ASU's only undefeated wrestler Zahid Valencia talks childhood, family and aspirations

The path of an undefeated wrestler began at the age of 2 and transformed into 31-0

Right after losing the state wrestling final his sophomore year in high school, Zahid Valencia hesitantly walked off the mat with his head down in disappointment and ran the loss through his head as tears ran down his face. “I was shocked,” he said.

Valencia was one of the wrestlers to watch, as he and his brother Anthony Valencia were dominant throughout their four years at St. John Bosco High School. He admitted to disbelief after his loss, but the silver lining came after he realized there were “bigger things” in life to focus on than a state title. 

“I got back to focusing on the rest of my goals,” Zahid said.

His goals are not surprising: becoming an NCAA champion for ASU, staying undefeated and being the best in the world. He finished his first full regular season going 31-0 and has the Pac-12 and NCAA championships left to complete an unblemished season. 

However, the blueprint of a talented and successful wrestler does not develop overnight. For Zahid, it began to cultivate at 2 years old, at a club called Terminators in California. Zahid said he remembers performing every wrestling exercise presented to him at the Terminators club. His wrestling dream began to develop and grow from that moment forward.

“The coach would let us take one of the corners of the mat,” Zahid said. “And my dad would have us do everything that the team did.”

Valencia lived a normal childhood — he watched The Lion King and Tarzan, annoyed his siblings and embraced the playground before the use of technology exploded.

“Basically, he would tease and clown on me whenever he beat me at something,” Anthony said.

Zahid, 19, is the second oldest of four siblings: Anthony, 20, Cael, 14, and Itzel, 12. His father Ruben has been training he and Anthony all the way through high school and eventually let them head off to college — an emotional but proud moment for them, Zahid said. Anthony and Zahid are currently redshirt freshman at ASU.

Zahid said his relationship with his father is different from most because he was a coach too. He said the lessons he learned were extraordinary and life-changing, but the consequences once he tumbled on the mat were overwhelming.

“He kept us on check and made sure we did everything good as he constantly pushed us, so it was mostly good for us,” Zahid said. “But if I were to lose a match … we would go into the garage where we had our wrestling mats and trained for hours after.”

The stage grew for Zahid when he began his high school wrestling career because he brought with him a wealth of knowledge obtained from training with his father and older brother. He won three wrestling titles at 182 lbs. As every year passed, Zahid said his love for wrestling grew and he realized he was made for it.

When head coach Zeke Jones made his recruiting pitch to Zahid and Anthony, the team was ranked 61st —whereas the brothers were each ranked No. 1 in their weight classes. Although Zahid had offers from powerhouse wrestling programs nationwide, he opted to help Jones rebuild ASU’s program.

Jones said Zahid's choice to come to ASU displayed he integrity as an athlete.

“I call him a first believer,” Jones said. “(Anthony and Zahid) were the best in the country but having their commitment to build something that was not heard made them those first believers.”

Zahid has led the rebuilding process thus far, posing an undefeated record of 31-0, ranking first in the 174 weight-class, winning an individual championship at the Midlands championships, catching the attention of former ASU wrestler and NCAA champion Anthony Robles who praised his potential.

However, even in the face of national attention, Zahid is a normal college student; he wears casual clothes, lives off meal plans and walks to class with his headphones plugged in, jamming out to Drake, Chance the Rapper and Kenny Chesney.

The same applies to Zahid as a wrestler. He shows up to practice with his snapback flipped backwards, wearing a smile on his face as he tapes his ankles and interacts with his teammates and coaching staff. 

“He is a social creature,” Jones said. “You see him on social media, he is a hang-with-the-boys type of guy, you know? But he comes to work.”

He is considered a wise guy or as coach Jones said, the “know-it-all.” Those on the wresting team said he can be confident, respectful, but also enjoys joking with his team about his undefeated record.

“He is always telling the team how he is the alpha since he is undefeated,” Anthony said. “It is a comeback that he can use that no one on the team can beat.”

Zahid still has the Pac-12 (Feb. 26) and NCAA Championships (March 16-18) to maintain leverage over his undefeated season. It is no surprise that he is going into the tournaments as the favorite, but Jones believes there are still areas of improvement that need to be focused on.

“When you become the best in the country or the best in the world, you have to beat every style,” Jones said. “But his under-hook defense has to get better, he has to deal with a guy that puts a lot of pressure on and has not ran into what I call folk-style specialist, which is an American style."


Reach the reporter at fcorral1@asu.edu or follow @felipecorraljr on Twitter.

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