Austin Gomez at the 2022 Big Ten Championships (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
On Thursday evening, Wisconsin All-American Austin Gomez did what the wrestling community has come to expect from the superstar. He shocked us. This time it wasn't from a breathtaking throw or an impressive trip, it was by taking to social media to announce that he would not apply for a medical redshirt, therefore forgoing his final year of collegiate eligibility.
Just like that, one of the most unique and enjoyable collegiate careers had come to an end.
Gomez was highly regarded coming out of Illinois and checking in as the #11 overall recruit in the high school Class of 2017. That was the spring when Kevin Dresser surprisingly took over the Iowa State wrestling program. Just days after accepting the job, Dresser was seen at Gomez's home confirming the top-recruits commitment to the Cyclones. While other notable signees, chose to reopen their recruiting, Gomez pledged to continue into Ames.
After a redshirt season, Gomez provided plenty of fireworks for the Cyclones at 133 lbs as a redshirt freshman. We'll talk about two matches, in particular, later. Gomez ultimately came up a match shy of All-American honors, but gave plenty of reasons for optimism for ISU fans.
Unfortunately for Iowa State and Gomez, those never came to fruition. His 2019 NCAA Round of 12 loss ended up being his final match in an Iowa State singlet. After a year of battling injuries, Gomez announced his retirement in December 2020 and took on sort of a coaching role for the Cyclones in the ensuing, Covid-shortened season.
Shortly after the 2021 campaign, Gomez was cleared by doctors to continue competition and entered the transfer portal. With little fanfare, he later announced he was transferring to Wisconsin.
Most wrestling fans and media were unsure of exactly what the Badger program was getting with Gomez as he had just missed two full seasons.
What Wisconsin head coach Chris Bono and the Badgers got was one of the most exciting wrestlers in the nation. Because of his journey, combined with a fan-friendly, always offensive style, and a catchy slogan (Scared Money Don't Make Money), Gomez became one of the most popular collegiate wrestlers. His matches were must-see and likely included a highlight-reel move or three.
I once spoke to a prominent national champion wrestler and asked how he'd like to be remembered. He said, "As an exciting wrestler. As time passes, memories of accomplishments fade, but people remember if you were fun to watch." That exchange perfectly fits Gomez. A decade from now, we may forget whether he was third or fourth in the country or how many Big Ten titles he won. What fans will remember is a wrestler that was guaranteed action and was always looking for those next points or to lock up a fall. His career ending quietly after a late-season injury, merely a footnote.
We at InterMat salute Austin Gomez, his unlikely comeback, his collegiate career, and the next chapter; which will include runs at World and Olympic fame for Team Mexico.
To honor Gomez, we've discussed some of his most memorable collegiate matches below:
5. vs Bryce Andonian (Virginia Tech) - March 18th, 2022
Yes, that's right it's a loss. In looking at Austin Gomez's career, losses happened. He wasn't invincible. The trait that made him endearing and a fan favorite was that he was going to stick to his guns, win or lose. Watching Gomez, you were more likely to stand up in awe rather than sit through a 2-1 match decided on riding time.
This was the 2022 NCAA quarterfinals against an opponent that throws caution to the wind in a similar manner in Bryce Andonian. The two felt each other out for the first minute of the contest, but shortly after, the action started as Gomez got a takedown after trying to finish high on a leg attack and switching over to a bear hug.
Later in the first, a pair of Gomez leg attacks were thwarted at the leg instant by Andonian. In a typical match, he likely finishes both attempts. As the buzzer sounded at the end of the first period, Andonian struck with a takedown from a bodylock, similar to the situation Gomez used for a takedown.
In the second period, there was a flurry from neutral that saw both wrestlers go to their backs at one point; however, Andonian got the takedown. Unphased, Gomez finished a massive throw from a bodylock at the buzzer. One that likely could have secured a fall if there were time remaining on the clock. Andonian implored his corner to throw the challenge brick, which they did, and the sequence was overturned.
As he trailed in the third period, Gomez pushed for action and was pinned after trying a cement mixer, a move that we may discuss later.
In his next bout, Gomez would post a 7-4 victory over Kaden Gfeller to lock up All-American honors for the first time. He'd advance to the NCAA third-place bout, where the crowd got their wish, and was treated to round two versus Andonian. In another matchup filled with breathtaking flurries of action, Andonian came out on top, 10-6 and Gomez settled for fourth.
4. vs. Roman Bravo-Young (Penn State) - January 1st, 2019
At this point in time, we weren't sure exactly who or what Gomez and Roman Bravo-Young were on the collegiate level, just yet. Both were highly regarded freshmen for their respective schools, Gomez was coming off a redshirt, while Bravo-Young was competing immediately. This match took place while Gomez was still at Iowa State.
Because of the end result, you may have forgotten about how Bravo-Young nearly pinned Gomez in the first period as Gomez was trying to scramble out of a takedown attempt and held on perhaps too long.
The young Nittany Lion star controlled the action for the rest of the first period and most of the second, with most of the action coming on the mat. Once on their feet, Gomez pushed the pace and almost ran Bravo-Young out of bounds with double-under's. At the last instant, he turned his hips and tossed Bravo-Young right in front of the Penn State bench. Gomez cooly fended off any escape attempts and claimed the fall.
In the final, Gomez would lose to a redshirt freshman Daton Fix. For Bravo-Young, that would be the only time he was pinned in college and the first of only ten career losses.
3. vs. Ridge Lovett (Nebraska) - March 5th, 2022
In the two versus three match (Gomez was two) in the semifinals of the 2022 Big Ten Championships, Gomez was paired with Nebraska's dangerous Ridge Lovett. On Lovett's home mat, in front of a partisan crowd. It only took :20 for the crowd to go quiet, as Gomez sunk in his double under's quickly after the opening whistle. Like the RBY match, Gomez bullied Lovett over to the edge and turned in a similar throw against the Cornhusker.
Just like that, it was all over.
A match later, Gomez downed returning NCAA finalist Sammy Sasso (Ohio State) for his Big Ten title. That win, along with his subsequent NCAA finish, were among his best collegiate accomplishments.
2. vs. Austin DeSanto (Iowa) - December 1st, 2018
Like the RBY match, this was very early in the collegiate careers of both Gomez and Austin DeSanto, so fans weren't sure what to expect in this clash. This was the final bout in a closer-than-expected dual between the hated rivals, Iowa and Iowa State. Headed into the final bout, the Hawkeyes clung to a 19-15 dual lead. A fall from Gomez would give the Cyclones a massive upset.
Gomez was fully aware of the team score and didn't appear worried about "just" getting the win. At the time, we weren't cognizant of his "Scared Money Don't Make Money" mantra, but looking back, this match encapsulated that motto. All or nothing. Helping the team win above suffering a loss. Giving up two points for the potential of four (or a fall).
This match featured plenty of action, which resulted in an 8-8 match with about :40 remaining in the contest. Gomez had a front headlock and DeSanto was nonchalantly trying to push away from the situation. That left an opening for Gomez who used a lateral drop to toss DeSanto to his back. For the next :20 seconds, Gomez worked to get the fall; however, DeSanto was able to wiggle away. That made for a comfortable 14-9 win for Gomez but the Cyclones fell 19-18.
These two would meet in the all-important NCAA Round of 12 and DeSanto would get his revenge with a 16-5 major decision.
1. vs Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell) - November 19th, 2022
At the beginning of the 2022-23 season, the actual competition seemed like it was a mere formality for three-time NCAA champions Spencer Lee and Yianni Diakomihalis as they inched towards four national titles and college wrestling immortality. Diakomihalis came into his contest against Gomez sporting a 75-match winning streak. His only previous collegiate loss came to Jaydin Eierman almost five years prior.
As was the case in a few of these memorable matches, Gomez was on the road in front of a raucous Cornell crowd, ready to see their three-time national champion move within one match of Kyle Dake's school-record winning streak (77 matches).
After a scoreless opening stanza, Gomez broke open the scoring with a second-period escape. He then proceeded to put Diakomihalis in danger with a bodylock and a trip to his back for a takedown and two near-fall points.
In the third period, Gomez showed his early scoring sequence was no fluke as he got a takedown on a counter-attack and wrestled through a Diakomihalis scramble attempt. For good measure, Gomez was able to get one more takedown, again after a Yianni shot, to put the finishing touches on a 9-3 victory.
The loss would be Diakomihalis' only of the season, as he did secure his legacy by winning a fourth title.