INDIANAPOLIS — Rarely has a champion been so loathed, and yet beloved.
Never has a champion been so unstoppable and simultaneously doubted at every turn.
As New Palestine’s Chad (C.J.) Red stepped onto the mat inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse during introductions at the IHSAA wrestling state finals, a place he’s dominated for three straight years, nothing changed. A roaring mixture of applause and boos swelled to a deafening pitch on Saturday night. Lines were drawn among the crowd of 12,643.
Red just smiled.
He didn’t shut anything out. He welcomed all of it.
The naysayers, much like his supporters, fueled him to be his best, which is exactly what the senior was as he etched his name in the history books.
“I always tell C.J., let your haters be your motivators,” said Niki Red, Chad’s mother. “Just go out there and win.”
With the memory of his deceased paternal grandparents, Raymond and Lynne, on his mind, and the weight of perfection on his back, Red achieved what only two other wrestlers have done before him.
And he did it smiling.
Red, ranked No. 1 in the nation in his weight class, turned the biggest challenge in his high school career into his greatest achievement, defeating Evansville Mater Dei’s Nick Lee by decision 6-5 to win the 132-pound state championship.
The title was his fourth straight. The win was his 44th in a row this season and 183rd consecutive in his career without a loss.
The finale was legendary.
The third wrestler all-time to finish as an unbeaten four-time state champion, Red joined an elite fraternity with Cathedral’s Lance Ellis (172-0 from 1986-89) and Griffith’s Alex Tsirtsis (236-0 from 2001-04).
Red is just the ninth four-time champion in state history and first since Crown Point’s Jason Tsirtsis in 2012.
His opponent, however, added the punctuation.
Ranked fourth in the nation, Lee, a Penn St. recruit, entered the championship match a flawless 16-0 after being sidelined for nearly a year with a broken back, which required him to wear a brace for six months.
He won the 2014-15 state title at 132 pounds with a perfect 35-0 record. As a freshman, his pursuit at a 126-pound state championship was halted by three-time champ Stevan Micic of Hanover Central.
Instead, Lee finished third with a 33-1 record.
A national champion like Red, Lee didn’t return to the mat until Jan. 2 when he competed during the IHSWCA Team State Duals in Evansville.
During the event, the junior recorded two pins and a 9-2 decision while wrestling up at 138.
For the postseason, though, Lee focused on defending his title at 132 and beating the unconquerable Red.
“That dude went after Chad Red. Nobody in the country is trying to go after Chad Red,” Ellis remarked. “That match right there will be an exclamation point just because of who Chad beat.
“Obviously, me and Tsirtsis were good, but to have a final with that much hype and anticipation is just a bonus. He just beat Nick Lee in the finals. Give it some time and people will really realize what that means because that kid will be a multi-national champion in college. Both of them will.”
As a freshman, Red went 48-0 en route to the 106-pound title. The next season, he jumped to 120 and finished 44-0. At 47-0, he secured his third championship at 126 while carrying the nation’s top-ranking.
His fourth state championship matched Tsirtsis as the only other undefeated wrestler to win titles in four different weight classes.
Still, there were doubters.
“Everybody was against him, but that’s what champions do when their backs are against the wall like Chad’s. He just kept fighting through everything,” said Chad Red Sr., C.J.’s father and head coach. “But that was a tough match. He’s a tough kid. Honestly, I thought it would be a little bit easier.”
The closest margin of victory in a title match during Red’s illustrious career, it was also the first time he ever had to overcome a deficit under the spotlight.
Down 4-0 after Lee put Red on his back in the first period, the crowd gasped — and cheered — before he scored an escape, setting up his comeback in the second.
“I heard (the crowd) the entire time. I heard them on Friday, too, when I was taken to my back, going ‘oh,’ but there was still time on the clock. As long as there’s still time on the clock, there’s still an opportunity to win,” Red said.
Needing seven seconds to escape Lee’s grasp from the down position, Red fought off two single-leg shots and then turned the momentum for good with a takedown and a cradle, pulling ahead 6-4.
“That’s when I was able to breathe a little bit easier,” an aspirated Red Sr. confessed.
With Lee starting down in the third, Red rode out the final two minutes, only allowing an escape in the waning seconds as elation overtook him.
As the inevitable neared, Red Sr. and his coaches motioned to the crowd by waving four fingers in the air followed by a subtle hush gesture.
There was no trademark back flip on the mat by Red. Not this time.
For No. 4, he opted for a more original celebration — scaling a barrier wall with his fists raised high.
“This is by far the happiest I’ve ever been. It’s amazing,” Red said after collecting his fourth state championship medal from Ellis atop the podium.
“Indiana didn’t want me to win. They’re tired of me winning, I get it, but you know, I’m going to keep winning. I’m going to go to Nebraska (this fall) and keep winning there. It’s not over.”
133: Chad Red’s career pin total over the course of his four-year high school career.
37: The most pins he collected in a single season, set in 2014-15 when he finished 47-0 to win the 126-pound state title.
48: Red opened his career with his best season total for wins en route to capturing the 106-pound crown.
183: Through four seasons, Red averaged 40-plus wins and posted the second highest among the three unbeaten four-time champions in state history.
8: Red racked up eight pins this postseason while winning his fourth sectional, regional, semistate and state titles.
4: When Red didn’t pin his opponents this state tournament, he dominated them with four tech falls.
1: The narrowest margin of victory Red had in four career state championship matches, which occurred this year. The second closest was four points in both 2014 and 2015.
3: The total decisions Red recorded this season compared to 33 pins.
Path to Perfection
Chad Red’s Postseason Results
1st round: Chad Red win by forfeit over Indianapolis Lutheran
Quarterfinals: Chad Red def. Nick Morton, Franklin Central, fall 0:10
Semifinals: Chad Red def. Adam Perra, Beech Grove, fall 0:12
Championship: Chad Red def. Tim Wright, Warren Central, fall 0:10
Perry Meridian Regional
Quarterfinals: Chad Red def. Josiah Coffenberry, Southport, fall 0:13
Semifinals: Chad Red def. Thierno Diallo, Pike, fall 0:14
Championship: Chad Red def. D.J. Brookbank, tech fall 19-4 (5:26)
New Castle Semistate
1st round: Chad Red def. Zachary Steele, Westfield, tech fall 18-3 (3:54)
Quarterfinals: Chad Red def. Stevie Browning, Franklin County, fall 3:58
Semifinals: Chad Red def. Boone Welliever, Southmont, dec. 7-2
Championship: Chad Red def. D.J. Brookbank, Perry Meridian, tech fall 19-3 (2:31)
IHSAA State Finals
1st round: Chad Red def. Daniel Gunsett, Bellmont, fall 0:59
Quarterfinals: Chad Red def. Jack Tolin, Chesterton, tech fall 15-0 (4:24)
Semifinals: Chad Red def. Kris Rumph, Portage, fall 3:56
Championship: Chad Red def. Nick Lee, Evansville Mater Dei, dec. 6-5