Cornell men’s wrestler Yianni Diakomihalis becomes fifth-ever four-time NCAA Champion

Diakomihalis defeated Ohio State’s Sammy Sasso, 4-2, in the 149-pound NCAA finals match on Saturday night.


Ayrton Breckenridge

No. 1 seeded 149-pound Cornell’s Yianni Diakomihalis gestures towards the crowd after wrestling No. 12 seeded 149-pound Penn State’s Shayne Van Ness during session four of the NCAA Wrestling Championships at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. on Friday, March 17, 2023. Diakomihalis defeated Van Ness by decision, 8-3.

Kenna Roering, Sports Reporter

TULSA —  Over 16,000 wrestling fans inside the BOK Center witnessed history on Saturday night as Cornell’s 149-pound Yianni Diakomihalis became the fifth-ever grappler to claim four individual NCAA titles after a 4-2 finals victory over Ohio State’s Sammy Sasso. He joins the likes of Oklahoma State’s Pat Smith, Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson, Cornell’s Kyle Dake, and Ohio State’s Logan Stieber.

Cornell head coach Mike Grey was named the 2023 NCAA Tournament Coach of the Year as his squad finished third in the team race with 76.5 points. Diakomihalis leaves The Big Red with the winningest career record in program history at a staggering 115-2. The Rochester, New York, native is also a four-time All-American, four-time Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Wrestler of the Year, and four-time Ivy League Wrestler of the Year.

But Diakomihalis gave himself minimal credit for his many career accomplishments.

“There are some really special people in my life that I wouldn’t be here without,” Diakomihalis said following his finals victory. “I could sit here and talk for 30 minutes about all those people. The people who think this is me, I’m just the face. There are so many people that pushed me through it.”

Iowa’s Spencer Lee, who has three NCAA championships at 125 pounds, also had a chance to become one of the few four-time NCAA champions at the tournament this week, but he was pinned by Purdue’s Matt Ramos in the semifinals for his first-ever loss in the NCAAs. Lee finished his collegiate wrestling career with an 18-1 record at the NCAA Championships and a 98-6 overall record.

RELATED: Spencer Lee leaves lasting legacy on Iowa men’s wrestling program

Diakomihalis met Cal Poly’s Dom Demas in the first round of the tournament on Thursday morning and won, 6-1. Later that day, Diakomihalis pinned North Carolina State’s Jackson Arrington in 2:11 to move on. Diakomihalis’s narrowest victory of the tournament came against Iowa’s Max Murin in the quarterfinals.

Murin was trailing 8-4, with about 30 seconds remaining in the bout, when he earned his first takedown of the match. Murin gained leverage on Diakomihalis and started turning him on his back, but Diakomihalis avoided near-fall points in the final seconds to clinch an 8-7 victory and a semifinal berth.

Diakomihalis had all he could handle in the semifinals against Penn State’s Shayne Van Ness. The Nittany Lion grappler had a third-period takedown to take a 3-1 lead, but Diakomihalis escaped and then turned Van Ness on his back for a six-point move in the final minute to win, 8-3.

In the finals bout, he was tested again by Sasso, who he has faced multiple times throughout his career. Diakomihalis led 4-2 in the final minute of the match, which was full of scrambles. Diakomihalis said competing against Sasso before made him more confident that he could come out on top of those tough scrambles in the finals. He said in those positions, you have to let your “training and instincts take over.”

“I’m in a very tough weight class. I’m wrestling some really quality guys, and they’re coming to get me,” Diakomihalis said. “I was wrestling kind of tight, and [Sasso] wrestled fearless, so credit it to him.”

Diakomihalis has aspirations to become both an Olympic and world champion. He said the way he wrestled this weekend was far from his best, and even farther from what he needs to do to win at the freestyle level. So, even after finishing his collegiate career on the highest note imaginable, Diakomihalis plans to go back to the hotel and rewatch his matches to see what he can improve on.

“This is what I love,” Diakomihalis said. “If wrestling made me five million dollars, I would love it. If I had to put my life in debt to do this, I would still love it. And I think when you love something, you pour your heart into it.”