Dreaming big: Bowne star makes PSAL history on wrestling mat

Dreaming big: Bowne star makes PSAL history on wrestling mat
John Bowne senior Brandon Nunez stands at the top of the pyramid after placing first in the NYS wrestling championships at the Times Union Center in Albany .
Brandon Nunez
By Laura Amato

It all started by watching TV.

Brandon Nunez was a big-time MMA fan while he was growing up, fascinated with the sport and the athleticism he saw on TV. The John Bowne senior dreamt of one day stepping into the octagon himself, but becoming a mixed martial arts star was easier said than done.

So, Nunez rearranged his dreams slightly, putting MMA on the back-burner for traditional wrestling and joining the Wildcats squad as a freshman. Four years later, Nunez knows it’s the best decision he’s ever made.

The 99-pound standout became the first PSAL wrestler to clinch a Division-I state championship, winning a 5-3 decision at the Times Union Center in Albany Saturday.

“I really wanted to do MMA when I was in middle school, but my mother could never afford the classes,” Nunez said. “I saw that wrestling was free at this school, so I just first started here. It definitely worked out.”

Nunez’s road to the state championship has been far from easy. In fact, when he first arrived at Bowne he often found himself practicing by himself – simply because there was no one else his size on the team.

“When I first started on the team, the lowest guy that was there was like 180 pounds,” Nunez said. “So I wasn’t practicing with anyone my weight or anything. I just had to catch on quick.”

“It was really hard to be honest, trying to learn everything on my own,” he added. “I just dealt with it and I really think that got me better, training on my own and training with people who were bigger than me.”

Despite his less-than-traditional start, Nunez saw success immediately, placing fourth in New York City as a freshman. He earned a state championship berth as a sophomore and finished sixth upstate as a junior.

Still, he was far from satisfied. Nunez wanted a title and in his final season on the mat, it was championship or bust.

“It was all about having that gut check feeling,” he said. “I knew I placed sixth and I wanted to do even better this year. I knew I could place, but I was always gunning for first”

Nunez dominated throughout his senior year – taking a title at the Eastern States competition and compiling a perfect record during the regular season – and he couldn’t have asked for a better end to his high school career than his championship match.

It wasn’t always perfect, but Nunez’s relationship with wrestling was always a bit unconventional as well. This finish just made sense.

“I’m always used to getting the first takedown in a minute or so. It took me longer than usual to get the first takedown, so that was kind of strange for me,” Nunez said. “But once I got it, I really felt confident.”

Nunez always planned to use wrestling as a jumping off point. It was simply the first step to MMA stardom, but, now, after countless hours spent on the mat and a senior season that thrust him into a leadership role, Nunez can’t quite imagine his life without wrestling.

He’ll head to Rhode Island next year – on an academic scholarship – but he’s anxious to continue competing and, of course, he’s got a brand-new set of goals in front of him.

“This was my ultimate goal and whatever happens from here on out is cool, but I definitely want to be on that All-American status in college,” Nunez said. “I’m really just trying to focus on college right now.”

More from Around New York