Furlong: Robles wins wrestling championship despite handicap

By Mike Furlong

You know that moment often seen in sports movies?

The moment when a huge underdog defeats a… You know that moment often seen in sports movies?

The moment when a huge underdog defeats a reigning power? Or when the little guy with a lot of heart achieves greatness?

Sometimes in sports it’s safe to say that movies have nothing on reality. This weekend at the NCAA Wrestling Championship, Anthony Robles accomplished something that most people would think was pure Hollywood fiction.

Robles, a senior wrestler for Arizona State became one of 10 National Champions by dominating the 125-pound weight class. But the thing that sets Robles apart from the nine other National Champions in other weight classes, and the other 321 wrestlers competing at the tournament, is that he only has one leg.

That’s right, that sentence wasn’t a mistake. Robles is the best wrestler in the nation at 125 pounds, wrestling only on his left leg. I don’t mean Robles wrestles on a left leg with a right prosthetic; he wrestles on one leg, spending most of the mat in a low stance — essentially basing on his left leg and hands for support.

In his career Robles has dominated opposing wrestlers with a single-leg takedown, shooting in from his low stance onto the leg of an opponent, forcing him to the mat. To be able to complete a takedown without leg support is an incredible show of power and speed.

This year, Robles blew through his competition at the NCAA Tournament. Robles won his first two bouts by technical fall, forcing an automatic stoppage of the match by leading by 15 or more points.

In his final collegiate match, Robles dominated No. 2 ranked Matt McDonough from Iowa. McDonough was also the defending National Champion. Robles made it look easy, turning McDonough to his back scoring near-fall points for exposing his back to the mat — very rare for a title match.

Not only is Robles the best wrestler at his weight: He was named the Tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler.

Robles was born without his right leg. For most people that would be disappointing news, likely leading to an uncomfortable seat in the bleachers as a spectator, but not for Robles. He excelled at wrestling in high school, compiling a 129-15 record along with two Arizona state titles.

Robles was also a standout wrestler throughout his career as a Sun Devil. His national title marks the third time that he has earned All-American status. The first time he competed in the NCAA Championship in 2009, Robles placed fourth. In 2010 Robles returned to the NCAA Championship, this time placing seventh in the field.

On top of All-American honors, Robles is a three-time Pac-10 champion. The only season he did not win the Pac-10 was as a redshirt freshman. He finished second that season.

As Robles departs collegiate wrestling, he has announced his retirement from the sport. One of the finest wrestlers in the nation is choosing not to wrestle in Olympic qualifiers or in any national tournaments. Robles will take what he has learned in his illustrious career to another venue — he wants to begin a career as a motivational speaker.

Robles has been to the top of the wrestling world; he is the best. As Robles looks to begin his career as a motivational speaker, it’s not hard to imagine him being the best in that as well. It would be incredible to do what Robles has done in his life with two legs; it’s hard to imagine facing the challenges of grappling with the best wrestlers in the nation with only

one leg and without ever seeming to feel sorry for himself.

Robles embodies the spirit of athletics — he takes to the mat every match, putting his heart and soul on the line. Robles took to the mat 145 times in his career; he had his hand raised in victory 122 times. The final time led to one of the most inspiring images in sports history: Robles hopping to the corner of the mat into the arms of head coach Shawn Charles.

So yes, Hollywood’s depiction of sports can be inspiring, but none can touch the real life story of Anthony Robles — a kid from Mesa, Ariz., who has been able to reach the Promised Land of wrestling despite all of the adversity in the world.