Antonio Segura goes through a gauntlet in his own wrestling room, so nothing he’s seen this season has phased him.
As a defending Class 5A state champion who counts one of the most memorable upsets in recent state wrestling history to his credit, the Regis Jesuit junior has been in the spotlight like never before.
Segura won his fifth tournament championship of the season Feb. 1 at the Mile High Classic and On The Mat’s top-ranked 145-pounder is 43-5 going into the 5A state tournament Feb. 20-22 at the Pepsi Center.
“I was successful in my youth wrestling and middle school and everything, but it’s not as serious,” Segura said.
“People were like ‘he’s good,’ but there wasn’t a big target on me and freshman and sophomore year I was an underdog. Now I have a target on me where I walked into a room and everybody’s like ‘Oh man, there’s Segura,’ and I know everybody is going to give me their best match, but I like it. Give me your best match, I want it.
“You have to beat the best to be the best, so if you want to come at me, let’s go.”
As he mentioned, Segura had a strong reputation from his youth days when he joined the prep ranks, but he didn’t place at the state tournament as a freshman.
That all changed as a sophomore, when he became the talk of the state tournament with his upset victory of Pomona star Theorius Robison in the semifinals.
Robison was on track to win his fourth career state championship, but Segura took him to overtime and eventually pinned him.
Segura followed that victory up with a 2-1 win over Legacy’s Joey Joiner in the state championship match.
To say his profile — and the way opponents approach him this season — has changed would be an understatement.
“I had a talk with one my coaches (former Regis Jesuit great Grant Neal) and he said they are going to wrestle you stiff, they are going to try to last with you and not get pinned,” Segura said. “So if that’s going to happen, I just have to be more aggressive and assertive with my wrestling.
“When I go into a match, it’s not cocky like I’m a state champ, but I’m going to go out there and impose my will on you. If you beat me, oh well, but I’m going to make sure you don’t forget we wrestled.”
Segura’s toughness has been enhanced by Regis Jesuit’s wrestling room, especially when Neal is there.
Neal — one of three two-time state champions in Regis Jesuit history along with three-time winner John Crowley and B.J. Sanchez — is currently a professional Mixed Martial Arts fighter on the Bellator circuit who comes back to help in the room.
Neal credits Regis Jesuit coach Brent Bieshaar for helping toughen him up in high school and he’s trying to do the same for Segura, pushing him to his limit physically — often to his extreme frustration — in practice.
“For Tony, the sky is the limit; he really has everything it takes to not only be great at this level, but at the next level as well,” Neal said. “He’s got great mat awareness and great knowledge of the game, but he also comes forward and he’s really tough, which is one thing you can’t teach.
“He has a professional fighter in there that is almost 60 pounds heavier than him coming in and basically beating the crap out of him on a daily basis, so he has to be tough.”
Besides the grueling practices in which Segura keeps sharp going against Neal, another Regis Jesuit alum in Donovan Ronan and the bigger wrestlers in the room, he has gone through a challenging set of opponents — in three different weight classes — according to Bieshaar’s plan.
In a wrestling climate where a lot of strategy is employed to avoid difficult matchups during the regular season, Bieshaar takes an opposite tact.
To challenge Segura, he’s had him wrestle tournaments at 152 and 160 pounds.
“The thing I love about Antonio more than anything is that I can really get on him and he doesn’t take anything personal,” Bieshaar said before the season.
“I can be hard and the other kids see that, too, but I’m trying to be truthful with them. Tony takes criticism the right away. I think he’ll embrace being a favorite and we’ll put him in some tough situations along the way.”
Those tough situations came at a pair of tournaments in California — the Doc Buchanan Invitational and Five-Counties Invitational — and Segura came away benefiting from those tournaments, even though he didn’t win either of them.
Segura’s toughest match against a Colorado wrestler came against friend Zander Condit of Jefferson in the championship match of the Northglenn Norse Invitational.
Condit, ranked No. 1 in 3A at 145 pounds, rode out Segura twice in the match that went to the ultimate tiebreaker, but Segura earned an escape that gave him a 3-2 victory.
“That was a true gut match of who wanted it more,” Segura said. “It got me excited for regionals and state.”
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports