Purdue's Matt Ramos stuns Iowa's Spencer Lee in semifinals at NCAA Championships
TULSA, Okla. — Spencer Lee's pursuit of a fourth national title came to a stunning end in Friday night's semifinal round at the NCAA Championships.
Lee, Iowa's star 125-pounder and three-time NCAA champion, was pinned by Purdue's Matt Ramos in the final moments of their semifinal match here at the BOK Center, a result that will go down as one of the biggest upsets in NCAA wrestling history.
"We had a gameplan," Ramos said in an interview with ESPN's Quint Kessenich afterward. "We train for this every day. Spencer is the guy to beat at 125. I've been working for that. He's been in my head every single day. I've just been striving for it. I'm an All-American now. I'm in (Saturday night's) national finals. You have to let it fly."
Ramos, a redshirt sophomore for the Boilermakers, led Lee 4-1 after taking Lee to his back for a takedown and two nearfall points in the first period. Lee rallied by scoring four back points for a 5-4 lead after choosing top in the second period. In the third, Lee scored a takedown on the edge to lead 7-4 with less than a minute remaining.
From there, Ramos quickly escaped, then took Lee to his back for a takedown with 30 seconds remaining there, tying the match at 7-7. Ramos then held Lee there for the pin, which was called with one second left on the clock.
"It's unreal, it hasn't really hit me," Ramos continued in his post-match interview. "I think manifesting it and speaking it into existence. I had an interview earlier, and I said I was ready for Spencer, and a lot of people were like, 'What makes you think you can beat him?'
"I work really hard and I trust in what I believe in. Being able to speak it out into existence — I'm not trying to be cocky or anything, but if I can't get it out into the world, I don't believe it'll happen. But with my training at Purdue, it'll come true."
These two had tangled in a wild match back in January, where Ramos took Lee down twice in the first period for an 8-1 lead. Lee responded by pinning Ramos before the first period was over, sparking Iowa's 37-6 win over Purdue.
Ramos has had a flare for dramatic finishes all week. After a 3-2 first-round win, he outlasted N.C. State's Jarrett Trombley, 6-5 in tiebreaker overtime, to advance to the quarterfinals. There, on Friday morning, Ramos scored a reversal with two seconds left for an 8-7 win over West Virginia's Killian Cardinale.
Then came Friday night's monster upset over Lee, a two-time Hodge Trophy winner and arguably the most dominant wrestler to come through Iowa's storied program. It will be a result many people in and out of the wrestling world will talk about for a long, long time.
“I’m not going to sit here and analyze something, to me, that’s tragic right now," Iowa coach Tom Brands said Friday night. "I know he’s best when he’s wrestling, when he’s flowing and moving and he’s got wicked quickness. I don’t know if he was in that mode."
The Iowa wrestling team rallied in response to Lee's loss, winning seven consecutive matches during Session 4 and officially clinching second place in the team race on Saturday morning. Lee did not speak with reporters after his loss on Friday, but he returned to the BOK Center on Saturday to watch his teammates compete.
The Hawkeyes finished with six total All-Americans. Real Woods made the finals at 141 pounds, Tony Cassioppi finished fourth at 285, both Nelson Brands (174) and Jacob Warner (197) took fifth, and Max Murin (149) finished sixth. Penn State won the team title behind five finalists and eight total All-Americans.
"The coaches reiterate over and over throughout the tournament to focus on your match," Woods said after an 11-1 win over Nebraska's Brock Hardy in Friday night's semifinals. "They tell you that over and over, and it really made an impact in that moment.
"It's a huge deal and a great disappointment to me, personally, just with the friendship we developed. I was just telling myself to focus on my match, and that's what I did."
Added Tom Brands: "Sometimes it’s easy to fold up your tent when your leader goes down, but these guys are principled and awesome. Doesn’t take the sting away though. The sting is always there. There’s just so many things going on."
On Saturday, Iowa announced that Lee was medically forfeiting from the tournament, citing his lingering health issues. He famously won an NCAA title in 2021 with two torn ACLs and has dealt with knee issues dating to his senior year of high school in 2017.
Lee finished sixth at 125 pounds. He ends his sensational Hawkeye career as a three-time national champion, a four-time All-American, a two-time Hodge Trophy winner, and a three-time Big Ten Wrestler of the Year. He finishes with a 98-6 career record, which includes 84 bonus-point victories.
“The cliché, easy thing to say is that he’s got to move on," Tom Brands said. "It’s hard, but you still have to move on. As easy as that is to say, that’s really the next step in all of this. It seems cruel to say that. The magnitude of it is high.”
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at@codygoodwin.