Isaiah Martinez Wins Historic Fourth Big Ten Title

Martinez named Big Ten Wrestler of the Championships

By University of Illinois Athletics

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Illinois redshirt senior Isaiah Martinez won a historic fourth Big Ten title of his career on Sunday inside the Breslin Center, becoming just the 16th wrestler to accomplish the feat in the 106-year history of the conference. The first Illini wrestler to win four Big Ten titles, Martinez (14-0) defeated Penn State’s No. 3 Vincenzo Joseph, 4-1, in the 165-pound title match and was named Big Ten Wrestler of the Championships following the meet.

“I couldn’t be more proud of him,” head coach Jim Heffernan said of the four-time champion. “That’s a hard thing to do in this day in age with as competitive as it is, beating a guy that beat you in the national finals last year and wrestling three top-10 guys to get there. He did a heck of a job. It’s great for the program and it’s great for him.”

Martinez joins coach Heffernan on the short list of four-time Big Ten champions, making it the first coach-wrestler four-time champion duo. Coach Heffernan accomplished the feat while wrestling at Iowa, winning the 155-pound title first in 1983 and three more times from 1985 to 1987.

“I’m more happy for my coach, Jim Heffernan,” said Martinez of the accomplishment. “He was also a four-time Big Ten champion. First time ever that there was a coach and his wrestler to win four Big Ten titles. I’m just happy for him and our program.”

The Big Ten Wrestler of the Championships honor is the second of Martinez’s career after earning the honor following his 2016 Big Ten title at 157 pounds. It’s the fourth time an Illinois wrestler has been earned the award since its creation in 1989. Former Illini Jon Llewellyn won in 1991 and Alex Tirapelle in 2004.

Behind four place-winners on Sunday, the Fighting Illini placed eight at Big Ten Championships with 62.5 points. Ohio State won the Big Ten title with 164.5 points.

The fourth career match between Martinez and Joseph, Martinez improved to 3-1 against the Penn State redshirt sophomore in a match that didn’t see a takedown until Martinez iced the victory in the final seconds. The difference in the match proved to be the second period where, with Joseph choosing down to start the period, Martinez rode out Joseph for one minute, 20 seconds before allowing Joseph to break the scoreless tie with an escape.

“I thought he did a great job and wrestling him at every position, being aggressive and knowing that keeping down and riding him was another chance to score a point by getting riding time,” Heffernan said of Martinez’s ride to start the second period. “In a match that competitive between two great guys, you have to find a way and he did.”

In the third period, Martinez quickly escaped in his turn to start on bottom, only needing three seconds to do so. Still holding one minute, 17 seconds of ride time, Martinez held of multiple shots from Joseph in the final two minutes. The four-time champion added the lone takedown of the match as the final seconds ticked off the clock, winning 4-1.

“I think I could attack more, but I just try not to do something stupid,” Martinez on the title match. “These guys are so good at this level. That [match] was like a national final match; it was a national final match. It was just don’t do anything stupid and get in there because you can’t retreat. I can’t put my skates on. I’ve never been good at that. It’s a little half-and-half. I’m in a position that I want to be in, but I’m trying to exploit the positions he’s giving me by chasing him.”

Seeded as the top wrestler in a stacked weight class that featured seven wrestlers ranked in the top-10, Martinez reached the title bout with a pair of wins over top-10 wrestlers. After a bye advanced him to the quarterfinals, Martinez defeated No. 10 Isaiah White (Nebraska) by a score of 7-4. In the semifinal, the four-time champion advanced to the Big Ten final with an 8-5 win over No. 7 Richie Lewis (Rutgers) after giving up a takedown in the opening minute of the match. The Illini 165-pounder swung the match back in his favor late in the first period with a takedown and near fall that netted him six points to close out the period.

“That’s what I love about this sport,” said Martinez on the 165-pound bracket. “You train so hard and you sacrifice so much. For me, the ultimate glory in this sport is lining up next to a guy who believes he’s an equal. When you sacrifice as much as you have and you work has hard as you have, that’s the best part.”

Martinez ends his Big Ten Championships career a perfect 14-0 at the conference meet with 10 wins over ranked opponents. Defeating No. 2 Dylan Ness (Minnesota) and No. 1 Jason Nolf (Penn State) at 157 pounds in 2015 and 2016, Martinez moved up to 165 pounds prior to the 2016-17 season, defeating Michigan’s Logan Massa for his third conference crown last March.

Along with the Big Ten history, Martinez moved up to a tie for 11th place on Illinois’ all-time wins list with 112 wins. Martinez passed Jevon Herman (110) and tied Zane Richards (111) on Saturday before recording win No. 112 on Sunday.

Joining Martinez, three more Illini made the podium on Sunday with top-five finishes, as redshirt freshman Mike Carr placed runner-up in the 141 title bout, while redshirt freshman Dylan Duncan upset two higher seeds to place third and redshirt junior Emery Parker placed fifth.

“I was really, really impressed with all of them,” head coach Jim Heffernan said. “I think Mike [Carr] might have been a little shell-shocked in the finals, got caught in a tough situation early and that took him out of it. He did great job of getting there, and Dylan [Duncan] did a great job. Dylan lost to the second-place wrestler [Luke Pletcher] in a close match, and then beat some really tough guys coming back. It’s quite the accomplishment for a freshmen. Emery [Parker] had a little slip up this morning, but he’s looked great throughout the tournament too.”

Wrestling the third-ranked wrestler in the country, and top-seeded, Joey McKenna of Ohio State in the title match, Mike Carr dropped the bout by a score of 13-0.

By reaching the final, Carr became the first Illini freshman to reach a Big Ten title match since Isaiah Martinez won the 2015 title at 157 pounds.

Carr advanced to the 141-pound title match behind a trio of wins on Saturday, including a 10-6 upset of No. 2 seed Nick Lee (Penn State) in Saturday night’s semifinal. The win over Lee marked the 11th straight win for the redshirt freshman, a streak that dated back to January 21 at Purdue.

The Illini No. 7 seed at 133 pounds, Duncan (20-7) won his consolation semifinal by upsetting No. 4 seed Jason Renteria (Nebraska), 9-8. Duncan then pulled another upset, taking down No. 3 seed #13 Mitch McKee of Minnesota, 8-3. Duncan finished his first Big Ten Championships with a record of 5-1.

The 20 wins by Duncan ranks second on the team this season behind Emery Parker (21) who bounced back after his consolation semifinal loss to No. 6 seed #8 Taylor Venz (Nebraska) to win the fifth-place match over Minnesota No. 8 seed Brandon Krone by a score of 6-0. Finishing the weekend 3-2, Parker has placed fifth at the conference meet in each of his first two appearances.

With Martinez, Carr, Parker and Duncan clinching bids to NCAA Championships on Saturday, sophomore Travis Piotrowski punched his ticket on Sunday during session three with a 13-4 major decision over Johnny Jimenez of Wisconsin. Piotrowski will be making his second trip in as many seasons to nationals after becoming the first Illini true freshman since Jackson Morse in 2011 to reach NCAA Championships in their first season as an Illini.

157-pounder Kyle Langenderfer went 2-0 on Sunday, placing ninth with a pin in his final bout. Langenderfer finishes one place shy of an automatic bid and will wait to see if he receives an at-large bid to NCAA Championships.

Up next, Illinois’ five NCAA Championships automatic qualifiers will begin preparation for the national tournament in two weeks, March 15-17, in Cleveland, Ohio. Remaining Illinois wrestlers will wait to see if they earn an at-large bid to nationals, announced on Wednesday, March 7 at 5 p.m. central time.

For tickets to NCAA Championships at Quick and Loans Arena, click here.

For complete coverage of Fighting Illini wrestling, go to and follow @IlliniWrestling on Twitter and Instagram.

Illini Notes:

Isaiah Martinez becomes the 16th Big Ten wrestler to win four Big Ten titles in his career, the first in Illinois history
Martinez joins head coach Jim Heffernan on the list of four-time champs, as Coach Heffernan won titles in 1983 and 1985-1987.
Isaiah Martinez and head coach Jim Heffernan become the first wrestler-coach combo to both win four Big Ten titles
Martinez finishes his Big Ten Championships career with a 14-0 record, 10 wins coming against ranked opponents
First time Illinois has two Big Ten finalists since Martinez, Zane Richards and Zac Brunson each advanced to the final at the 2016 Championships in Iowa City
With the three wins this weekend, Martinez moves into a tie for 11th place on Illinois’ all-time list with 112 wins. Former Illini Eric Sebert won 112 from 1995-98.
Illinois placed three in the top three for the first time since 2016 when Martinez won the 157-pound title and Zane Richards (133 pounds) and Zac Brunson (174 pounds) both placed runner-up.
Redshirt freshman Mike Carr became the first Illini freshman to reach a Big Ten final since Martinez in 2015.

Team Scores:
1.Ohio State – 164.5
2.Penn State – 148
3.Michigan – 118
4.Iowa – 90.5
5.Nebraska – 72.5
6.Wisconsin – 67
7.Wisconsin – 66.5
8.Illinois – 62.5
9.Purdue – 59.5
10.Northwestern – 55.5
11.Rutgers – 42.5
12.Maryland – 30.5
13.Indiana – 10
14.Michigan State – 9.5

Illinois Match-By-Match:

125 // (9) Travis Piotrowski // 3-2
1st Round: (9) Piotrowski dec. (8) Drew Mattin (Michigan), 7-1 (SV-1)
Quarterfinals: (1) #1 Nick Suriano (Rutgers) dec. (9) Piotrowski, 9-2
Cons. Round 2: (10) Elijah Oliver (Indiana) dec. (7) Piotrowski, 7-3
9th Place Semis: (9) Piotrowski major dec. Johnny Jimenez (Wisconsin), 13-4
9th Place Match: (9) Piotrowski dec. (8) Drew Mattin (Michigan), 2-0
Travis Piotrowski places 9th

133 // (7) Dylan Duncan // 5-1
1st Round: (7) Duncan major dec. Paul Glynn (Iowa), 9-1
Quarterfinals: (2) #3 Luke Pletcher (Ohio State) dec. (7) Duncan, 4-3
Cons. Round 2: (7) Duncan pins Jhared Simmons (Maryland), 6:19
Cons. Round 3: (7) Duncan major dec. (6) Corey Keener (Penn State), 12-0
Cons. Semifinal: (7) Duncan dec. (4) Jason Renteria, 9-8
3rd Place Match: (7) Duncan dec. (3) #13 Mitch McKee (Minnesota), 8-3
Dylan Duncan places 3rd

141 // (3) #11 Mike Carr // 3-0
1st Round: vs. (3) #11 Carr major dec. Alec McKenna (Northwestern), 10-2
Quarterfinals: (3) #11 Carr dec. (6) #16 Tommy Thorn (Minnesota), 8-6
Semifinals: vs. (3) #11 Carr dec. (2) #8 Nick Lee (Penn State), 10-6
1st Place Match: (1) #4 Joey McKenna (Ohio State) major dec. (3) #11 Carr, 13-0
Mike Carr places 2nd

149 // (12) Eric Barone // 1-3
1st Round: vs. (5) #6 Ke-Shawn Hayes (Ohio State) major dec. (12) Barone, 12-1
Cons. Round 1: (12) Barone dec. (13) Jwan Britton (Michigan State), 7-2
Cons. Round 2: vs. (6) #12 Elezar DeLuca (Rutgers) dec. (12) Barone, 4-1
9th Place Quarterfinals: (13) Jwan Britton (Michigan State) dec. (12) Barone, 8-3
Eric Barone is eliminated

157 // #17 Kyle Langenderfer // 2-2
1st Round: vs. (7) #13 Jake Short (Minnesota) dec. Langenderfer, 4-0
Cons. Round 1: Jake Tucker (Michigan State) dec. Langenderfer, 7-3
9th place Semis: Langenderfer dec. Jake Tucker (Michigan State), 7-3
9th Place: Langenderfer pins Shayne Oster (Northwestern), 0:58
Kyle Langenderfer places 9th

165 // (1) #1 Isaiah Martinez // 3-1
1st Round: Bye
Quarterfinals: (1) #1 Martinez dec. (8) #10 Isaiah White (Nebraska), 7-4
Semifinals: (1) #1 Martnez dec. (4) #7 Richie Lewis (Rutgers), 8-5
1st Place Match: (1) #1 Martinez dec. (3) #3 Vicenzo Joseph (Penn State), 4-1
Isaiah Martinez places 1st

174 // David Riojas // 0-2
1st Round: Johnny Sebastian (Northwestern) fall Riojas, 3:58
Cons. Round 1: Bye
Cons. Round 2: (6) Devin Skatzka (Indiana) major dec. Riojas, 12-2
David Riojas is eliminated

184 // (4) #7 Emery Parker // 3-2
1st Round: (4) #7 Parker dec. Shwan Shadaia (Michigan State), 5-1
Quarterfinals: (4) #7 Parker dec. #9 Nicholas Gravina (Rutgers), 5-2
Semifinals: (1) #1 Bo Nickal (Penn State) dec. (4) #7 Parker, 5-2
Cons. Semifinals: (6) #8 Taylor Venz (Nebraska) dec. (4) #7 Parker, 9-4
5th Place Match: (4) #7 Parker dec. (8) Brandon Krone (Minnesota), 6-0
Emery Parker places 5th

197 // Andre Lee // 1-2
1st Round: #8 (3) Cash Wilcke (Iowa) dec. Andre Lee, 4-3 (TB-2)
Cons. Round 1: Lee dec. Anthony Messner (Rutgers), 2-1
Cons. Round 2: (5) Hunter Ritter (Wisconsin) dec. Lee, 3-1 (SV-1)
Andre Lee is eliminated

HWT // Deuce Rachal // 0-2
1st Round: (3) #4 Nick Nevills (Penn State) major dec. Rachal, 11-3
Cons. Round 1: David Jensen (Nebraska) dec. Rachal, 7-4
Deuce Rachal is eliminated

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Written by Mike Bare

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