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Oklahoma wrestling standout Cael Hughes carries nation's best class ranking into 6A state tournament

Stillwater's Hughes lives up to hype as the top-ranked 132-pound wrestler in the nation
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By Michael Kinney 

It’s hard to imagine anyone having a bigger target on their backs than Cael Hughes. 

The Stillwater grappler entered the season as the No. 1 ranked 132-pound wrestler in the nation.

Every time Hughes has stepped on the mat, that ranking has been attached to his name. But instead of shying away from the challenge, he has embraced it.

SBLive Sports National High School Wrestling Rankings (2/16/2023)

“I try to go out there and treat every match the same,” Hughes said. “I'm going out there mainly to put up points and put on a show. At the end of the day, that's what it is.

"I'm here to entertain the people and to go get the win by any means necessary.”

That mindset has paved the way for Hughes to become a three-time state champion. But even more impressive, he has never tasted defeat while wearing a Pioneers' singlet.

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Hughes entered his senior campaign with a 98-0 record. After taking on all challengers this season, he currently sits at 133-0.

Yet, even as he has racked up victories in his final campaign at Stillwater, Hughes has not put any particular emphasis on what he has accomplished. For him, it’s about the process.

“I would just compare it to any other season really,” Hughes said. “There's never really an end to wrestling. It's kind of a year-round thing. It's hard to divide stuff up into seasons, but it's been the same thing that it's always been; work hard, go out and compete, and show all the hard work that's done in the wrestling room before a competition.

"That's where all the real hard work is done. That's where the season is, in the room.”

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Hughes (35-0) gives credit to head coach Ethan Kyle and his coaching staff for creating the type of atmosphere that has continued to push him to be better and master his craft.

“I credit all of it to the coaches that I have around me and the environment that I find myself in," Hughes said. "My dad (Jeremy Hughes) has been a big influence on my life. He’s been coaching me since I was a little kid. So it's 100 percent where I am and the wrestlers that are around me.

"Everyone's heard the term, iron sharpens iron. It’s true. Same thing with the move-ins. Good wrestling attracts good wrestlers. I'm glad that I'm in an environment where that can take place and where I can surround myself with good wrestlers and good competition, people that want to work as hard as me. I definitely credit most of my success to my partners, my coaches and my family.”

Stillwater wrestler Cael Hughes 

Stillwater wrestler Cael Hughes 

Hughes has a chance to end his career with four state titles, which hasn’t been done at Stillwater since it was accomplished in 2010 by current Oklahoma State assistant coach Chris Perry.

Hughes will be joining Perry at OSU when his high school career comes to an end. He committed to the Pokes in late 2021 and officially signed his national letter of intent last November.

“I’ve always lived here, and I know the guys up there and everything - style kind of matches up,” Hughes said in 2021. “So, it’s home for me pretty much. It made the decision pretty easy.”

But before he can put on his Cowboys' uniform, Hughes has some unfinished business.

After already helping Stillwater win the school’s third Dual State championship, Hughes will lead a stacked Pioneer squad into this week’s Class 6A state wrestling championship in Oklahoma City. He is the top seed in the 132-pound division and is just three matches away from completing the 4-peat and a perfect 136-0 record.

But even more important for Hughes is the Pioneers winning a third straight team championship. It would be the program’s 11th team title since 1922.

“At the end of the day, it's going to be the same thing remaining consistent in our wrestling,” Hughes said. “Going out there giving 100 percent effort, not getting a big head and if all these guys wrestle to their ability, we're by far the best team in the state and the best team of the nation, in my opinion.”