by David Mendez
We give Arizona State University a lot of crap over here — partially because of fierce independence Tucson exhibits against our neighbors in the Valley of the Sun, partially because of the huge in-state college rivalry that attracts national sponsors, and partially because ASU fans get grumpy when we make fun of their school.
But Anthony Robles, the one-legged wrestler who completely conquered his sport en route to an undefeated senior campaign, capped off by a national championship, is one of the better stories to come out of Tempe.
Sports blog Deadspin has a great profile of Robles, delving into his back story, the development of his technique and Robles' potential future in the sport.
The critical thing about the scramble is that, at the college level and beyond, it is almost entirely reflexive, moving far too fast to be thought through. Scrambling wrestlers rely on muscle memory, developed through extensive repetition and retained for years. (Hence the theatrics in the audience at many wrestling meets, where former competitors jerk their legs, claw the air, and otherwise try to gesticulate their way free of the fracas before them.) Occasionally, a wrestler exerts some conscious control as he scrambles, deliberately trying something new and counter-instinctual. This is usually the point at which he loses the scramble.
Wrestlers scrambling against Robles regularly reached for the leg that wasn't there, the way people who learned to drive on a manual transmission car sometimes grab for a phantom gear stick in an automatic. This was especially true when opponents tried to "turn the corner" clockwise, or slip past Robles's right side to complete a take-down. With no right ankle to catch hold of, they lacked the anchor they needed to finish their attack. A number of other moves were also literally out of reach, including the navy ride, the western ride, and some cradles. One of the most popular and effective maneuvers for the man on top, known simply as "legs," involves lacing one leg through the bottom man's same-side leg and turning it outward at the hip. Needless to say, there is no "legs" without legs.
Whenever an opponent attempted to gain purchase on a part of Robles that does not exist, muscle memory failed him. It was a bewildering and anxiety-provoking moment. "A lot of the stuff you're used to doing on a more able-bodied wrestler, you can't do," Matthew Snyder, Robles's first-round victim at the 2011 championships, told me. "You're looking for the leg and it's just not there." When this happened repeatedly, as it did for anyone who hadn't trained with a one-legged wrestler before facing Robles, frustration, confusion—and ultimately demoralization—set in. This was a fatal combination. No wrestler can win with despondency in his heart, at least not against a foe as formidable as Robles.