"I really don't see missing my leg as a handicap. You know, my parents raised me strong and they didn't give me any special treatment. So, I believe I can do anything I set my mind to and wrestling is something I enjoy, I love it and I'm just trying to be (the) best at it" - Anthony Robles, WPVI March 16th 2011.
Anthony Robles came into this year's NCAA Men's Division I Wrestling Tournament as the number 1 ranked seed at 125 pounds and left host city Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as champion and the undisputed best collegiate wrestler in the country at his weight class. Unlike his top ranked contemporaries spread across nine other weight classes, he was born with no right hip bone; a handicap that hasn't yet stopped him pursuing his dreams.
Born Anthony Marc Robles July 20th 1988 in La Mirada, California, to parents Ron and Judy, Anthony was delivered by Caesarian Section after a troublesome labour for his then only 16 year old mother. His family were grief stricken when told the news that their first born son only had one leg.
Despite this Robles has lead an active life, wrestling at his High School in Mesa, Arizona winning the state championship twice, and twice being a team captain before finishing his high school career with a 129-15 record, undefeated in his last two years of competition and winning a National High School Championship accolade. Even beyond the mat Robles would pursue hobbies that appeal to many other young men such as paint ball.
More NCAA 2011 Wrestling Championship coverage at SBNation
A distinguished high school career meant he was a shoe in for Tempe's Arizona State University wrestling team The Sun Devils which he joined in the Autumn of 2006 along with two-time California runner-up Chris Drouin. Head Coach Thom Ortiz had no reservations when asked to comment by CBS College Sports in June earlier that year:
"Both of these young men have done well at the high school level and I feel both will have a bright future with Arizona State. Anthony has overcome so much and worked hard to become not only a state champion, but a national champion as well ... Both of these men bring impressive credentials with them to campus and I look forward to their contributions to helping the continued resurgence of our wrestling program."
Two years ago as a sophomore, Robles competed in the NCAA championship tournament in St. Louis, Missouri and finished in fourth place. Becoming an All American, some people might think Robles had proven a point about what could be achieved by less-able athletes in a physical competition that did not cater to them. But Anthony never wanted to be treated as someone overcoming adversity; he had a champion's desire that needed to be satiated.
Continuing to work on both the mental and physical aspects of the game, Robles went undefeated 36-0 in this year's season and qualified for entrance into the Division 1 tournament as the No#1 seed. Some critics had been somewhat cynical of the ranking by claiming last year's champion Matt McDonough of the Iowa Hawkeyes should have been the top seed entering the tournament with a similarly impressive season, and that somehow Robles' position in the tournament bracket was just to give him an easier path to avoid higher ranked seeds; the NCAA seemingly sympathetic because of his back-story.
Conspiracy theories aside, if both kept winning both would have to meet eventually. And having one leg as it turns out did have its advantages. Without the additional weight a leg brings (and a leg can make up a fifth of a person's entire bodyweight) Robles had been able to under go a strength and conditioning program to build his upper body mass, becoming significantly more powerful than his opponents while still being able to compete at the same weight. ESPN analysts Jeff Blatnik and Todd Harris commented during the televised coverage of the tournament that Robles is able to bench press 305lbs and is known to have a very strong grip.
Wrestling with one leg also meant Robles had to develop his own innovative style to find success and flummox his opponents. In particular he has a signature move nicknamed the Robles Roll where he somersaults over his opponents using the tilt concept in Wrestling to score points, and it was on full display during his opening match on Thursday morning.
Taking on Virginia's Matthew Snyder, Robles unique approach completely overwhelmed his opponent and he scored a 16-1 Tech Fall in 4 minutes 23 seconds. In the evening Robles was even more dominant thrashing Harvard's Steven Keith into a 15-0 Tech Fall, this time in 3 minutes 32 seconds.
The Quarter Finals were set and Robles would take on Oklahoma's Jarrod Patterson in a difficult bout where Patterson played defensively but it wasn't enough to stop Robles eventually scoring and winning a 9-3 decision.
The Semi Finals saw Robles take on another surprise success story in unseeded Ben Kjar of Utah Valley who became the University's first ever All American by making it that far, pulling off the upset against the number 4 and number 5 seeds in the process. A tough beginning period saw Kjar start conservatively which seemed a good strategy at the time although one where it remained 0-0 after the first 3 minutes had expired. As soon as Kjar tried to push the pace in the 2nd period and attempt to score with escapes from the bottom Robles was ready and waiting able to build up ride time before later scoring with an escape and a take down in the 3rd period giving him the 4-2 decision victory.
Robles' critics crowed and began prematurely claiming satisfaction as he would at last meet Iowa's Matt McDonough in the final where they felt the rightful Number 1 would simply make it academic and official. But for the critics it was not to be.
Robles toppled the defending champion by a decision of 7-1. Giving McDonough only a brief amount of time to feel him out, tied up low on the ground head next to head, shoulder to shoulder, Robles launched himself like a coiled spring grabbing McDonough around the body and circled the mat before taking his back with a go behind causing the Iowan to base out and concede the take down. Controlling with under-hooks and adjusting with a modified over-leg ride Robles worked for a 2-on-1 Bar Arm before releasing and hitting the Robles Roll in the form of a rear crotch tilt scoring 2 more points. McDonough - belly-down and splayed out - tried to fight the weight being driven into him by Robles' lone leg, attempting to turn him over with a rear waist lock. Robles grabbed a near outstretched arm with his nearest hand and scooped it back while driving his head into the Iowan's armpit allowing Robles right arm that was still around the waist to receive McDonough's caught limb. Robles then fed McDonough's arm between his legs into a Pump-Handle Ball & Chain ride before scoring with another tilt and attempting to roll up McDonough for back points and a possible near fall situation. McDonough bridged like crazy to keep himself in the match and managed to flip over onto his knees finishing the 1st period on top but with no points scored himself to Robles 7.
McDonough then took neutral position beginning the 2nd period and both Wrestlers locked up and struggled to gain an advantage on the other, failing to score. Robles was later called twice for stalling giving McDonough 1 point in the 3rd, but Robles had done enough to wind the clock down and secure victory.
It was Robles last match of his career, the perfect ending to a perfect season and he is deserving of as much recognition as can be afforded to him. He'll likely make network television talk shows, especially with Jimmy Kimmel being an Arizona State alumnus who has had Robles on his show before. I can see him doing David Letterman, The View, Good Morning America and the rest of the usual suspects.
Robles now plans to embark on a career as an inspirational and motivational speaker - surely a walk in the park after becoming champion in the nation's most demanding collegiate sports competition. But Robles is driven and sees himself only ever going forward. As he said while being interviewed at the side of the mat he just won on, "I came too far to lose".