At 5-foot-5, Matt Ramon has always had a height disadvantage in his athletic career. The San Benito High senior grew up playing baseball and soccer before eventually taking up football and wrestling in his freshman year. Whatever sport Ramon played, he thrived, especially in football and wrestling.
Burly and tough, Ramon has used his compact frame to his advantage. Nowhere is that more apparent than on the mat, as Ramon has set himself up for a strong wrestling season. Ramon, who entered the week at No. 5 in the Central Coast Section 170-pound weight division rankings, is coming off solid third-place showings in the Firebaugh Westside and Overfelt tournaments.
“I’ve been motivated to prove people wrong and show them there is a lot more than what they see in me,” he said.
Ramon has wrestled up a weight class for most of the season, but he’ll get to settle in now at his preferred division. Balers coach Steven Salcedo likes Ramon for plenty of reasons.
“Over the years, he has been one of the most coachable kids I have ever worked with,” Salcedo said in an email to the Free Lance. “He has used what he has learned to out-hustle and outwork his opponents. Part of the game plan I coach is to wear your opponent out and beat them in the end, and that’s what he does. He has a simple game plan, but it works. He gets out of the bottom easily and can ride on top well. His main problem has been taking people down, but that should change now that he isn’t wrestling guys 10 to 12 pounds heavier than him.”
Ramon feels he’s an improved wrestler from a year ago, having refined his technical skills and overall mental toughness.
“I feel faster and conditioning-wise I feel a lot better,” he said.
At the Firebaugh Westside Tournament, Ramon was involved in two nail-biting matches. The first came in the semifinals, where he lost 3-2 in the ultimate tiebreaker. In the next match, Ramon won in sudden death, 4-2, to propel himself to the third-place match.
In the semifinals, Ramon went through three, 2-minute regulation periods and three overtime periods before his opponent was rewarded with an escape in the ultimate tiebreaker.
“If he escapes he wins, and if I held him down for 30 seconds, I would’ve won,” Ramon said. “It could’ve gone either way. It was a tough match, but you live and learn.”
Feeling down but far from demoralized, Ramon felt what it was like to be on the other side of a close match, as he edged Clovis East’s Brevin Leibee, 4-2, for a sudden victory. Ramon earned the victory by scoring off a headlock in the first overtime period.
“It was pretty exciting because at that point I didn’t feel like wrestling,” Ramon said. “I was already tired from the previous match.”
In the Central Coast Section Championships last season, Ramon was one win away from competing in the third-place match and a berth to the CIF State Championships. However, he lost in overtime, a heartbreaking defeat that nevertheless served a purpose as it helped him to prepare for this season.
“That was a tough loss,” he said. “I wasn’t wrestling smart, but all of those losses make me learn what not to do going forward.”
Ramon has learned valuable lessons from Salcedo; namely, to constantly use his entire body—not just his arms—during a match. In the Firebaugh Westside Tournament, Ramon could barely feel his arms at one point because he wasn’t utilizing his legs in his matches.
Unlike most of the top-ranked wrestlers in the section, Ramon didn’t start his career on the mat until high school.
“I’ve come a long way from not knowing anything about wrestling when I started,” he said.
Early on, Ramon knew wrestling was going to be the ultimate physical and mental challenge.
“(In one of my first practices), I was hearing the coaches say, ‘No water breaks,’” he said. “When I heard that, I was like, ‘Oh no.’ I didn’t think I could make it through that season, but I did. It was a tough and great, new experience. My dad always told me not to quit, so that kind of helped me to finish what I started.”
To his credit, Ramon has improved every season despite having to juggle football as well. In his off-season, Ramon was dedicated to improving himself in both sports.
A starting fullback on the football squad, Ramon routinely collided with bigger players, yet most of the time he gained yardage after first contact. Now in the twilight of his prep wrestling career, Ramon plans on his best CCS finish yet. A year ago, he finished sixth in the championships.
“My goal this year is to hopefully make it to state,” he said. “I’ll have to be in the top three at CCS, and I’m confident I can do that.”