Roman Bravo-Young’s family, friends gather to celebrate accomplishments

The Jet Sports Training Facility near Park and Ajo was a festive scene Friday night celebrating the accomplishments of Sunnyside wrestling legend Roman Bravo-Young, but as special and honorable as that is, it had more of a feeling of a large family reunion.

The decorations were elaborate for Bravo-Young, including a massive balloon display on one wall that read “2x NCAA CHAMP,” honoring his 133-pound NCAA titles the last two seasons with Penn State.

A cake baked with his initials “RBY” was decorated in blue and white — the colors of Sunnyside and Penn State — with a couple photos of him, including one signifying his All-American status.

“He’s also got his degree now (in Sports Management), so we’re celebrating that as well. This is all very special,” his mom Sarah Bravo-Cruz said as she positioned cupcakes on a stand that included a sign that read, “Congratulations Grad.”

True to his modest ways, Bravo-Young deflected attention on him and mentioned that the occasion was more of an opportunity to spend time with family and friends because he is unable to do that during the school year at State College, Pa.

“Besides the accolades, the most important thing is I’m always growing as a person,” he said. “I’m coming back with a diploma this time. That’s a big thing.

“Being able to come back and celebrate with the family, it’s cool to get everybody together. I don’t see everyone often. I know they’re supporting me through the TV. That means a lot.”

A who’s who in the Sunnyside wrestling community was on hand, including current standouts Audrey Jimenez and Sergio Vega, as well as recently graduated Tatiana Hernandez and Jaime Rivera Jr.

Anthony Leon, who has coached Sunnyside to five straight state titles, was on hand as well as former coach Richard Sanchez, who led the Blue Devils to state championships five consecutive times from 1990 to 1994.

Sunnyside graduates Jesse Ybarra and Sebastian Robles (both of whom now wrestle at Iowa) were also in attendance.

Included among this distinguished group was UFC two-time bantamweight world champion Dominick Cruz, who has developed a bond with Bravo-Young as two Tucson-raised talents with similar modest backgrounds who have achieved success through their work ethic.

“Roots, Tucson roots, lineage — I wrestled during the summer, did my freestyle training at Sunnyside wrestling with Bravo and his grandfather, who helped cross train me a little bit here and there,” Cruz said. “He coached against me and we competed in the same pool basically growing up. I like to build people up from Tucson because this is where I grew up.

“Roman’s from Tucson, same roots. We grew up in a very similar lineage in wrestling. It fits perfect because when I’m home visiting family, he’s home visiting family and we can train. It’s beautiful.”

Cruz was born in San Diego but was raised in Tucson, wrestled from a young age and graduated from Flowing Wells High School.

He trains often with Bravo-Young and the Sunnyside wrestlers and is involved heavily with community development similar to Bravo-Young, who intends to use his degree toward owning a youth sports academy in Tucson after developing as an MMA fighter like Cruz.

“What’s most important to me is to see all of the support gathered around him while he does it,” Cruz said of Bravo-Young’s success. “I remember winning multiple world titles, championships, and it’s kind of like you have to make a way so you can give that to another generation.”

Bravo-Young conducts camps for young wrestlers and Cruz is an active supporter of the Higher Ground a Resource Center, a non-profit organization that includes a youth center located in Wakefield Middle School that delivers a results-driven life-skills curriculum by way of fun, engaging activities, as well as provides critical mental health services.

“In Tucson, if you don’t have sports to come home to, sometimes you come home to an empty house or come home to whatever,” Cruz said. “When you’re a kid, you can leave school and go straight to Higher Ground, do robotics, do art, do Jiu-Jitsu, do tournaments — find a niche that you like and kill some time before you get home and your parents see you for dinner and you do your thing.

“Just take four hours or have a community to be with. Higher Ground is really good for that and any kids in Tucson who need a place to go to get good feedback in positive surroundings.”

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Bravo-Young recently announced he will return to Penn State for a fifth year, taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility provided by the NCAA because of the 2019-20 season that was cut short due to COVID-19.

“It wasn’t too difficult for me,” he said of the decision process. “It’s a free year, kind of like, ‘Why not?’ Some people could have said, ‘Why didn’t you end up on top?’ I get paid now. There’s some NIL (Name, Image and Likeness) deals out there. I’m making money in college and it’s money I was not making so I’m getting paid to wrestle so it’s kind of like, ‘Why not?’ I’m still enjoying myself, finding ways to have fun.

“I’ll wrestle half the season so it’s not too bad.”

Training for the 2024 Paris Olympics is also one of his objectives.

“Obviously, I’m going to try out for that — Team USA,” he said. “I’m in an international competition in November. I never talk about that because everybody says that. We’ll just worry about that when the time comes.”

Bravo-Young added that the evening at Jet Sports Training was not for him but for the family.

“I feel like I have not done anything yet,” he said. “I feel like I’m just reaching the tip of the iceberg. It’s more for my family. There’s people who support me. There’s people who have driven here from California, people who flew in … it’s more for them than anything. As long as they’re happy, I’m happy.

“I want to keep making my family proud and keep this Bravo legacy going.”


ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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