TAMPA - Kai Owen is only 9 years old and already has a nickname that probably will stick with him for the rest of his life.
Kai is "The Prodigy."
A fourth-grader at Clark Elementary School in New Tampa, Kai is one of the best 9-year-old wrestlers in the state, if not the country. He is a two-time state champion, and has also won a national championship. He doesn't just win, he dominates.
Although he's just 9, on the wrestling mat he has Olympian talent. He doesn't have bulging biceps and looks like a regular elementary school kid, except for the sweat dripping down his face and through his hair after warm-ups. But he knows what he is doing and he knows that nobody is about to mess with him.
Kai started in ju-jitsu and learned how to defend himself at an early age. Now he wrestles at the Caveman Gym in North Tampa under the tutelage of Mike Joyce. Kai has also started to gain a reputation in the local wrestling community.
"One time someone tried to trash talk me before a match," Kai said. "I pinned him. It was pretty easy."
Kai's father, Scott, wrestled in high school and has been watching his child progress through the youth ranks. Kai wrestles at 60 pounds, but that will go up as Kai grows up. Making the transition from ju-jitsu to wrestling was a natural move, but Kai keeps training for both. He practices either ju-jitsu or wrestling at least five times a week and never gets less than an A on his report card.
When he went to nationals at Brandon High School, which is home to the dominant wrestling factory in the country, Kai won the championship at all three styles of wrestling - Greco, College and Freestyle. He won the Ironman Award and he isn't ready to start counting his trophies.
"He is so coachable," Joyce said. "He's quick, he works hard and he just has that natural ability. He's also a good sport. He works out all the time at Caveman and the guys he practices with are his friends."
Kai has a different way of explaining his will to win.
"I like to get my hand raised," he said. "They are my friends, but not when we are wrestling. I want to win."
"There is something special about him," Joyce said. "I can't explain him, but he is special and he can go a long way."
Scott Owen said that his son might want to go a long way - he wants to wrestle at Penn State - but he's still a normal kid at home.
"When he is home he's still a knucklehead when it comes to cleaning up his room," Scott said. "He can go as far as he wants."