorice said. “This was the third time this had happened on the same elbow. As far as him and I knew, that third dislocation was going to end his wrestling career forever…After that, I felt a very strong duty to fulfill his dreams for him…All I wanted to do was get better and practice non-stop so that I could in some way help my brother live his dreams through me.”
Tortorice’s hardcore training paid off enormously, and probably made his brother proud in the process. He registered a 36-5 record, won the WIAC title, and finished third place at the Upper Midwest Regionals. He also went to nationals for the first time in his career and took third place at 125 pounds, ultimately earning an All-American recognition.
But the accolades were only just beginning for “Mighty Mouse.”
“He had a very good work ethic,” head coach Matt Zwaschka said. “He wasn’t satisfied with taking third place in the country. He’d come in and do extra work. You could tell he was just motivated to try to be the best that he can out there and that he really wants to be a national champ.”
Tortorice undoubtedly had his best year yet this past season. The junior was ranked as high as No. 3 nationally, and consistently came through for the Warhawks. He only lost twice when the WIAC championships started, and wrestled almost perfectly all the way through nationals.
“Mighty Mouse” went on to win his second consecutive WIAC title and first NCAA Upper Midwest Regional title.
“At the beginning of the year, I told him ‘to win a national title, you got to get better on top,’” Zwaschka said. “I think his top game kind of got to a new level and people really started fearing that from him…If Mikey got a takedown, they were going to have a very, very hard time getting away from him.”
A first-place finish at the Upper Midwest Regional meant another chance at a national championship for Tortorice.
“Having gone to nationals the year before as an unseeded wrestler helped me tremendously in my mindset and what I needed to do to become successful a second time around,” Tortorice said. “I had learned that everyone there got there for a reason and to no matter what not underestimate my opponent.”
Tortorice dominated on the first day of nationals. “Mighty Mouse” defeated Jordan Burkholder of Muskingum University [Ohio] by 12-7 decision in the first round, and then took care of Zack Murillo from Wesleyan University [Conn.] by 8-0 major decision in the quarterfinals.
He wrestled almost perfectly on the second and final day of nationals. Tortorice won his semifinal match against Victor Gliva of Augsburg University [Minn.] by 5-3 sudden victory.
“For most guys, being the first guy up would put a decent amount of pressure on them to put some points up for the team early on,” Tortorice said. “But I never feel any pressure about it.”
In his first-career national championship match, however, Tortorice took a rare loss to defending national champion Jay Albis of Johnson & Wales University [R.I.], and finished as the runner-up in the 125-pound weight class. He finished the season with a career-best 32-3 record.
A championship loss is tough for any athlete, but Zwaschka said he was proud of Tortorice’s professionalism after taking arguably the most painful loss of his career.
“I’m just very happy with the way he competed and how he handled himself,” Zwaschka said. “Losing that last match is not an easy thing to do…But he did an outstanding job the way he handled himself and he was up on the podium still putting a smile on his face even though I know he wasn’t content where he was standing.”
But this is not the end of the road for Tortorice. As a senior next season, it might end up just being his year.
At least from Tortorice’s perspective, he said he is going to ensure he will not be stopped by anyone in his path.
“For my senior year, I’m not just looking to win every match,” Tortorice said. “I want to steamroll anyone I face.”
Tortorice wants to win. He wants to dominate. Lots of opponents have stepped up to him, but most have failed.
Don’t mess around with Mike Tortorice.