Illinois’ Isaiah Martinez can now be mentioned in the same sentence with the most dominant wrestler in NCAA history, at least in one respect.
The former Lemoore High star became the first undefeated freshman champion since Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson with a 10-2 major decision Saturday over Cornell’s Brian Realbuto in the 157-pound final at the NCAA Division I Championships in St. Louis.
Martinez, a three-time California high school champion during four seasons at Lemoore, improved to 35-0.
Sanderson finished 39-0 after winning the 184-pound title for Iowa State during his freshman season in 1999. Sanderson went on to go 159-0 in a career that produced four NCAA individual titles, a feat only three wrestlers in history had accomplished until Saturday, when Ohio State 141-pounder Logan Stieber captured his fourth for the team champion Buckeyes.
Martinez now will carry expectations of being the next possible four-time champ, a list that also includes Oklahoma State’s Pat Smith (1990-92, ’94) and Cornell’s Kyle Dake (2010-13).
And much like his aggressive nature on the mat, Martinez won’t shy away from the expectations.
“I was made ready for it. I’ve been working at this for 14 years. Wrestling is my life,” Martinez said in a post-match news conference. “I don’t plan on doing anything else for the rest of my life. I plan on being around it forever. As far as comparisons go, we’ll get there when the time comes. But if I can stay undefeated you know, I’m going to do it. I’ll try my best. I’m going to be ready every bout, every match, every second and hopefully it will work out in the end for me.”
The top-seeded Martinez scored the match’s first points with a takedown and led 2-1 against the second-seeded Realbuto after the first period.
Martinez took firm control of the match in the second with an escape and a takedown to make it 5-1. He extended the margin to 7-1 early in the third with back points and never let off the gas.
“It was a hard-fought match. He’s tough,” Martinez said. “He believes he’s the guy. I knew going it that it would be a dogfight. I just stayed with what my coaches told me. It worked out for the best for me. I’m very happy right now. It’s just been an amazing journey up to that match on that stage.”
Martinez is the first NCAA champion from a Central Section school since Bakersfield’s Jake Varner won in 2009 and 2010 for Iowa State. Previous section wrestlers who went on to win NCAA titles include Chris Pendleton (Lemoore/Oklahoma State) in 2004-05, Adam Tirapelle (Buchanan/Illinois) in 2001 and Fred Bohna (Clovis/UCLA) in 1979.
Martinez went 205-7 with 103 pins and 78 technical falls in a four-year career at Lemoore that saw him place third in the state at 125 as a freshman in 2010, followed by golds at 140, 152 and 160.
“California is a great high school state (for wrestling,)” Martinez said. “Being at the state tournament is like a mini-nationals. It’s a barn-burner if you aren’t ready for it. It really gets you ready for college. The competition where I grew up in the Central Section of California is one of the hotbeds in the country for high school wrestling. I was toughened up all throughout high school.”
Ohio State finished with 102 points behind Stieber, who beat Edinboro’s Mitchell Port 11-5 to cap a 29-0 season. Iowa was second with 84 and four-time defending champ Penn State (67.5) sixth.