When the Sun Devil wrestlers hit the mats in the 1950’s at ASU, they knew their blood, sweat, and sacrifices would put in motion the powerful legacy that is “Sun Devil Wrestling". With one NCAA National Championship, 10 individual championships, and over 100 All-Americans, wrestlers know they can build a special career at Arizona State. The mats at ASU have held recent champions like Anthony Robles and Bubba Jenkins and historical greats like Cain Velasquez, Eric Larkin and Dan St. Johns. This is strength. This is success. This is Sun Devil Wrestling.
When you talk about ASU wrestling and its legacy, it almost always begins with some mention of Curley Culp. Culp was a two-sport star at Arizona State, competing in wrestling and football. He was a 1967 NCAA wrestling champion at heavyweight for the Sun Devils, the first NCAA wrestling champion in Arizona State history.
He received the Gorriarian Award for the Most Pins at the 1967 NCAA Championships. Culp was also a two-time Arizona state wrestling champion from Yuma High School (1962, 1963). He is a charter member of the Arizona State Hall of Fame, a member of the Sun Devil Ring of Honor and recently was chosen to the Pro Football Hall of Fame after his exceptional career as a professional football player.
Dan Severn was another pioneer of Sun Devil wrestling and the sport in general as well as his contributions to the world of MMA fighting after his graduation from ASU. Compiling a career record of 127-11-1 at ASU, Severn was a two-time All-American at ASU and scored 73 wins by fall in his career – a mark that still stands as the school record over 30 years after his graduation. He would go on to earn the nickname “The Beast” as a champion in the UFC and has since been inducted into its Hall of Fame as well.
One of the most accomplished coaches at any level in the history of the sport, Bobby Douglas spent 18 years at the helm of the Sun Devil program, making it the only institution west of the Rockies to win an NCAA Championship in 1988. ASU finished in the top three of the conference standings in 17 of the 18 tournaments he coached. Douglas has served as a U.S. Olympic coach five times and has earned a place in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame as well.
One of just four Sun Devils to ever become a four-time All-American, Charles rejoined the Sun Devils program as head coach from 2009 to 2014. He earned the Pac-10 Coach of the Year award in 2010 as he guided the Sun Devils to a sixth-place finish at the NCAA Championships while coaching two NCAA Champions.
When Anthony Robles was born without a right leg, there was little hope that he would go on to live a normal life, much less one focused on pursuing success in a sport as demanding as wrestling. But Robles proved to be a force that is unstoppable. With steely determination, a dedication to sharpening his mental strength and adapting his technique to win matches, Robles went from being the worst wrestler in the city of Mesa, Ariz., to become the 2011 NCAA Division I Champion, a three-time All-American and NWCA Outstanding Wrestler of the Tournament-all the while winning with the disadvantage of wrestling able-bodied athletes. Robles was the recipient of the 2011 ESPYs Jimmy V Award for Perseverance. In 2012 he published a book about his life story, Unstoppable: From Underdog To Undefeated: How I Became A Champion. A symbol of perseverance, Robles believes courage and the tenacity to never give up on your dream can make you unstoppable-no matter how overwhelming the odds. In 2014-15, Robles joined the Pac-12 Networks Broadcast team.
At the start of the 2005-06 season, the Arizona State University wrestling program moved into the new Riches Wrestling Complex. The 9,600 square foot complex affords the Sun Devil wrestlers a spacious setting in which to prepare for the best Division I athletes in the nation. The wrestling program equipped its new home with three full size (40 x 40) competition mats spread out over 7,200 square feet of usable mat space. The remaining 24,000 square feet house 40 lockers along with showers and restrooms.
The Sun Devil wrestling program moved in to the Riches Wrestling Complex at the start of the 2005-05 season. The elite facility gave the wrestling program its own place to practice on the Tempe campus and moved it out of having to share time with other teams at Wells Fargo Arena.
The Sun Devils wrestling the majority of their home duals at the Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe. The multi-purpose 10,754 seat arena opened in 1974 and has been the home venue of numerous ASU wrestling champions and All-Americans. The Sun Devils recently hosted the 2013 Pac-12 Wrestling Championships at Wells Fargo.
The ASU Wrestling program is ultra-competitive on the mats and in the classroom. The student-athletes work closely with the Office of Student Athlete Development to ensure that they hold the student-first mindset and have repeatedly held outstanding team GPAs. In 2014, ASU’s own Chace Eskam was named the Pac-12 Wrestling Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
Through the years, the Sun Devils have earned 59 Pac-12 All-Academic nods and 34 of those have come within the last decade. Of those 59 selections, 25 of them have been first-team honorees.
Jake Meredith became the first Sun Devil to be named the Pac-12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year for the 2012-13 season. Meredith graduated with a bachelor’s degree last spring while redshirting what would have been his senior season with a knee injury. He worked towards a master’s degree in global technology and development and has a GPA of 3.42.
A man of many talents, former volunteer assistant coach Aaron Simpson was an elite wrestler for the Sun Devils during his time as a student-athlete. A two-time Pac-10 Champion, Simpson – who went on to a productive MMA career – was also a First-Team All-Academic selection in 1996 and a second-team selection in 1997 and 1998.
One of the most academically successful wrestlers in ASU history, Jason Trulson is the only Sun Devil to earn three conference All-Academic first-team nods. Trulson also received a 2008 Pac-10 Post-Graduate Scholarship.
When the conference first began awarding All-Academic honors in 1991, ASU had three first-team selections in Tim Gressley, Sean Griswold and Rex Holman (pictured) as they set the bar for those that would come after them through the years.
Chace Eskam became the second Sun Devil to be named the Pac-12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2014-15. Eskam started each dual bout at heavyweight for the Sun Devils, and also earned the NCAA Postgraduate scholarship.
The Pac-12 conference is highly competitive. In 2016 the Pac-12 Championships included Cal State Bakersfield, Stanford, Boise State, Oregon State, Cal Poly, and of course, Arizona State. The Sun Devils hosted the event in Tempe, Ariz., for the fourth time since 1995 and the second time since 2004.
Since joining the Pac-12 wrestling ranks for the 1978-79 season, the Sun Devils have won 16 of 35 Pac-12 Championships that have been contested and trail only Oregon State (21) for most in Pac-12 history. Through the years, ASU has had 80 different athletes win 183 individual conference championships. The Sun Devils are also the only team out of the league to win an NCAA Championship. Of the 35 NCAA Individual Championships won by Pac-12 Conference student-athletes, 10 have come from ASU.
Ryan Bader is the only Sun Devil to win a Pac-12 Championship at 197 pounds, doing so three times in 2003, 2004 and 2006.
Prior to becoming a two-time UFC Heavyweight Champion of the World, Cain Velasquez was a two-time Pac-10 heavyweight champion for the Sun Devils in 2005 and 2006.
The Sun Devils have won 16 Pac-10 Championships through the years, but they were also the WAC Champions in 1976 before moving to the Pac-10 in 1978.
Only the Oregon State wrestling program (19) has won more Pac-12 team championships than the Sun Devils’ 16.
Nicknamed “The Beast”, Dan Severn became the first multiple-time champion for the Sun Devils in the Pac-10 Conference. He is one of only two Sun Devils to win conference championships in both the WAC and the Pac-10.
The Pac-12 Wrestler of the Year, Stauffer (184 pounds) went 37-3 on the season and extended his career record to 80-19. ASU’s first Pac-12 Champion and All-American since 2011, Stauffer placed fourth at 184 pounds at the 2015 NCAA Wrestling Championships.
Pagdilao went 21-5 in 2015 as he claimed ASU’s first individual title Pac-12 since Anthony Robles (125) and Jake Meredith (184) in 2011, defeating Oregon State’s Abraham Rodriguez in a 7-4 decision in the 149-pound final bout. He was ASU’s first conference champion at 149 pounds since Erik Larkin in 2003.
The powerhouse that is Sun Devil Wrestling boasts one National Championship, 10 individual NCAA Championships, 18 Conference Titles (16 Pac-10 and two WAC) and over 100 All-Americans. The Sun Devils are the only program west of the Rockies to ever win an NCAA Championship, doing so in 1988.
They also have sent eight wrestlers to the Olympics over the course of six Summer Games, with head coach Zeke Jones and Townsend Saunders each earning silver medals on the grandest stage. Jones would go on to be an assistant coach for the U.S. national team for several Olympiads before taking over as the head U.S. Freestyle Coach for the 2012 London Games. Zeke returned to his alma mater in 2014 as head coach.
Additionally, many ASU wrestlers have become MMA stars including Cain Velasquez and Ryan Bader. ASU Wrestling also is proud to have been the school of two NCAA Champions in 2011 alone, Anthony Robles and Bubba Jenkins.
A national hero as well as an Arizona State University Legend, Anthony Robles is known for winning the individual National Championship in the 125-pound weight class despite being born with only one leg. In his final year of eligibility at Arizona State (2010-2011) he went 36-0 on the year, became a Pac-10 Champion for the third time, an NCAA All-American for the third time and, of course, a national champion and an inspiration to all that know his story.
Bubba Jenkins won the 2010-11 National Championship in the 157-pound weight class in his first and only year at Arizona State, defeating Penn State’s David Taylor – the young man who took Jenkins’ spot on the roster – by pin for ASU’s second championship of the 2011 NCAA Championships. The wrestler is now a mixed martial artist and currently fights for Resurrection Fighting Alliance in the lightweight division.
The Sun Devil wrestling program is the ONLY program west of the Rockies to ever win an NCAA Championship, doing so under Bobby Douglas in 1988.
One of the most successful wrestlers in ASU history, Eric Larkin is the only Sun Devil to be awarded the Dan Hodge Award, which is considered the Heisman Trophy of collegiate wrestling. In 2003, Larkin went 34-0 en route to the NCAA title at 149 pounds, as well as his fourth-straight Pac-12 title.
Zeke Jones posted a career record of 134-21-3 as a Sun Devil, posting the fourth-most wins of any Sun Devil in history. Jones was a member of the 1988 NCAA Championship team while earning three All-America honors and three Pac-10 titles. He went on to take the silver medal at the 1992 Barcelona Games and was the 1991 World Champion and is a Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. Jones was hired as head coach of ASU wrestling in the spring of 2014.
Inducted into the ASU Sports Hall of Fame in 2008, Markus Mollica was a two-time NCAA Champion and one of the most decorated wrestlers in school history. Mollica earned his first title as a freshman at 158 pounds in 1993, making him the first freshman in any sport to capture a national title. Mollica was a four-time Pac-10 Champion and four-time All-American.
The Sun Devil wrestling program has established itself as a hotbed for Mixed Martial Arts talent, with numerous former-student athletes going on to long and lucrative careers in the assorted divisions of MMA. Current UFC fans will recognize the faces of Cain Velasquez, Ryan Bader, CB Dollaway and John Moraga while the more seasoned fan will relate to the like of Dan Severn and Dan Henderson.
The Sun Devils have produced nearly 20 wrestlers out of the program that have gone on to utilize their skills professionally and perhaps none more so in recent memory than Velasquez, who is the current UFC Heavyweight Champion of the World.
While under the name of John Espinoza at Arizona State, John Moraga wasn’t necessarily the most notable member on the roster but he has gone on to big things beyond his time in a Maroon and Gold singlet. Currently hosting a 13-1 MMA record, Moraga is ranked as the #9 flyweight in the world by Sherdog.
ASU wrestling alumnus Dan Henderson held the distinction of being the only Pride fight in history to hold tow belts at one time, having earned the titles at middleweight and light heavyweight before making the transition to the UFC.
Cain Velasquez wrestled for Arizona State University for three seasons (2003-2006) and was the 2005 Pac-10 Wrestler of the Year after winning the meet in his first attempt. The heavyweight also placed fourth in the country in 2005 and fifth in 2006 at the NCAA National Championships. He joined the American Kickboxing Academy immediately after college and won the UFC Heavyweight Championship title twice in 2010 and 2012.
CB Dollaway wrestled alongside Cain Velasquez and Ryan Bader at Arizona State and also propelled himself to All-American Status in 2006 with a fifth place finish in the 184-pound weight class. He started his UFC career after graduation with a runner-up finish on “The Ultimate Fighter”, and immediately after was the first to ever win a fight by using the Peruvian Necktie.
The Sun Devils’ success can only be a positive reflection of the coaching staff. Zeke Jones, member of the 1988 NCAA Championship team, was hired in April of 2014 to take over the program. ASU’s seventh head coach in program history, Jones was the USA Wrestling National Freestyle Coach. Joining Jones are his two assistant coaches, 19-year coaching veteran Lee Pritts, and two-time NCAA Champion from Oklahoma State, Chris Pendleton.
Zeke Jones - Head Coach
Member of the 1988 NCAA Championship team, Zeke Jones returned to his alma mater as head coach in April of 2014. Jones previously served as USA Wrestling’s National Freestyle coach, and as an Olympic head coach, Jones’ athletes earned two gold medals and one bronze in the 2012 London Games.
At ASU, Jones was a three-time All-American and Pac-10 Champion for the Sun Devils. A national runner-up at 118, Jones sits at No. 4 in ASU’s career record book in both overall victories (134) and dual victories (59). He also holds the school record for dual match victories in a season with 22 during the 1989-90 campaign.
Lee Pritts – Assistant Coach
19-year coaching veteran Lee Pritts added a solid dynamic to the team when he was hired in 2012. During his time as a coach, Pritts has worked with 18 All-Americans, 60 NCAA qualifiers, two NCAA Champions, four NCAA semifinalists and one Junior World Champion.
Lee has gone through coaching stints at Missouri, NC State and Old Dominion and each program has seen an immediate surge upon his arrival. Regarded as one of the top recruiters in the nation and exemplified that with his consensus top-10 recruiting class he brought in at NC State prior to joining the Sun Devils.
Chris Pendleton – Assistant Coach
Chris Pendleton, who served four years as the head assistant coach at the University of Wyoming, was named assistant wrestling coach at Arizona State, head wrestling coach Zeke Jones announced on July 30, 2014.
During his time at Wyoming, Pendleton specialized in training the team’s upper weights, and played a critical role in the team’s success. With the Cowboys, Pendleton’s athletes made great impacts on the team, with his wrestlers winning back-to-back West Regional titles, two-straight All-American honors and multiple conference championships. Under the supervision of Pendleton, UW also won its fourth regular-season Mountain West dual title in six years.