Fred Bohna, 1979 NCAA Division I heavyweight champion for UCLA, died Friday after a long battle with cancer. He was 54 years old.
Despite weighing only 225 pounds, Bohna defeated 325-pounder Dave Klemm of Eastern Illinois University in the finals, 9-5, to win what was then called the Unlimited title. (There was no upper weight limit at the time.) Bohna became UCLA’s only national collegiate wrestling champ. The title capped off Bohna’s undefeated senior year; the only blemish was a tie with Jeff Blatnick in the East-West All Star Match (which did not officially count on Bohna’s record).
After his senior year, Bohna wrestled in the 1979 Midlands tournament at Northwestern University, where he beat Oregon State alum — and 1975 NCAA heavyweight champ — Larry Bielenberg in the semifinals, then lost a close finals match to Jimmy Jackson, a three-time NCAA heavyweight champ (1976-1978) for Oklahoma State.
Before college, Bohna wrestled at Clovis High School for coach Dennis DiLiddo, where he won the 190-pound title at the 1974 California state championships, and placed 3rd at the National Junior Freestyle Championships.
Because of his impressive prep career, Bohna earned a scholarship to attend UCLA. Wrestling for head coach Dave Auble (recently inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame), Bohna’s Bruin teammates in the late 1970s included Mark and Dave Schultz, Jackson and Harlan Kistler, Gary Bohay, Brady Hall and Mike Haschack.
Bohna also won a gold medal at the 1979 Pan American Championships at 220 pounds and represented the USA team in Europe and the Soviet Union in 1979 where he defeated the defending World Champion from East Germany, Harald Buettner.
After graduating from UCLA, Bohna put his on-the-mat experience into collegiate coaching. The year after winning his national title, Bohna stayed with the program, serving as an assistant coach under first-year coach Don Conway. Sadly, that 1979-80 season was the last for the UCLA wrestling program. Bohna then moved to Cal State Bakersfield, where he worked as an assistant coach to Joe Seay.
Bohna is the third NCAA heavyweight finalist to have passed away in the past 12 months. Gordon Roesler, winner of the 1956 national collegiate heavyweight title for the University of Oklahoma, died last August at age 72. In late December 2009, another Oklahoma Sooner big man, 1982 NCAA runner-up Steve “Dr Death” Williams, lost his long battle to throat cancer at 49.
According to the Fresno Bee, funeral arrangements are still pending as of Monday evening.
Thanks to Bill Grant of TheCaliforniaWrestler.com for his assistance with this article.
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