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Published: Thursday, January 11, 2001
Section: SPORTS , page C3
2001 Landmark Communications Inc.

Jason Bryant's venture into cyberspace - mattalkonline.com - was hardly auspicious at first.

``I put it up, and there had been maybe 10 hits after a week,'' Bryant said. ``I thought it was kind of cool, but the initial design . . . it was wretched, to say the least.''

Although the site has improved drastically since that week in 1997, computer moguls around the world need not be worried about Bryant. But he has taken the amateur wrestling community by storm. There, his nickname of ``Twinkie'' is far more popular than that of any Silicon Valley millionaire.

Since that humble start in an Old Dominion University dorm room, mattalkonline.com has grown into what might be Virginia's most popular amateur wrestling site. Last year, Bryant's site got nearly three-quarter of a million hits.

``I remember breaking the million-hits mark last year,'' Bryant said. ``I couldn't believe it had gotten to that, especially after the way it started. I thought that was a pretty big deal. I mean, it was a pretty humble beginning.''

That start was little more than a college freshman trying to learn more about computers and using his interest in high school wrestling as a platform. Now mattalkonline.com is referred to almost reverently by those involved in wrestling.

``It's the bible for many of us,'' said Frank Lipoli, who for 20 years has been Hampton Roads' most vocal wrestling advocate. ``His site is like going into an all-chocolate store if you love chocolate.''

While there is a wealth of information to be had on Bryant's site, it is his Wrestling Forum that often draws much of the attention.

``People in wrestling, by nature of their sport, are intense about it,'' Bryant said. ``It gets pretty heated and is often very colorful. There is a lot of wrestling knowledge out there.''

Bryant's site also has given those with that knowledge an area to bond. From old fans to new, the site has been a common denominator that didn't exist before.

``It's brought an awful lot of people together,'' Lipoli said.

Mattalkonline is a free site that started with Bryant putting in about five hours a week. Now, during a wrestling week, it's more like five hours a day.

That's a lot of time for a young man putting himself through college while trying to keep a hand on what is actually his real love: broadcasting. In fact, as popular as his Web site is, his ability with a microphone might be what eventually brings him fame.

``He is very, very good at it,'' said Lipoli, executive director of Virginia Challenge, a non-profit organization that runs several tournaments, including this weekend's Virginia Duals. Lipoli often pays Bryant to announce at his tournaments, and Bryant will get his biggest break Friday and Saturday when he helps announce the high school side of the Duals.

``Some might, when they hear him, be surprised that he's only 21,'' Lipoli said. ``But he has a lot of experience and has developed a broad base in the media.''

That base started at Poquoson High, where Bryant did the announcing for almost all of the school's sports. In fact, the name Mat Talk actually started with a radio show on AM-1490 in Hampton..

Since then, he has announced several sporting events, including NCAA field hockey, ODU soccer and a host of wrestling events, including the last three years of the Eastern Region tournament.

His online ventures also have netted him media director spots for Virginia USA Wrestling, Virginia AAU Wrestling and Virginia Challenge.

In six years, Bryant has gone from what he describes as a wrestling illiterate to someone people come to for information.

``I knew all the state capitals in the second grade, but that was kind of useless,'' said Bryant, who is majoring in communications with a minor in journalism. ``Knowing the wrestling stuff is getting me somewhere, and I hope that's in the broadcasting side of things.''

If that happens, mattalkonline.com could become second fiddle. But maybe by then it will be big enough that Bryant will have some help to keep it afloat.

Who knows, maybe some computer giant will buy it.

Reach Lee Tolliver at 222-5128 or at ltollive(AT)pilotonline.com

Description of illustration(s):


What: High school and college wrestling in five divisions: three for high school and two for college

When: Friday and Saturday

Where: Hampton Coliseum

Times: Wrestling begins at 9 a.m. Friday and lasts into the night. Action continues at 8 a.m. Saturday. The semifinals in all five divisions are scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday. Finals in all five divisions are scheduled for 8:30 p.m.

College wrestling: Two brackets - one for Division I schools (16 teams) and the other for small colleges (eight teams). Among the Division I schools expected to attend are Pennsylvania, Missouri, Cornell, Lock Haven, Old Dominion, Indiana, Central Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Cal State-Bakersfield, Buffalo, Kent State, Ryder, Virginia, West Virginia and James Madison. Small colleges are Newport News Apprentice, Roger Williams, Cumberland, Western Maryland, York, SUNY-Brockport, Pensacola Christian and Gardner-Webb. Newport News Apprentice is ranked No. 1 in the country among small colleges.

Tickets: Friday - $8 for adults, $5 for students for all day; Saturday - $8 for adults, $5 for students for the morning session that includes semifinals, and $8 for adults, $5 for students for the championship session in the evening. A two-day, all-session pass is available for $20 for adults, $12 for students. A Saturday-only, two-session pass is $14 for adults, $8 for students.

This article is 2001 Landmark Communications Inc. and may not be republished without permission.

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