Anthony Robles proved he was an exceptional wrestler by going undefeated his final two seasons of high school, and then earning All-America honors his last three years at Arizona State.
However, Robles became an overnight sensation by outpointing defending national champion Matt McDonough of Iowa, 7-1, to cap off an undefeated season at 125 pounds at the 2011 NCAA Championships.
People from all across the country, even those who weren’t sports fans, took notice of Robles’ accomplishment, inasmuch as he dominated despite competing with only one leg. The long-time Mesa, Arizona, resident was born without his entire right leg.
It was a remarkable turnaround for Robles, who first took up wrestling as an eighth-grader and finished last in his weight class at his first Mesa City tournament.
“I just remember losing and just feeling really discouraged about it, and not just with wrestling but my life in general, just people having low expectations of me because I was missing a leg,” said Robles in a phone interview with The Herald Journal. “... But after losing that tournament, I remember going home and just sitting in my room. That was kind of my deciding factor for me ... and the breaking point for me, where I said, ‘You know what, I’m not going to stop training until I’m the best wrestler out of Arizona.’
“And really I never looked back from there. I wrote down that dream on a little sticky note that I still have to this day of being a state champ and being the best, and every day my goal was to get a little bit closer to it.”
Robles’ life was transformed after his breakthrough achievements at nationals in 2011. Later that year, the three-time Pac-10 Conference champion won the Jimmy V Award for perseverance at the ESPY’s and was presented his award by Jay Leno.
A year later, Robles was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. Also in 2012, the son of Judy and Ron Robles had his autobiography published — “Unstoppable: From Underdog To Undefeated: How I Became A Champion.” Additionally, he was hired as ESPN’s wrestling analyst in 2012, and has been employed in that position ever since.
In 2013, Robles was appointed by then-U.S. President Barack Obama to the “President’s Council of Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.”
In the next couple of months, production for the biopic “Unstoppable” will get underway. The movie is slated to be released in theaters next year.
“That’s the big focus right now besides this wrestling camp is I’m getting back into wrestling shape, getting close to 125 (pounds) so I can do all of the wrestling scenes in the movie,” said Robles, who was born in La Mirada, California. “I won’t be doing the acting, but I’ll be doing all of the wrestling, so I want to make sure that’s looking good.”
The camp/clinic Robles is referring to will take place at Ridgeline High School this Saturday. Later that evening, he will be speaking free of charge at the Ridgeline Auditorium. Details for this clinic/camp will run on Page B2 of Thursday’s Herald Journal.
Gary Lewis, Robles’ manager since 2011, moved to North Logan three years ago and has some local connections. Representing Robles throughout these past eight-plus years has been an incredible experience for Lewis.
“In the last eight years of representing him, I have made it very clear ... that Anthony has done more for me than I have ever done for him,” Lewis said. “The content of his character, his humility, his ability to never be discouraged, to never feel defeated, to be grateful (is humbling to me). ... I look at those attributes and I see the sincerity of them and how they impact and empower him.
“... I’ve been around a lot of athletes, a lot of celebrities and no one, no one, comes close to him, and it has everything to do with his humility, his gratitude, his fortitude, his tenacious, his uncompromising ability just to be (a) good (person).”
Robles, who decided to remove his prosthetic leg for good when he was 3 years old, is thoroughly looking forward to interacting with and instructing the kids this weekend.
“Just teaching these kids, I want to share with them not only the skills I’ve learned on the mat ... but just the life lessons I was able to carry away from the sport — just that discipline that it teaches you, the accountability, those unfortunate moments where you have to accept a loss, when you have to come back from a failure or from a deficit,” Robles said. “(Also) how do you respond to adversity, so that’s what I’m going to be sharing with the kids, as well.”
This will be the first clinic Robles has ever hosted — he has been a guest instructor at several camps — and he’s excited to “just share the wisdom that I’ve gained from the sport that other people have taught me through my journey. Hopefully that will help some of them along their path.”
“I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of great coaches throughout the country, teaching clinics and just doing wrestling commentating, so I’ve learned a lot,” said Robles, who is the world record-holder for pull-ups in a minute with 62. “And so I’m just excited now to have the opportunity to really have my own camp and run it the way I want to, and just really give these kids a quality experience that’s going to benefit them on the mat and off the mat. ... Hopefully this camp goes well because I would like to be coming back every single year, and I have a lot of connections within the wrestling community.”
Robles forever became a legend when he not only defeated McDonough, but dominated in the first rounds to cap off a 36-0 senior season. Robles, who took control in that match with a well-executed tilt, was rewarded for his efforts as he was selected as the tourney’s most outstanding grappler.
The 2011 Pac-10 Wrestler of the Year was extremely motivated to have a monster senior season after having what he called a “disappointing” end to his junior year. Robles, who went 122-23 during his time at ASU, placed seventh at nationals in 2010 after being a top four seed heading into the tournament.
Robles remembers ripping out a photo of McDonough in a wrestling magazine prior to his senior campaign and taping it to his locker. McDonough and Robles actually ran into each other at the 2019 NCAA Championships and had a pleasant conversation.
“He’s a great wrestler, but he’s an even better person,” Robles said of McDonough. “... I just remember telling him, I said, ‘Thank you because you really helped me step my game up.’ Just training to beat him every single day, he really brought the best out of me.”
Robles finished his collegiate career as the Sun Devils’ record-holder in bonus-point wins (92) and victories by technical fall (47). He also shattered ASU’s single-season standard in both categories — bonus-point wins (31) and tech falls (24).
His success at Arizona State was especially noteworthy, inasmuch as Robles was a walk-on during his first two seasons in Tempe. Robles, who redshirted in 2006-07, had a partial academic scholarship, but worked at night at an airport to pay the rest of his tuition.
“Just looking back on that, I was just very grateful for having to work like that,” Robles said. “You know, it made me hungrier. I felt like I was putting so much in, I wasn’t going to be satisfied with anything but a national title.”
The two-time prep state titleist — Robles went a combined 96-0 during those two seasons and also won high school senior nationals — was awarded a full-ride wrestling scholarship after his first two academic years at ASU.
It didn’t take long for Lewis to realize Robles was a “special” person. Robles’ mother actually initiated contact with Lewis via email about five weeks after her son captured his NCAA title. At first, Lewis declined being Robles’ manager, because he wanted the inspirational wrestler to be represented by somebody who was more well-known.
However, Robles called Lewis frequently, daily at times, and convinced him to take the job.
“He just wouldn’t leave me alone,” Lewis said. “... He took a leap of faith signing me on.”
Lewis was also galvanized by Robles’ mother, and Robles said Judy Robles has been one of his biggest inspirational figures.
“I’d say definitely, No. 1, just growing up with my mom,” Robles said when asked who inspires him. “You know, she always taught me to demand the best out of myself, to never set the bar low and never make any excuses for myself. And so, just being raised with that mentality, I never really saw my missing leg as a disability; I just saw it as a challenge.”