Roman Bravo-Young is from South Tucson and grew up in a broken home. He was raised in different households. He became exposed at a young age to crime and drugs in his neighborhood.
Before attending high school, he thought his future was playing video games. School was an afterthought.
Wrestling in college sounded unrealistic to him.
“I didn’t even know what Penn State was,” he said in an hour-long documentary on him titled “Straight Outta Tucson” filmed by FloWrestling that was released Tuesday.
Bravo-Young is a two-time national championship wrestler at Penn State after winning four state championships with a 182-0 record at Sunnyside High School.
He earned the first college degree in his family’s history last year after becoming a straight-A student at Sunnyside following a freshman year full of F’s.
His lofty ascension in wrestling and the classroom with his Sports Management degree can be attributed to him experiencing the depths of hard knocks on the southside of Tucson.
The documentary captures Bravo-Young’s story in a captivating way with interviews of him, his mom Sarah, Tata Mike Bravo, Sunnyside wrestling coach Anthony Leon, former Sunnyside football and wrestling coach Richard Sanchez and two-time UFC bantamweight world champion fighter Dominick Cruz (whose upbringing in Tucson close to Flowing Wells High School is similar to that of Bravo-Young).
Much of it was filmed around the area Bravo-Young was raised by his Nana Sylvia and Tata Mike. That is close by where he also lived with his mom and Sanchez at various times.
I first met Roman when my brother Andy took his senior photos in 2018.
What struck me at first was how proper he was with “Yes sirs” and “thank yous.” He exuded discipline and respect with how he carried himself. I came away knowing he was raised right and that he was serious of making his next step at Penn State a successful one because he was not only representing himself but also his family and community.
His love for his mom and grandparents almost forced him to leave Penn State after a year because he missed them. That is detailed in the documentary. He stuck with it and has become a national wrestling sensation who is going after a third national title with the Nittany Lions this season. Taking into account potential NIL deals, Bravo-Young astutely returned for his fifth season of eligibility, allowed because of COVID-19 occurring when he was a sophomore in 2019-20.
After his freshman season at Penn State, he agreed without hesitation to my invitation to speak with students where I teach — Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate within the Sunnyside Unified School District.
“Don’t let any adult tell you that you can’t be a success,” Bravo-Young told an auditorium full of kids. “Trust yourself and your ability.”
Bravo-Young was raised without a father, which he comments about in the documentary. His father Romego Young, a state-champion wrestler at Sunnyside who Mike Bravo trained when Young moved to Tucson from Minnesota, returned to the Midwest early in Roman’s childhood.
Roman and his siblings had their highly demanding Tata as a father figure.
Leon calls Mike Bravo “one of the best wrestling coaches ever in Arizona.”
The elder Bravo molded Roman into a wrestler from the days he yelled from a window for Roman to weightlift correctly with the equipment he put in the backyard. He forced Roman to run up A Mountain in the middle of the day in June and July while he drove his car alongside.
That’s tough love to the max.
To Roman’s credit, he didn’t rebel against his Tata.
He gathered his pride and answered the challenges.
After Roman used a quick takedown in sudden victory to beat No. 1 seed Daton Fix of Oklahoma State for his first national title in 2021, his Tata threw himself to the ground and remained there crying.
Roman responded to an adverse way of life which was depicted in the documentary when he talked about a gun drawn on him while he was in high school. The documentary starts with a video of Roman driving by a squatter area near where he grew up.
Sarah, who admitted she experienced drug addiction during Roman’s childhood, was brought to tears when discussing her son’s success in relation to his upbringing. She talked about the sacrifices the family made to help Roman’s development were well worth it.
When Roman won his first national title, “that’s when I knew everything that I struggled (with), everything that I’ve done, came full circle,” she said.
Growing up in an area similar to that on the southside, near Bilby and Valencia, less than a mile from Sunnyside, I could feel Sarah’s emotions.
The documentary was powerful in that aspect, hitting home with what many of us have experienced.
Roman Bravo-Young is a shining example of what a person can become when overcoming the doubts and fears.
“You just have to believe in yourself. Mental is the biggest thing,” he said in the documentary. “Ups and downs are part of life, the wins and losses … get back up … we’re all just trying to get through this life together. That’s one thing I tell myself, ‘This is my story and I’m trying to get through it.'”
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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.