Three-time NCAA champion. Big Ten Champion. Hodge Trophy winner. AAU Sullivan Award.
Iowa's Spencer Lee has had three nearly perfect seasons as a Hawkeye and almost did something exceptionally rare in DI men's wrestling — score bonus points against 100 percent of all his opponents. A bonus-point win is defined as any win in which one wrestler scores eight or more points than an opponent. This can include major decisions (a win by a margin of 8-14 points), tech falls (a win by a margin of 15 points) or pins. We trackedhis matches this season and followed him through his third title, as he won 11-of-12 matches by bonus. Here's a quick guide to how college wrestling matches are scored if you'd like a refresher.
Lee has just five losses in his entire collegiate career — two to Big Ten champion Sebastian Rivera, one to All-American Nick Piccininni, one to NCAA champion Nathan Tomasello and one to All-American Ronnie Bresser — but he has not lost a college wrestling match since March 9, 2019, in sudden victory. In fact, he's not only been winning since then, but he's dominated. He's outscored his opponents 246-23 with eight falls in the last 26 matches. Eighteen of those 26 matches have ended early, either because of a pin or a tech fall. These statistics helped Lee win NCAA Wrestling's Most Dominant Wrestling award last year, but he's upped his game even more this season.
HEAR FROM LEE: 5 questions with NCAA Champion Spencer Lee
He won national titles at 125 pounds as a true freshman and a sophomore before COVID-19 interfered with his plans. He then won a third with no ACL. Lee has embraced his role as the face of the Iowa Hawkeye program, one of the most successful NCAA programs of all time, and he continues to add to his legacy every time he steps on the mat.
First dual: Jan. 15, 2021, Carver-Hawkeye Arena - No. 1 Spencer Lee vs. No. 17 Liam Cronin
TIME OF PIN: 1:21
Lee came out of the gates flying in his 2021 season debut. Wrestling Liam Cronin of Nebraska, a fifth-place finisher in last year's Big Ten championships, Lee wasted no time. He swung around and grabbed hold of Cronin's right ankle 5 seconds in the match and took him down for the first two points of the match 5 seconds later. Lee then started to go to work on top, riding Cronin and looking for the arm bar. Cronin was trapped, and a stall call was given to the Nebraska senior for his lack of movement and action, but, at that point, 60 seconds into the match, Lee was in charge. Eight seconds later, Lee had flipped Cronin over to his back to pick up four near-fall points while Cronin worked to arch his way out. Cronin managed to work his way back over to his stomach, but Lee just picked up right where he left off in the last sequence. He wrestled his way over the top of Cronin, put both Cronin's shoulder blades on the mat, and that was that.
One win, one pin, 100 percent bonus.
Total running time on the mat for the season: 1:21
Second dual: Jan. 22, 2021, Maturi Pavilion - No. 1 Spencer Lee vs. No. 9 Pat McKee
TIME OF PIN: 1:55
Against Minnesota’s Pat McKee, a fellow Big Ten wrestler-of-the-week honoree this season, Lee was his normal poised, confident self. He showed a little more patience in the early seconds in picking his spot, but he still demonstrated his control by driving through towards McKee’s right leg about 30 seconds in the bout for his first two-point takedown and back points.
McKee wrestled back to his stomach, but then Lee was again on the attack, titling McKee over for four more near-fall points. He continued to push for more but was stopped by the referee for a potentially dangerous call. The reset didn’t help McKee too much, as Lee was still on top, still in control and still looking for the fall. He worked McKee over to his back, laid his body on top of McKee’s shoulders and pushed for the pin but picked up near-fall points again instead. Lee could have titled McKee once more for the tech, but he wanted more. He secured his hold and drove McKee to his back with his trademark arm bar.
Two wins, two pins. 100 percent bonus.
Total running time on the mat for the season: 3:16
HUNTING FOR THE HODGE: Here's everything you need to know about wrestling's top award
Third dual: Jan. 31, Carver-Hawkeye Arena- No. 1 Spencer Lee vs. No. 13 Justin Cardani
TIME OF PIN: 2:30
Justin Cardani, a redshirt sophomore, came out with speed and energy, and he looked fired up to take on the two-time NCAA Champion Lee. The problem for Cardani was that even with his quick feet and adrenaline, Lee was too much. Lee, again, controlled Cardani’s head and swung around Cardani’s right side for a quick two-point takedown. This is where things started going wrong for Cardani. Once he’s on top, Lee is a force of nature, and he started to go to work against Cardani. He picked up three back points and then one more back point wrestling Cardani on the edge before both wrestlers moved out of bounds and were sent back to the middle.
Lee’s plan was clear from this point. He controlled Cardani’s wrist, pulled Cardani’s left hand down to work for the tilt. Cardani battled, gripping Lee’s right foot and pick up a stalemate call and stop Lee’s momentum at this point in the bout. He drove Caradani into the ground but couldn’t flip him immediately as time ticked down in the first period. As Cardani caught his breath, Lee continued wrestling, working Cardani to his right side for back points and kept the pressure on. Lee then reset himself and pulled Cardani to his back. Cardani fought, flipping around on the mat trying to avoid the pin, but his shoulders touched briefly as he continued to move before the official call was made.
Three wins, three pins. 100 percent bonus.
Total running time on the mat for the season: 5:46
Fourth dual: Feb. 7, Holloway Gymnasium- No. 1 Spencer Lee vs. Brady Koontz
Spencer Lee came out against Brady Koontz ready to rock and roll. The Iowa senior sat out the Purdue dual earlier in the day, but in his only match of the weekend, he reminded the Big Ten that he's still as powerful as the conference thought he was. After two seconds of fast hand-fighting against Koontz off the whistle, Lee took a quick shot at Koontz right leg, flipped him around, and took him down for a fast two points. In traditional Spencer Lee fashion, the Hawkeye then took control of the wrists. He looked for an early pin, nearly holding Koontz on his back, but, instead, the ref awarded him four back points. Another tilt gave him four more back points, and he was working for the fall for the second time before the ref called a potentially dangerous and sent the men back to the center of the mat. Koontz made an attempt to escape, but Lee, who hasn't given up any points this season, threw Koontz back on the mat and worked for four more back points. Lee repositioned himself, slid his arm in between Koontz's arm and his back and worked the Buckeye to his back with the half-nelson for the pin. Koontz barely had a chance to move in the 108-second match, but that's what Lee does to his opponents. He's a pinner this year, and he's letting that be known.
Four wins, four pins. 100 percent bonus.
Total running time on the mat for the season: 7:14
Big Ten tournament quarterfinals: March 6, Bryce Jordan Center - No. 1 Spencer Lee vs. No. 7 Dylan Ragusin
In his first four matches of the season, Iowa’s Spencer Lee pinned his opponents in the first period. The streak was incredible, unreal and just about every other adjective that could possibly be used to describe such dominant performances.
His perfect streak of ending matches early continued into the Big Ten tournament, but the process was slightly different. Lee took the mat for his first match of the Big Ten tournament and faced Michigan’s Dylan Ragusin, a standout freshman who earned a senior national championship title in the fall. Last year, Ragusin’s teammate, Jack Medley, was the only athlete not to give up a major against Lee, and, on the first day of the Big Ten tournament, Ragusin became the first athlete not to be pinned by Lee this year. The young Wolverine took Lee into the third period, but the Hawkeye still turned up the pace and ended the match early, his fifth consecutive match that totaled less than seven minutes.
Lee raced out to a lead in his traditional way with an early takedown, a hard ride and back points, lighting up the scoreboard 8-0 in less than 90 seconds. Ragusin, however, didn’t let up. He scored two points in the period, before heading into the second behind 10-2. Lee added three more points in the second, but Ragusin again refused to let the match end. He held tough and pushed Lee into the third period where Ragusin scored the first takedown against Lee all year. He put up two offensive points, the only offensive points scored against Lee all season, but the effort was short-lived as Lee returned to being the aggressor. Back points gave Lee the six points he needed for the 19-4 tech fall, a result that terminated the match and kept his unbelievably perfect season alive.
Five wins, four pins, one tech. 100 percent bonus.
Total running time on the mat for the season: 12:47
Big Ten tournament semifinals: March 6, Bryce Jordan Center - No. 1 Spencer Lee vs. No. 12 Rayvon Foley
Spencer Lee hadn’t wrestled into the third period in any match this season until his bout against Ragusin, but he was back to his first period pinning ways later that day in his semifinal match against Michigan State’s Rayvon Foley. As soon as Lee shook hands with his Spartan opponent, he was off and running, shooting into Foley’s right leg and flipping him over to his back immediately. Within five seconds, Lee was in position to work for the fall, and that’s exactly what he did. After picking up back points and repositioning himself after Foley managed to work back to his stomach, Lee fought him into the Hawkeye’s favorite position and put both his shoulders on the mat for the third-fastest pin in Big Ten history.
Six wins, five pins, one tech. 100 percent bonus.
Big Ten tournament finals: March 7, Bryce Jordan Center - No. 1 Spencer Lee vs. No. 7 Devin Schroder
Last year, Spencer Lee majored Devin Schroder of Purdue for his first Big Ten title, but, this year, the Iowa senior didn't even need the full seven minutes to finish off his goal.
Schroder put Lee at notice when he earned the first takedown, but Lee was undeterred. He proceeded to escape and turn the match in his favor within seconds, earning a takedown and near fall points within a minute, working for a fall but picking up four points total instead. The period didn’t get any better from Schroder from there. After an escape, Lee turned him over his back again for near, then four back points to finish the first 11-3 with over a minute of riding time.
The wrestlers started neutral for the second but it was all Lee. Back points, back points and more back points for the Hawkeye on his way to a 21-3 tech for his seventh win of the year.
Seven wins, five pins, two techs. 100 percent bonus.
Total running time on the mat for the season: 17:40
NCAA tournament, round one: March 18, Enterprise Center - No. 1 Spencer Lee vs. No. 32 Patrick McCormick
A tech fall win for the Iowa Hawkeye in just over 90 seconds. Quick work for the returning champion in the first round.
"It's the national tournament. We're ready to go, fans or not. The fans are watching at home, so we're going to do our best," Lee said after his technical fall win.
Eight wins, five pins, three techs. 100 percent bonus.
Total running time: 19:13
NCAA tournament, round two: March 18, Enterprise Center - No. 1 Spencer Lee vs. No. 17 Killian Cardinale
Spencer Lee has raced out to another quick start, racing out to a 10-0 lead after the first period. Cardinale, however, wrestled Lee just about as tough as anyone has this year, forcing third period action. Lee earned another takedown in the third period and had a 13-2 lead before Cardinale picked up an escape. Lee’s effort to end all of his matches early was challenged here, as Cardinale earned a takedown with 30 seconds left and road Lee. The Iowa Hawkeye slowed down and had a nine-point lead with ten seconds to go, but riding time would give him the ten point lead for the 15-5. No early termination, but the bonus rate stays perfect.
Nine wins, five pins, three techs, one major. 100 percent bonus.
Total running time: 26:13
NCAA tournament, quarterfinals: March 19, Enterprise Center - No. 1 Spencer Lee vs. No. 9 Devin Schroder
Schroder earned the first takedown against Lee in their Big Ten final, but it was Lee with the first move in this one. A low single shot turned into a scramble for the two men, but Lee finished on top before a stalemate. Schroder walked on to the mat with confidence and hasn't looked afraid to go with Lee, and he forced a second stalemate in what could have been a dangerous position for him on the bottom of another scramble. Lee is driving the offense, but Schroder held the champ scoreless for first two minutes. Lee picked up a takedown at the end of the period to hold a 2-0 lead heading into the second.
Schroder chose neutral to start the second, a smart move against a Hawkeye know for his top game. A shot from Schroder turns into a takedown , and the score is tied 2-2. Lee escapes to take the 3-2 lead, but Schroder stayed tough through the entire period. Lee chooses down to start the third period and picks up a reversal for a 5-2 lead. Now he goes to work on top. He worked hard for the tilt, but Schroder stayed tough and just gave up four back points as opposed to more. A riding time gives Lee the 10-2 major, but that was another seven-minute match for the Hawkeye and nearly his first decision.
Ten wins, five pins, three techs, two majors. 100 percent bonus.
Total running time: 33:13
NCAA tournament, semifinals: March 19, Enterprise Center - No. 1 Spencer Lee vs. No. 4 Drew Hildebrandt
Spencer Lee starts off with an initial takedown, something that certainly sets him up with the momentum that he likes, and he starts to rack up riding time. Lee does not like to let his man escape.
A first-period tilt 90 seconds into the match, and Lee looks like he’s back to his traditional form, as he works to ride out the period against the No. 4 wrestler in the country. Hildebrandt was able to cut down some of Spencer Lee’s riding time by working hard on top to start the second period, but Lee picks up the escape with 30 seconds to go, extending his lead 8-0. Hildebrant chose top to start the third, an unusual choice, but one that does help him cut down Lee’s time. Lee escapes, and that’s a 9-0 lead for Lee. One final takedown plus riding time makes it 12-0 for Lee.
Eleven wins, five pins, three techs, three majors. 100 percent bonus.
Total running time: 40:13
NCAA tournament, finals: March 20, Enterprise Center - No. 1 Spencer Lee vs. No. 3 Brandon Courtney
Spencer Lee wins his third title with no ACL. He's a champion again. Relive his final match here.
Twelve wins, five pins, three techs, three majors, one decision. 91.6 percent bonus.
Total running time: 47:13