There's no secret to the success of Gio Martinez. Ask anyone who's wrestled with him or just seen him on the mat for Hoover High.
“His strength,” Tornadoes sophomore Joshua Lee said of the reason for Martinez’ success. “He’s like crazy strong.”
Lee has been Martinez’s training partner for most of the year. He estimates he’s won about 20% of the more than 100 matches he’s had with Martinez.
“I was close to beating him the other day until he just benched me off of him,” said Lee, who wrestles at 195 pounds. “Yeah, he’s really strong.”
That strength has lifted Martinez to a wildly successful past two weeks. The senior 220-pounder has won his last four matches, all by pinfalls, and it’s led him to a Rio Hondo League individual title in the second year of the Tornadoes program and first in the league.
“I struggled learning technique, so during matches I depend on strength,” said Martinez, who also anchored the Tornadoes offensive line at center during football season. “I'm probably like one of the strongest guys in the league. I work out more than I practice, so that's what helps me in wrestling.”
With the league championship in hand, Martinez is set to compete in the two-day CIF Southern Section Southern Division Individual Tournament, which begins Feb. 15 at Rancho Verde High in Moreno Valley.
While Martinez is Hoover’s only league champion, fellow Tornadoes Arthur Ghukasyan (145) and Sebastian Ghauliance (160) will join Martinez as top-three finishers in their league’s weight classes.
“I am proud of Gio because he’s accomplished so much throughout this year,” said Lee, who took fourth in his weight class at league. “Even though it was a beginning year and we weren’t ready for wrestling, to see him get up to league finals and get first place; I’m really proud of him. I’m proud to call him my friend and excited see him do well in CIF.”
For the first half of the Rio Hondo League season, Martinez’ strength wasn’t on full display. He entered the wrestling season at 230 pounds, fresh out of football.
It was a bit of a struggle for Martinez, as his opponents were often a lot bigger than him with heavyweights being allowed to weigh up to 285 pounds.
“He’s so strong and he’s going against guys 40, 50 pounds heavier,” Hoover Coach Mark Bitetti said. “He does have a lot of mobility and that’s a plus, but that’s a lot of weight to be giving up all the time.”
Bitetti wanted Martinez to cut weight and wrestle at 220 at the beginning of the year, but Martinez admitted he didn’t put much effort into doing that in the “first couple of weeks.” Once he changed his eating habits the weight burned off in practice and he presented a whole new matchup problem — with his raw power and low, thick frame — his league opponents couldn’t solve.
On Jan. 24, Martinez made his 220 debut in a league dual with Monrovia. He pinned his opponent in 58 seconds. He followed that up with another quick pinfall victory in a meet with La Cañada five days later.
With only two matches under his belt at the new weight class, Martinez didn’t know what to expect coming into the league tournament Feb. 3. He came in as the top seed and pinned his first opponent with 21 seconds left in the first period.
For the first time in his short career at 220, a Martinez match went into the second period in the league championship bout. It ended with another Martinez pin 1:05 into the second frame.
In just his second year wrestling and first at the varsity level, Martinez is still walking blind into CIF Individuals next weekend, along with Bitetti.
“I think [Ghukasyan and Martinez] both have a chance to do pretty well, but I haven’t seen these other leagues, I’ve only seen our league,” Bitetti said. “In our division, I really don’t know what to expect, I really don’t.”
No matter who Martinez is wrestling against, Bitetti feels there’s one thing he can be pretty sure of.
“I don’t know if he’s going to go against anyone stronger than him,” he said. “There’s going to be guys with more experience and technique, but not strength.”