Illinois Year in Review: Isaiah Martinez, Top Male Athlete

Illinois Year in Review: Isaiah Martinez, Top Male Athlete

Illinois freshman wrestler Isaiah Martinez finished the season undefeated with a national championship at 157 pounds to become the first unbeaten freshman title winner since Cael Sanderson won his first of four undefeated championships in 1999.

Memorable moment
Winning the national championships in March right when the whistle blew and I was victorious. That’s probably not just the most memorable moment in my career but in my life.

Rewarding moment
I guess learning how to overcome adversity. Coming in I was a pretty big recruit, but even for a big recruit to come in and win a national championship as a freshman is kind of unheard of in our sport. After putting in all the hard work and facing some ups and downs, looking back and seeing how far I’ve come and the people around me have come and how much we’ve grown together has been the most rewarding thing hands down.

Challenging moment
There was no one thing that was challenging. If I had to place the thing that was most challenging it would be James Green from Nebraska because he was the guy standing in the way. He’s good. More than any situation it was him. He was the guy coming in, the No. 1 ranked wrestler in the country. Having to overcome that and having to beat him twice being from the same conference was very challenging.

Disappointing moment
I’m only a freshman. I’m 20 years old right now. Sometimes there were matches where I should have been winning by more. In the grand scheme of things it didn’t change the outcome of the match, but any opportunity I have to criticize myself and any opportunity I have where I can be better I’m looking at that and kind of coming down hard on myself. To be a guy that goes on and wins another national title for the rest of his years here, it takes almost perfection. That’s what I’m gunning for.

Moment to have back and do over
I have a lot of those. I’m kind of a goofy guy. You know, at the beginning of the year I wish I was a better interview. I wish I could have answered questions better. Sometimes I look back at some interviews and I’m like, man, I’m not a very good speaker. I’ve worked on that since then. I wish some of the interviews I did previously I could take back and use better word choice. Doing this a lot, you kind of figure it out. It took a while, though, going from a high school athlete to being in the spotlight of college wrestling. It was sink or swim. Maybe I sunk a little bit, but I started learning how to swim eventually.