Joe Colon dominated Vladimir Dubov of Bulgaria at the World Championships (Photo/Larry Slater)
Joe Colon stayed in shape.
And stayed prepared.
When the call came just a few weeks before the competition, Colon was ready.
Nahshon Garrett had been injured in training and Colon would have to replace him on the U.S. roster for the 2018 World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
Colon responded with an unexpected and clutch performance for the American squad, capturing a world bronze medal in men's freestyle wrestling at 61 kilograms.
"It was new life for me and an amazing opportunity -- I had to try and take advantage of it," he said. "My hopes and dreams were still there. It was unfortunate Nahshon got hurt, but I was the next man up. I needed to step up and perform for our team and for our country."
Colon's lone loss at the 2018 World Championships came in a 9-4 semifinal setback to eventual world champion Yowlys Bonne Rodriguez of Cuba.
Colon and Rodriguez met again in the first round of the Pan American Championships this past weekend in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Colon won 9-3 en route to capturing the gold medal for the United States.
The match with Rodriguez was tied 1-1 midway through the second period when Colon took control.
Colon scored a takedown then followed by turning Rodriguez with a succession of three gut-wrenches to build a 9-1 lead. Rodriguez scored a late takedown, but could draw no closer.
"That was a big confidence-booster for me," Colon said. "It lets me know I'm doing the right things and I made some good adjustments against him. It was a good win to show how much I've grown and that I'm on the right path toward my goal of winning a world championship."
Joe Colon topped Brandon Wright in the semifinals of the 2018 U.S. Open (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Colon, an All-American at Northern Iowa and a national junior-college champion for Iowa Central, has the inside track on making the U.S. World Team again this year.
As a returning world medalist, he has clinched a berth in the Final X this summer. He will face the winner of the World Team Trials challenge tournament for a trip to the 2019 World Championships in Kazakhstan.
"Being in the Final X, it's a big advantage," he said. "I don't have to wrestle at the U.S. Open or go through any of the qualifiers. I know guys are still coming for me. I have to stay ready and stay hungry and keep working. I need to build off the success I have had."
Before the Final X, Colon will face NCAA champion Nick Suriano in a match at the Beat the Streets dual on May 6 in New York City.
Joe Colon with Troy Steiner at the World Championships (Photo/Larry Slater)
Colon now trains at Fresno State University, where he serves as a volunteer assistant coach under head coach Troy Steiner.
After his Pan American Championships win over Rodriguez, Colon followed by rolling past Juan Rodriguez Jovel of El Salvador and Scott Schiller of Canada by 10-0 technical falls to earn the gold medal for the U.S. at 61 kg.
Colon has made a significant contribution to Fresno State as a coach and he also has brought attention to the recently reinstated program with the success he's had while competing internationally.
Colon lost a tough battle to Garrett in a wild, best-of-3 series in the 2018 Final X that determined the world team spot. Colon won the first bout against Garrett before dropping the next two.
"It was a big letdown," Colon said. "I learned a lot about myself and I learned a few hard lessons from that. I worked on recovering better and staying stronger. It hurt for a long time and it still hurts, but I couldn't stay down forever. That is still a big motivator for me. I want to make the team on my own this year."
Steiner credits the resiliency Colon showed.
"It was tough for Joe after he lost in the Final X," Steiner said. "He was hurting, no doubt about it, but he bounced back and he got back on the mat. He kept training and he competed well in a couple of tournaments after the Final X. When Joe got the call after Nahshon was injured, he was ready to go."
Colon wrestled in back-to-back tournaments last September in Poland and Belarus, earning bronze and silver medals.
Shortly after that, the call came from U.S. National Coach Bill Zadick that Colon would be replacing Garrett on the world team.
"Going on that tour and wrestling in those two tournaments helped me a lot going into the World Championships," Colon said. "I had been training and competing. I was mentally, physically and emotionally prepared for worlds. I felt ready to go and I wanted to help the U.S. team win another world title."
Joe Colon gets his hand raised after winning a bronze medal at the World Championships (Photo/Larry Slater)
Colon outlasted Ukraine's Ivan Bileichuk 9-6 in his opening bout at the 2018 World Championships before rolling past Bulgaria's Vladimir Dubov by a 10-0 technical fall.
Following the semifinal setback to Rodriguez, Colon overpowered Mohammedbagher Yakhkeshi of Iran 13-2 in the bronze medal bout.
"My goal was to win gold, but it was exciting to come back and win a bronze medal," Colon said. "I knew I had to battle back and be ready to scrap. It was a matter of who wanted it more. It was an incredible feeling to win a medal -- something I will never forget."
Colon has continued to progress on the Senior level. That was evident in last weekend's win over Rodriguez.
"Joe made some good adjustments against the Cuban," Steiner said. "He was real patient and real disciplined. If Joe gets on top of anyone, he's going to turn them."
Steiner believes Colon's gold-medal goal certainly is attainable if he makes the world team this year.
"I think Joe would have a very good shot," Steiner said. "He knows he can compete with anybody at this level. He needs to stay disciplined and he needs to continue to progress and improve. He is wrestling with a lot of confidence right now."
When Colon was awarded his world bronze medal last year, he immediately began thinking about something bigger.
"I was extremely happy until I saw the belt that they gave the Cuban for winning the world title," Colon said. "My demeanor changed when I saw that. I knew how close I was. Now I want to go get that belt and win a world title."