In a stunning upset, Lemoore native Isaiah Martinez was denied in his quest for a historic third straight individual title at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships.
The top-ranked junior from Illinois suffered a third-period fall against Penn State’s No. 3-ranked redshirt freshman Vincenzo Joseph in the 165-pound final Saturday before a national television audience on ESPN and a capacity crowd of 19,150 at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
Martinez, who won titles at 157 pounds as a freshman and sophomore, was attempting to join a list of 27 three-time national champions, including one who reached the milestone Saturday during the 87th annual event in Missouri 197-pounder J’den Cox. Former Fresno State standout Stephen Abas (1999, 2001-2002) is the only three-time champion with Fresno-area ties.
Only four wrestlers – Oklahoma State’s Pat Smith (1990-1992, 1994), Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson (1999-2002), Cornell’s Kyle Dake (2010-2013) and Ohio State’s Logan Stieber (2012-2015) – have won four national titles since the event began in 1928.
Sanderson is Joseph’s Penn State coach.
31-1 Season record for Illinois junior and former Lemoore High standout Isaiah Martinez, who lost in the 165-pound final a the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships.
Martinez (31-1) entered the final riding a 44-match winning streak that featured victories over Joseph by scores of 5-2 during a Big Ten dual Feb. 10 and 8-5 during the Big Ten tournament semifinals March 5.
And Martinez got off to a quick start in the national final, scoring a takedown at 2:04 of the first period. But Joseph took Martinez down late in a first period that would end tied 3-3.
Martinez and Joseph were tied 5-5 after the second period, with Joseph scoring another takedown and Martinez escaping twice.
Joseph opened the third period with an escape for a 6-5 lead, then, with the two locked chest-to-chest, Joseph pushed Martinez onto his back, jumped on top, scored two near-fall points and locked up the pin at the 5:26 mark.
After his semifinal win, Martinez said during his post-match news conference, “I’m learning that when you’re the top guy, everyone’s got a plan for you.” He added, “I want to be one of the greatest of all time. I think about that a lot. … Being great is not just about the record.”
The only previous loss in a 98-2 career for Martinez came on Jan. 23, 2016, during his sophomore season, when he was pinned in 4:55 by Penn State’s Jason Nolf during a Big Ten dual. Martinez avenged that loss with a 4-3 win in double overtime in the Big Tenn tournament finals and again with a 6-5 decision in last season’s NCAA Championships final.
Former Clovis High standout Nick Nevills helped Penn State capture its sixth team title in the past seven seasons with a fifth-place finish at 285 pounds.