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Hispanic Heritage Month: Celebrating the Distinguished Members of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame

by Joe Wedra, Special to

Henry Cejudo (USA) competes in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Photo by Larry Slater.

As a part of Hispanic Heritage Month, USA Wrestling will be spotlighting many Hispanic wrestlers who have contributed to the sport of wrestling and inspired with their accomplishments both on and off the mat.

Today, USA Wrestling is highlighting the Distinguished Members of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame who are Hispanic, individuals who have not only had great success, but have paved the way to creating opportunities for others.

USA Wrestling would like to thank the National Wrestling Hall of Fame for its research and contributions to helping celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.

You can read the Hall of Fame’s Latino American Wrestling Experience book, which highlights over 100 years of wrestling heritage in the United States.

Henry Cejudo (2008 Olympic gold medalist)

Cejudo, who became the first high school wrestler to ever win a USA Wrestling Open National Freestyle Championship in 2006, made history in 2008 when he won a gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, becoming the youngest wrestler at the time to ever win Olympic gold.

After winning a pair of Arizona state high school championships, Cejudo became a resident athlete at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, where he added two Colorado state titles. A three-time Pan-American Championships gold medalist, Cejudo won a gold medal at the Pan-American Games in 2007. He twice won the U.S. Open.

Cejudo went on to have a highly successful career in mixed martial arts, compiling a 16-2 record and winning championships at two UFC weight classes. He is considered by many one of the most successful UFC athletes of all time.

Richard Delgado (Two-time NCAA champion at Oklahoma, 1956 Olympian)

Delgado, who passed away on July 3, 1991, was a standout at the University of Oklahoma, earning All-American status three times and winning two national championships at 123 pounds. Off of his 1958 national championship performance, he was voted the NCAA’s Most Outstanding Wrestler. He was a two-time Big Seven Conference champion and won three AAU national titles, including doubling up in freestyle and Greco-Roman in 1954.

After a standout high school career at San Diego High School, Delgado served as a member of the United States Navy (1950-1954) before his time with the Sooners. He was a winner in the 1956 Olympic Team Trials and represented the USA at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia.

After his impressive wrestling career, Delgado stayed very involved in the sport of wrestling as a coach in Kansas and California. He would eventually become the head coach of his alma mater, San Diego High.

Joe Gonzales (Three-time NCAA champion at Cal State-Bakersfield, 1982 World Bronze Medalist, 1984 Olympian)

Gonzales carried success through all levels of his wrestling career, certainly established as one of the most successful collegiate wrestlers to step foot on the mat. Wrestling at Cal State-Bakersfield (a Division II school at the time), Gonzales was able to compete at both the NCAA Division II and NCAA Division I championships during his college career. He won a Division II title in 1979 before posting a remarkable season in 1980, when he went 55-0 en route to 118-pound titles at both the Division I and Division II NCAA Championships.

He finished his career at Cal-State Bakersfield with a 98-1 overall record.

In the 1980s, Gonzales was a five-time National Open freestyle wrestling champion, making five U.S. World teams. He was a three-time World Cup champion and won a bronze medal at the 1982 World Championships in Edmonton, Canada. He was also a member of the 1984 U.S. Olympic freestyle team.

Gonzales is also a member of the California Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Manuel Gorriaran (long-time contributor)

Gorriaran, who was born in Havana, Cuba and emigrated to the United States in 1936, was inducted to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame as a Distinguished Member for his significant impact to the sport of wrestling in the Americas and throughout the world.

Gorriaran is recognized for many contributions to the sport, including forming the first Cuban wrestling team and being a leader in helping establish the Pan-American Games. Throughout his successful business career with the Hook-Fast Company, Gorriaran stayed involved with wrestling at state and local levels and was a manager for the 1963 USA Pan American Games team, the 1967 World team and the 1968 Olympic team.

Hook-Fast merchandise became a staple in the wrestling community, as Gorriaran used the merchandise to help raise funds for the sport. His work in wrestling also led to the institution of the Gorriaran Award across wrestling tournaments, given to the wrestler who posts the most falls in the least amount of time.

Eric Guerrero (Three-time NCAA champion at Oklahoma State, three-time World Team member, 2004 Olympian)

Guerrero, an Oklahoma State alum, is one of the most successful wrestlers to emerge from the Cowboy Wrestling program. His wrestling dominance began at Independence High School in San Jose, California, where he posted a 226-4 record, won a national high school championship and won gold at the 1993 Cadet World Championships.

During his time in Stillwater, Guerrero went 115-13, placing fifth at the NCAA Championships in his freshman season before winning national titles in 1997, 1998 and 1999. He also won a Big 12 title in 1999, and earned Academic All-American status twice.

Making the jump to freestyle, Guerrero won four U.S. Open titles (2001-2004) and made four World teams, winning the World Cup in 2003. He was a member of Team USA at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

Following his retirement, Guerrero served on coach John Smith’s coaching staff at Oklahoma State from 2004-2017.

Townsend Saunders (NCAA Division II champion at Cal-State Bakersfield, two-time All-American at Arizona State, two-time Olympian, 1996 Olympic silver medalist)

Saunders, who was recently inducted into the NWHOF as a Distinguished Member in 2019, certainly represents “lifelong dedication and commitment” to the sport of wrestling. He began his college career at Cal State-Bakersfield, where he won an NCAA Division II title in 1987 at 142 pounds before transferring to Arizona State. With the Sun Devils, he earned All-American honors twice, becoming an NCAA finalist in 1989. At ASU, he compiled a 77-9 record.

Saunders made Olympic teams in both 1992 and 1996, winning gold at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. During his time wrestling freestyle, he competed in six World Championships and was a gold medalist at the Pan American Games in 1991 and 1995.

After his competition career, he was an assistant coach at Arizona State from 2001-2003, where he also served as the executive director of the Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club. He was named USA Wrestling’s Coach of the Year in 2004 after coaching the U.S. women’s team, the first time the team had competed at the Olympics.

His wife, Tricia, a four-time world champion, is also a Distinguished Member in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. She became the first woman inducted into the NWHOF in 2006.
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