Justin and Josh Portillo, twin college wrestlers from Iowa, will wrestle each other in Grand View vs. Nebraska-Kearney
The last time Justin Portillo wrestled his twin brother, Josh, was in middle school. It was a local tournament in north-central Iowa. A girl that Justin had a crush on was in the gym that day, so, of course, he made a deal with Josh.
“We had an agreement before the match to not do anything crazy or stupid,” Justin recalls. “Basically, don’t embarrass me.”
They shook hands and things were going according to plan — until the third period.
Justin leaned in a little too hard, Josh liked what he felt and tossed Justin to his back for a takedown and back points.
“It felt perfect,” Josh says with a smile in his retelling.
Josh won the match. Justin ran off crying. Didn’t even talk to the girl afterward.
“That still hurts,” Justin says now, before smirking and adding: “I still think about that.”
“I don’t know what it was, but I forgot,” Josh adds. “I actually felt really bad about it because he was really upset and really angry.”
The Portillo brothers, Clarion-Goldfield-Dows graduates who are now college seniors, are rehashing their rivalry this weekend for the first time since that middle school scrap. Mighty Grand View is wrestling at Nebraska-Kearney on Saturday afternoon.
Justin is a four-time NAIA All-American for the Vikings, and he reached the national finals in 2020. Josh is a two-time Division II All-American for the Lopers, and he reached the national finals in 2019. The whole twin thing makes this even more fun, of course.
Safe to say Saturday’s dual will probably start at 133 pounds, allowing it to end with a clash of the Portillo brothers at 125.
“We’ve always wanted to see who’s better,” Josh says. “It’ll probably end up a different result nine times out of 10, but we’ll go and see what happens. It’ll be a blast.”
Added Justin: “This scrap has been years in the making. We’ll find out who reigns supreme.”
They grew up wrestling with and against each other in north-central Iowa. Justin still has a podium picture from one of his first youth tournaments. He took fourth … out of four kids … but he loved it.
At Clarion-Goldfield-Dows, Josh won three state titles and Justin won two. Justin took second at the preseason national championships in 2014. Josh won a Junior folkstyle national title in 2015.
But by then, they hardly practiced with each other — mostly because they fought a lot.
“We used to train with each other all the time, but as we got older, we learned we couldn’t do that anymore,” Justin says. “Things would get too intense.”
“Everything was intense,” Josh adds. “We’d fight each other all the time, especially in high school.”
After graduating in 2016, they both went to South Dakota State, with designs on becoming the lightweight mainstays for Chris Bono’s Jackrabbits. The original idea was for Justin to go 125 and for Josh to grow into 133. That didn’t end up happening, so instead of battling each other for the spot, they decided to transfer.
Justin remembers someone suggesting that they could go to the same NAIA school and wrestle the same weight, since the NAIA allows teams the opportunity to qualify 12 wrestlers for the national tournament. They could both go 125.
Seems like it might be a good idea, yeah?
“It’s one thing to face my brother in a dual,” Justin says, “but I don’t want to have to wrestle him for a national title. That’s tough.”
Josh landed at Nebraska-Kearney while Justin opted for Grand View. For the first time in their adult lives, they would be at different schools, in different states. That was quite an adjustment — especially for twins, and especially for twins who wrestle.
“Other twins can attest to this, but you don’t want your twin to be better than you, and honestly that keeps you going,” Josh says. “Since we transferred schools, it’s like we’ve gained a better appreciation for each other. We’ve grown up quite a bit.
“I don’t know how good I would be if I didn’t have a twin.”
Added Justin: “We always lived in each other’s shadow, but now that we’re apart, I’m more thankful. I always had someone pushing me. I wake up every day and think, ‘I can’t let this guy be better than me.’ I always had a training partner, which is especially nice for wrestling.”
It didn’t take either of them very long to announce their wrestling talents. Justin took third at the 2018 NAIA national championships. A week later, Josh made the semifinals and took fifth at the Division II national tournament. Josh made the finals in 2019, then Justin did the same in 2020. Josh has a 91-30 career record, and Justin’s is 99-25.
Under Nick Mitchell, Grand View has become an NAIA powerhouse, with nine national team titles in the past 10 years and, after last week, a 110-dual meet winning streak. Kearney has steadily progressed under head coach Dalton Jensen, from eighth in 2018, fifth in 2019 and, just last season, second at the Division II national tournament.
The Portillos have discussed it for years. What would a dual look like between these teams?
“It was less about us and more about seeing a great dual between two really good teams,” Josh says. “There’s kind of a lot on the line, because these are two really good teams, but there’s also nothing on the line. We can both still win our national titles.”
Mitchell and Jensen made it happen this year, and both brothers have been excited for the opportunity since their schedules were released — not just for their matchup, but for the entire dual.
The Vikings are ranked No. 1 in the latest NAIA poll, and all potential starters are ranked seventh or better at their weights, including three No. 1-ranked wrestlers. The Lopers are No. 4 in InterMat’s latest Division II team poll, with nine ranked wrestlers, including five in the top five at their weight.
But the matchup at 125 will be the obvious highlight.
“We’re both really good at a lot of the same things,” Josh says. “We’re both really good on top, but he’s got different tilts. We both scramble well. I know I have to finish my shots clean if I want to score. We both have a really good fireman’s carry — I hit it to the left, he hits it to the right. That’s kind of funny.”
“I’m going to try and treat it like any other match,” Justin adds. “I want to go in, mess him up in the hand-fight, find an opening, get to his legs, finish clean — everyone knows you have to finish clean on him — and I think I can turn him on top, of course.”
“He’s my twin,” Josh continues and laughs. “It’ll be like wrestling myself.”
Their final score predictions were similar. Justin says he’ll win 11-7. Josh says he’ll win 8-7. Both agreed that they’ll both light up the scoreboard and make it an entertaining seven minutes of wrestling — especially if that particular match decides the dual.
What a deal that would be.
“It’s another opportunity for me to go out there and wrestle free and put points on the scoreboard,” Justin says. “We’re going to let it fly, but I’m not going to give him any free points."
Added Josh: “I’m super excited. I could care less if I lose, but I don’t want to. There’s going to be bragging rights here for a long, long time.”
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.