Iowa men’s wrestler Spencer Lee dominates in season debut against Iowa State

Lee, the nation’s best 125-pounder, beat Cyclone Corey Cabanban, 16-5.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa’s 125-pound Spencer Lee takes down Iowa State’s 125-pound Corey Cabanban during a wrestling meet between No. 2 Iowa and No. 7 Iowa State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022. Lee defeated Cabanan by a major decision, 16-5. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cyclones, 18-15.

Kenna Roering, Sports Reporter

Iowa men’s wrestler Spencer Lee had surgery to repair both ACLs in January, and the nation’s best 125-pounder made his return to the mat on Sunday afternoon.

Lee kicked off the Cy-Hawk dual at Carver-Hawkeye Arena as the No. 2 Hawkeyes defeated the No. 7 Iowa State Cyclones, 18-15. 

The top-ranked three-time national champion made his season debut against Cyclone senior Corey Cabanban and won via major decision, 16-5. 

Iowa’s three bonus-point wins, from Lee, 14th-ranked 157-pound Cobe Siebrecht, and 15th-ranked 174-pound Nelson Brands, made the difference for the Hawkeyes as they secured their 18th consecutive victory over the Cyclones.

RELATED: Photos: No. 2 Iowa wrestling vs. No. 7 Iowa State

“I’ve had a lot of matches like that inside Carver,” Lee said. “But the thing is, you just have to keep building. The season is a grind and that’s the epitome of what makes college wrestling great.”

Lee is no stranger to injuries, as the Franklin Regional High School alum tore his right ACL a few weeks before the Pennsylvania state wrestling championships as a senior in 2017. At the time, he had surgery to repair the knee.

Lee reinjured his right ACL in the 2019 125-pound NCAA Championship match and still managed to beat Virginia’s Jack Meuller, 5-0, to clinch his second NCAA title. 

Lee decided to opt out of a second surgery and wrestled through the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons with one healthy ACL.

In the 2021 Big Ten Championship match against Purdue’s Devin Schroder, Lee tore his left ACL. Lee battled through the pain, earning a 21-5 technical fall to become a two-time Big Ten Champion. 

Lee won every match leading up to the 2021 NCAA championship and shut out Arizona State’s Brandon Courtney, 7-0, for his third NCAA title. 

After going 3-0 in the 2021-22 season, Lee underwent season-ending surgery to repair both knees and has been rehabbing since. Lee said he trains each week like he is going to compete, but he finally got the green light from head coach Tom Brands and the medical staff on Saturday. 

When Lee strutted out to the mat in front of the Hawkeye faithful for the first time since January 2021, the packed Carver-Hawkeye Arena crowd gave him a warm welcome.

“People told me it was loud, but I was just so focused on getting out there for the first time and not thinking about the nerves,” Lee said. “I was in my zone. … But I’m really appreciative that the fans packed the arena and it was exciting for me to run back out in the arena again.”

Lee wasted no time in his season debut, scoring two takedowns and two near falls in the first period to go up, 12-2. Lee slowed the match down in the second period and got called for a stall warning late in the third period, but prevailed to earn his third career Cy-Hawk victory.

Lee looked tired after wrestling three full periods on Sunday but Brands said that was expected after the long rehab process. 

“It’s tough out there sometimes,” Brands said. “But the best way to remind yourself is to just go out there, and face the demons.”

Lee said he is not sure what the plan is for him moving forward and if he will wrestle in all of Iowa’s remaining dual meets, but he is excited to build his stamina and shape back up as the season continues. 

Lee is now 79-5 in his college career and is seeking to become the first four-time individual national champion at Iowa and the fifth in NCAA history, joining Oklahoma State’s Pat Smith, Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson, Cornell’s Kyle Dake, and Ohio State’s Logan Stieber.

“Champions win when it counts and show up in big-time matches,” Lee said.