FEATURE A love of wrestling and a competitive nature drive Matt Azevedo to train for Olympic glory

By Erin Phipps | Feb. 22, 2006, 3:52 p.m. (ET)
The world of wrestling is just starting to see what up-and-coming wrestler Matt Azevedo Arroyo Grande, Calif./Sunkist Kids) is capable of.

Azevedo started the 2006 wrestling season in a big way, winning the Dave Schultz Memorial International for the second consecutive year at 55 kg/121 lbs.

"It made me excited," said Azevedo. "It excited me a little more about the sport, if that's possible."

Azevedo attributes his uncle John Azevedo on having a major influence on his wrestling. Azevedo was a 1980 Olympian and a NCAA Champion. He now is the head wrestling coach at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, where his nephew is the assistant coach.

"Ever since I started [wrestling] he's been a coach. All throughout high school and college, I've looked to him for guidance," said Azevedo. "I've basically modeled my wrestling after him."

Azevedo began wrestling in the seventh grade because he grew up around the sport, with his uncle and father who wrestled in high school.

"They had signups and I thought I'd try it. I thought it would be fun," Azevedo said.

While in high school, Azevedo was a two-time Nevada state champion in 1993 and 1995 while attending Eldorado High School. After transferring to Calvary Chapel High School in California, Azevedo was coached by his uncle who led one of the strongest prep teams in the nation. John Azevedo has since moved up to the college level at Cal Poly.

In college, Azevedo attended Arizona State and then Iowa State, and still had goals after graduation to pursue international wrestling.

Both uncle and nephew still remain close, working to bring the school's wrestling team to prominence. Azevedo acknowledges that coaching the athletes on his team has helped him to better his own wrestling technique.

"It helps a lot. Working with kids, they always ask questions. It helps me to break down my own moves," said Azevedo. "When you're forced to teach it, you understand why you do it. It helps you to understand the techniques. The more you teach, the better you get at your own technique."

As for his own technique, Azevedo is focusing on his defense, which he admits can be weakness for him. Defensive positioning, blocking shots and then scoring when on the defense are all techniques that Azevedo will be working on to prepare for his upcoming meet in Poland, as well as the U.S. Nationals in Las Vegas this spring.

"I love to train to compete," said Azevedo. "I've got to improve to beat the top guys in the world, but that's the fun part-trying to achieve that."

One of his challenges on the way to major tournaments, such as the Nationals, is his weight.

"I dropped a lot to get to my weight class," Azevedo said. "I have to be really disciplined with my workout and diet. It gets tough."

In addition to his strict diet and practice routine, Azevedo must also contend with the fact that, without a full-time coach to guide him, he has motivate himself to practice to compete on the national and world level.

"I don't really have a coach with me every day. A lot of it is my own motivation for practice," said Azevedo. "I've got support from my wife, my family and the people around me so that makes it better."

National Freestyle Coach Kevin Jackson believes that the key to Azevedo's success is focusing on freestyle wrestling on a daily basis, as well as practicing with world class athletes. Given the improvements Azevedo has shown in 2005, winning the silver medal at the U.S. Nationals and becoming the Dave Schultz champion, Jackson believes that Azevedo has the ability to medal on the World and Olympic level.

"I think he has a ton of potential and really good skills," said Jackson. "He has a couple of areas he needs to focus on daily for him to win against the best guys in the world."

In early 2005, Azevedo was able to test his skills on a very different wrestling stage with Real Pro Wrestling. The show aired on the PAX TV and Fox Sports Net and featured a combination of Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling in a closed studio. The wrestlers compete on a raised mat amid a cheering crowd, bright lights and loud music. The inaugural season of the show featured wrestlers from many different backgrounds, including many World and Olympic medalists.

"The experience was awesome. It was really neat to wrestle in that atmosphere with all the lights and music," Azevedo said. "It's like nothing I've ever done before. It was very motivating to wrestle in that atmosphere. Everyone's just watching your mat and the crowd is cheering. You can't help but get excited and pumped up."

Although Azevedo lost a bout to No. 2 ranked Eric Akin (Gardner, Kan./Cyclone WC), he still enjoyed the excitement of being able to wrestle in the limelight.

Looking to the future, Azevedo plans to end his wrestling career after the 2008 Olympic Games and begin a family with his wife Brooke.

"After 2008 I'm going to be done-win, lose or draw," said Azevedo. "I want to have kids after I'm done competing."

Azevedo won't be leaving the sport entirely, though. He still plans to continue coaching, and to one day be the head coach of a Div. I college team. Being a part of the athletes' lives and love of the sport, Azevedo notes, are what he most enjoys about coaching.

However, before Azevedo closes the door on his wrestling career, he still has something to prove on the world stage, and hopefully follow his uncle's footsteps to the Olympic Games.