CHAMPAIGN — Earlier in the week, the local newspaper asked the Illinois wrestling starters three fun survey questions. For “give us your WWE name,” Jesse Delgado answered “Jesse.” He wasn’t in a mood to play along. Turns out he had something more serious on his mind: winning the Big Ten title.
Good move. The Illini 125-pounder dominated the No. 1 seed, Iowa’s Matt McDonough, in Sunday’s final. As he danced off the floor, Delgado had a 10-4 decision and his first Big Ten championship.
A few minutes later, Delgado was on the awards stand in his home arena. Former Illini standout Kyle Ott presented the medals. Delgado, carrying the bracket with his name listed first, was beaming.
At the end of the meet, Delgado was named Outstanding Wrestler of the Tournament.
“We’ve been talking about Jesse for two years,” Illinois coach Jim Heffernan said. “He’s the best guy at the weight if he can put it all together. He made another step this week. He needs to get it done next week.”
Don’t ask Delgado any more funny questions. Not for a couple of weeks. He’s got one more goal in mind: Earning his first national title. In less than two weeks, the competition moves to Des Moines, Iowa.
“We’ve got two weeks left to accomplish what I’ve wanted since I was 5 years old,” Delgado said. “Being on top.”
The Iowa fans will be waiting for Delgado, who now has a pair of wins this season against favorite son McDonough. Knowledge of his opponent didn’t hurt in the final.
“We had a feeling he was going to drop down to a knee like that,” Delgado said. “I guess he just abandoned it really fast. I have a feel for what he’s like and how to finish on him. It was a pretty big advantage getting to wrestle him earlier.”
During Sunday’s match, the Hawkeye fans accused Delgado of stalling. The Illini begs to differ.
“That’s all they know how to say,” Delgado said. “I don’t think I was stalling. I took triple, quadruple the shots he did. I don’t know how you call that stalling.”
Delgado got a takedown in the first period for a 2-0 lead and made it 5-0 in the second.
“That’s how I start most of my matches,” Delgado said. “The key is holding on and continuing to wrestle like I did.”
Going into the meet, Delgado said he felt good about his chances. He has been wrestling well in recent weeks, including the win against McDonough.
“I feel like everything is clicking for me,” Delgado said. “I got rid of the distractions that I had in my life and I’m just focusing on what I want to get accomplished.”
So, why so serious?
“We were joking around before the National Duals and none of us wrestled well there,” Delgado said. “Since then, I’ve been completely serious and treating it like it’s a job.”
Sunday’s win will certainly boost his seed at the national meet. Delgado figures he’ll be No. 2 on his way to the top of the awards stand.
“It’s going to be huge,” Delgado said. “I’m not going to have a seeded wrestler until the quarters and that will be the seventh seed.”
Winning the Big Ten also adds to his confidence. He considers the Big Ten meet like the second and third day of the NCAA meet. The event is that good.
Wrestling at home Sunday made a difference, Delgado said. The bulk of the Illinois fans were near the center mat. Delgado knew the fans were on his side.
“That’s what you live for,” Delgado said. “It was amazing.”