What to know about Iowa's Spencer Lee — who could be a 4-time NCAA wrestling champion
The Iowa wrestling program has produced many talented wrestlers in its long and storied history, which includes 24 NCAA team titles and 55 wrestlers who have won individual national championships.
Spencer Lee, Iowa's current world-class lightweight, stands out among the greats.
Lee is the main draw on an Iowa wrestling team that's currently ranked No. 2 in the country, according to InterMat's latest Division I poll. He is a three-time NCAA champion, a two-time Hodge Trophy winner, and a Senior men's freestyle national champion, too.
This season, Lee is seeking to become the first Iowa wrestler, ever, to win four NCAA titles. Here are 7 things to know about the Hawkeyes' lightweight star:
What's Spencer Lee's height?
Spencer Lee is listed at 5-foot-3. He is a 24-year-old, sixth-year senior. He's originally from Murrysville, Penn. He graduated from Franklin Regional High School in 2017. He went to the same high school as Michael Kemerer, a four-time All-American for the Hawkeyes from 2016-22.
Spencer Lee's wrestling record, other key stats on the Hawkeye star.
Spencer Lee is a three-time NCAA champion, one of seven in Iowa wrestling history. Ahead of the 2023 Big Ten Championships, he boasts a 92-5 career record, which includes 80 career bonus-point victories and 34 career pins. He has won 52 consecutive matches dating back to the 2019 NCAA Championships.
Lee is a two-time recipient of the Hodge Trophy, college wrestling's Heisman Trophy. Lee won the 2020 Hodge Trophy by earning 52 of the 57 first-place votes, the largest margin-of-victory in the 28-year history of the award. Lee won the Hodge by a larger margin than when LSU quarterback Joe Burrow won the Heisman (90.7% of the first-place votes, 841 of 927) in 2019, which was the largest victory ever for a Heisman winner.
In 2021, Lee shared the Hodge Trophy with Minnesota heavyweight Gable Steveson, a two-time NCAA champion and Olympic gold medalist. It marked just the second time ever that the Hodge Trophy was given to two wrestlers in the same year. The other: 2001, when Iowa State's Cael Sanderson and Simpson College's Nick Ackerman were named co-winners.
Additionally, Lee won a Senior men's freestyle national title in 2019. He was also a three-time age-level freestyle world champion while in high school. He won a Cadet freestyle world title in 2014, then two Junior world titles in 2015 and 2016. Lee also won three Pennsylvania state titles for Franklin Regional.
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How many NCAA wrestling championships has Spencer Lee won?
Spencer Lee has won three NCAA wrestling titles, all at 125 pounds.
- In 2018, as a true freshman, Lee beat Rutgers' Nick Suriano, 5-1, in the NCAA finals in Cleveland.
- In 2019, Lee beat Virginia's Jack Mueller, 5-0, in the NCAA finals in Pittsburgh.
- Lee was the 1-seed at 125 pounds for the 2020 NCAA Championships, but the national tournament was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- In 2021, Lee beat Arizona State's Brandon Courtney, 7-0, in the NCAA finals in St. Louis.
Lee only wrestled three matches during the 2021-22 season, opting for double knee surgery. He applied, and received, a medical redshirt, allowing him to compete during the 2022-23 season. He is currently 14-0 this season and ranked No. 1 at 125 pounds by InterMat.
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How Spencer Lee wrestled, and won, with two torn ACLs
Spencer Lee famously won his third NCAA title, in 2021, while dealing with torn anterior cruciate ligaments in both knees. He beat his five opponents that week by a combined 59-8, capped by a 7-0 finals win over Courtney. He revealed in an ESPN interview afterward that he had wrestled the entire competition with torn ACLs.
"Eight days ago, I tore my ACL in my other knee, so I'm wrestling with no ACLs," Lee said during his post-match interview with ESPN. "Whatever, man. I didn't want to tell anybody, because excuses are for wusses.
"That was a tough tournament for me. I could barely wrestle. I could barely shoot. I can't sprawl … but there was no doubt. My teammates told me, 'No one can do this but you,' and I believed them."
Shortly after Lee's triumph — which helped Iowa win the team title that year — Doctor Brian Sutterer broke down how Lee was able to not only compete, but win with torn ACLs in both knees. You can watch the video below.
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Was Spencer Lee's ACL fixed?
Yes, Spencer Lee underwent double knee surgery in January 2022. He returned to the Iowa wrestling lineup in December 2022, in the Hawkeyes' 18-15 win over Iowa State. Lee contributed with a 16-5 major decision over Corey Cabanban at 125 pounds.
More:55 Iowa wrestlers have won at least one NCAA title. Here's a look at the complete list
Incredible moments from Spencer Lee include takedown of Matt Ramos
Spencer Lee has been a walking highlight reel this season.
In his 14 wins, Lee has recorded 8 pins, 2 technical falls, three major decisions, and a 7-1 decision over Minnesota's Patrick McKee, a two-time All-American who's ranked No. 7 by InterMat. He has beaten eight other wrestlers currently ranked in InterMat's latest poll. He has pinned five of them, including four in the first period.
Perhaps his biggest highlight came in Iowa's 37-6 win over Purdue in January. Against Matthew Ramos, who's ranked No. 4, Lee trailed 8-1 in the first period after Ramos took him down twice, but Lee responded by scoring his own takedown and pinning Ramos in 2 minutes, 56 seconds. You can watch the action-packed match below.
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Spencer Lee's mom is able to take him down
Spencer Lee's parents were both judo athletes. His father, Larry, was a judo national team coach. His mother, Cathy, was an Olympic alternate in 1992. For as good as Lee is on the wrestling mat, Cathy has humbled him quite a few times.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at@codygoodwin.