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Iowa's Spencer Lee talks Pokémon obsession, outstanding-wrestler controversy

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

Spencer Lee is on board with Iowa wrestling fans who were perplexed that Penn State’s Bo Nickal was awarded outstanding wrestler at the NCAA Championships last weekend in Cleveland.

But Lee’s vote wouldn’t have gone toward himself, either — even though he scored more team points (27) than any other wrestler at Quicken Loans Arena.

The 125-pound NCAA champ would’ve voted for Penn State 149-pounder Zain Retherford, a senior who wrapped up his third straight NCAA title Saturday night.

Iowa's Spencer Lee celebrates after winning the 125 pound national championship over Rutgers' Nick Suriano at the NCAA Wrestling Championships at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio on Saturday, March 17, 2018.

Nickal accrued one major decision and three regular decisions before pinning Ohio State’s Myles Martin in the 184-pound final, a move that clinched the team title for the Nittany Lions.

By comparison, Lee had two pins and two technical falls last week in becoming Iowa's first true freshman national champ since 1993; Retherford had a pin, two tech falls and two decisions in capping his college career on a 94-match winning streak.

“Bo is an amazing wrestler, don’t get me wrong,” Lee told the Hawk Central radio show on Wednesday night. “… As soon as Bo pinned Myles, I looked at my Dad and said, ‘He’s going to get O.W.’ Just because every single tournament I’ve ever been to, the outstanding wrestler award has not gone to the outstanding wrestler. It’s either the upset award or the team-race award. And that’s kind of how I see it.”

When Nickal got the award (which is done via emailed votes by the coaches), Lee said, "it just kind of blew my mind. Because when you think of O.W., you think of dominance. And that’s why I thought of Zain." 

Lee, 19, discussed a wide range of topics during Wednesday’s 14-minute interview on KXNO (AM 1460) in Des Moines.

On being a competitive Pokémon player who chose the show's theme song as his walk-out music for his 125-pound title bout vs. Rutgers’ Nick Suriano: “People may think it’s a joke and laugh while I run out to it. That stuff fires me up. That’s like my childhood right there.”

On roommate Jacob Warner possibly matching Lee’s title run after the 197-pounder comes out of redshirt next season: “I do see that, actually. He’s that good.”

On which world freestyle championships he’d like to compete in later this year (he is eligible for juniors, U-23 and seniors): “Feasibly, junior worlds sounds the most enticing, just because I’d be the first American to win three junior world titles. That’d be a lot of fun. For right now, I’m going to talk to Tom and Terry (Brands) and see what the plan is.”

Also on Wednesday’s show, the Register’s Chad Leistikow and Mark Emmert broke down the basketball transfer situation (will there be more?) and the spring-football depth chart. Hawk Central airs every Wednesday night on KXNO, with the podcast available on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, SoundCloud and at HawkCentral.com.