The Evolution of IMAR's Offense - PART 1
written by: Sal Marandino - SEWA Asst. Coach
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Part 1 will examine Isaiah Martinez’s offense during his illustrious NCAA wrestling career with the Fighting Illini. Part 2 will focus on Isaiah Maritnez’s incredible year (2019) on the Freestyle circuit and how his offensive wrestling has evolved since his days on the college scene. Part 3 will look to break down the series against 5x World and Olympic Gold Medalist, Jordan Burroughs, at Final X: Lincoln.
Out of high school, the 3x California State Champion and Junior Freestyle National Champion Isaiah Martinez would make his way to the Midwest and arrive on the campus of The University of Illinois-Champaign in 2013, ready to make the jump onto the college wrestling scene. At the start of his college career, IMAR put together a 13-2 record in his redshirt season, finishing 4th at Midlands and second at the FILA Junior Nationals. The following year, however, Isaiah Martinez would enter the Fighting Illini’s starting lineup at 157-pound and would begin his trailblazing run at becoming a 4x Big Ten Champion, 4x NCAA Finalist, 4x NCAA All-American, 2x NCAA Champion.
The majority of Isaiah Martinez’s wrestling in his college career would take place from a left-handed under-hook. His lefty under-hook was truly devastating, and he would use his sturdy frame to force his opponents to elevate their posture and engage in upper-body battles that many wanted to avoid. Heading into his Big Ten Finals match with Minnesota’s Dylan Ness, who was ranked third at the time, Martinez had accumulated five wins by major decisions, ten wins by technical falls, and five wins by pin fall. Ness, no stranger to wrestling up high, seems to invite IMAR into the undertook exchanges and we got to see just how comfortable IMAR is when wrestling above the waist.
At the end of the first minute, Martinez uses a fake and a snap to bring the action to the mat and opts to switch his left hand to an overtie, attempting to shrug Ness by (we see him use this same attack quite often in later years.) After attacking the leg, Martinez switches to the hip and gets an over-under body lock, under-hooking the left and trapping the right arm. As the action moves to the mat, Martinez releases the over-hook and under-hooks Ness’s left leg to keep his hips grounded, preventing Ness’s signature elevator.
With a 9-4 lead and 25 seconds on the clock, we Martinez use the same technique, this time entering the left-sided under-hook from his feet and using the momentum to float his hips off of Ness’s elevated leg.
While Martinez uses his left sided under-hook to force his opponent to elevate their posture and to get his hips in, he also favors a throw by when people attempt to clear the under-hook. Here, also in his Big Ten finals match with Dylan Ness, Martinez obtains his lefty-under-hook and looks to throw it by, but as Ness circles to square up and invite the position with double overs, Martinez elevates him a bit more, hips in, and off balances Ness as he redirects his upper body towards the mat.
IMAR’s throw by with a left-sided under-hook had a lot of success, however, especially against Jason Nolf in the 2016 NCAA Finals.
In the final seconds of the match, Martinez digs the left sided under-hook and keeps Nolf’s head buried under his chest. With Nolf’s butt back, Martinez walks him to the right with the under-hook and violently shifts the position to the mat. Notice that Martinez directs Nolf’s hands to the mat, not away from him. Because the position moved directly to the mat and not away from him, Martinez was able to secure the takedown quickly and avoid trying to finish a head inside single on the mat with seconds remaining.
Aside from preferring to wrestle from a left-sided under-hook, Martinez was also very comfortable with attacking knee pull singles to the right leg, utilizing a right-sided overtie to set up shrugs, and using his hands in the open space to set up leg attacks.
Wrestling Cornell’s Brian Realbuto in the 2015 NCAA Finals, Martinez found difficulty getting to an under-hook against Realbuto’s three point stance. Entering the last minute of the first period, however, Martinez utilizes a snap down to get underneath of Realbuto’s left arm and move to a head inside single, cutting across the body to finish with a double to the opposite side.
Later in the match, Martinez uses a squared stance and an inside collar tie to pop off a right-sided knee pull, scoring his second takedown of the match.
Notice that as Martinez level changes and drops his right hand to the knee, he uses his left-handed collar tie to move Realbuto’s head out of the way, shifting the weight away from the right leg. Shifting the weight onto the opposite leg, once you have a grip on the leg that you are attacking, makes it much easier to bring the leg in the air. However, Realbuto does a good job at fighting back in bounds and brings the position down to the mat. Martinez stays locked on to the foot and follows through with the spin from Realbuto. Notice though, how Martinez folds his left shoe laces down to the mat and brings his trail leg up, almost sitting through to his hip. This allows him hide his feet and eliminate a scramble attempt from Realbuto to finish the takedown.
Another area that Martinez really excels in is using his hands in the open space to generate leg attacks. The threat of his lefty under-hook supports his hand fakes, usually causing his opponents to overcommit to the defense.
And below, we see hand fakes to a leg attack being utilized against Penn State’s Vincenzo Joseph.
Lastly, referring back to his overtie offense that we talked about earlier, IMAR uses a strong left side overtie to shrug his opponents by.
Here we see the overtie being adjusted following a half shot from Joseph. As Joseph’s hand comes back up from the mat, IMAR removes his hand from the shoulder and chooses to readjust over top of Joseph’s tie. He throws the position down to the mat and secures the hip for the takedown.
Above, we see the same position being used on Joseph once again, this time in the 2017 NCAA Finals, and the overtie hand being readjusted from IMAR’s half shot.
The main takeaway from IMAR’s wrestling while he was in college is that a large majority of it was spent in the left-sided under-hook, without very many attacks to the left side. Martinez is primarily a left-leg lead, but is also comfortable wrestling from a squared stance. Aside from having a lefty head outside single, Martinez rarely used it in the bulk of his attacks. What is interesting is that when IMAR graduates from the University of Illinois and steps onto the freestyle circuit, his offense drastically changes. He begins to find a home with his short offense to the left side and we see him utilizing his left-sided under hook much less than when he wore the Orange and Blue. He also begins to incorporate left sided leg attacks to his arsenal.
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