The Evolution of IMAR's Offense - PART 2

written by: Sal Marandino - SEWA Asst. Coach

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Part 1 will examine Isaiah Martinez’s offensive 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 incredible series against 5x World and Olympic Gold Medalist, Jordan Burroughs, at Final X: Lincoln.


When Isaiah Martinez made his way onto the USA Wrestling Freestyle ladder in 2018, he was coming off of an extremely successful college career, having been in the NCAA finals four times and winning the tournament twice (not to mention that he was also a 4x Big Ten Champion as well.) While still in college, Martinez was a University Nationals Champion and World Team Member in 2016 and a U23 World Team Member in 2017. His moments wrestling at the Senior level in college were mixed with up-and-down results, having defaulted out of the 2016 Non-Olympic Weight World Team Trials and finishing fourth at the World Team Trials the following year. 

However, upon graduating from the University of Illinois, Isaiah Martinez would find his groove and he hit a stride in 2018, winning the US Open and the World Team Trials Challenge tournament to punch his ticket to Final X-Lincoln for a shot at the 2018 World Team. Throughout the year, we got to see a new Isaiah Martinez; somebody who has worked extremely hard to develop new attacks, utilize his left sided under hook in different ways, and become a master at using the center of the mat to dictate the pace.

The first major difference that we see in IMAR’s wrestling as he entered the freestyle circuit in 2018 was his use of the front headlock and short offense to the left side. In college, IMAR regularly looked to the bring the action up high with his left sided under hook, where as now we see him bringing the action down to the mat.

Above, IMAR utilizes a fake to the right leg and a drape over with his right hand to get Jake Sueflohn’s right leg to go back. As it does, IMAR uses the drape over to snap Sueflohn’s hands to the mat, get to the front headlock and uses it to continue snapping Sueflohn’s left hand to the mat as he circles to the left. Before he finishes the takedown, IMAR blocks the arm with his right hand and squares his hips up to keep the pressure on the upper body.

Later in the first period, we see the same position being used, only this time IMAR opts to snap Sueflohn’s hands to the mat as soon as he puts a hand on IMAR’s shoulder. The open space allows for IMAR to get the position to the mat much easier.

If his opponent looks to square up with IMAR following the snap—which is the normal reaction—he looks to attack the left leg, usually on the ankle, with his right hand and follow through with a finish.

Here we see it being used against Dan Vallimont in the 2018 US Open Finals. Notice that IMAR keeps the front headlock until his grip on the ankle is secure and the angle of his body in the right place. As Vallimont continues making an attempt to square up and fights his head away from the mat, IMAR releases the head and switches his grip to the leg, finishing with a head outside single.

And here, IMAR keeps the front headlock, dropping his elbow as he moves towards the finish. This puts the weight in front of Vallimont, forcing his hands to the mat as IMAR squares up.

If IMAR can’t beat the guy to the angle, he still keeps the grip on the ankle and allows for the guy’s head to pop up. Once this happens, he opts to bring the foot up and finish with the leg in the air. Below, we see him in this scenario against Brian Murphy at the 2019 US Open.

And also here against Jason Nolf at the 2019 World Team Trials Challenge Tournament.

Initially, Nolf looks to square up, but chooses to try for a kick out and goes into the quadpod position. IMAR keeps control of the foot and secures it on his far hip as he climbs towards the hips.

Having been on the freestyle circuit full time for over a year now, IMAR has also developed a strong ability to use his attacks to score a ton of points from push outs. Like the attack against Brian Murphy, IMAR uses his short offense to get to the leg on the left side and drive up to finish with a push out. Also, IMAR’s ability to control the center of the mat, forcing guys to wrestle backwards and move away from the zone, opens up a lot of scoring opportunities. During the best of three series against Jason Nolf at the 2019 World Team Trials Challenge Tournament, Martinez was able to put up 24 points across three matches with 17 of them coming from push outs or scoring big points on the edge.

Another example of how strong IMAR’s mat awareness has become, here is a flurry against Japan at the 2019 World Cup that could’ve gone to waste, but instead is turned to a score.

Lastly, IMAR has also incorporated a far leg knee pick set up by an inside tie on the left and an elbow tie on the right. He uses the elbow control on the right to post on the elbow and push it up, switching off to a low double as he collects both legs. Having both legs tied up, he moves to a leg lace once the action moves to the mat to score in bunches.

IMAR’s technical evolution throughout the last year has definitely been on display as he moved through the US Open and World Team Trials. After winning both events, and finding success overseas, Martinez would punch his ticket to Final X once again with a chance to redeem his 2018 performance against five-time World and Olympic Gold Medalist, Jordan Burroughs. Their most recent series was absolutely incredible, and IMAR closed the gap by forcing a third match. The next and final part of this series will look at their 2018 matchup, what changed in their most recent bout, and what next year’s qualifying process could mean for Isaiah Martinez and the 74kg weight class as the world looks towards Tokyo in 2020.

*We do not own the rights to any of these videos, clips, or photos. This post is not monetized. 

breakdownSal Marandino