At 46 pounds with a bright blonde mohawk and thick-rimmed glasses, 6-year-old Braydenn Lucero is about as tall as one of his four-foot national wrestling trophies.
Shy at first, nobody would think Braydenn is a two-time national champion with aspirations to take the Triple Crown, go on to the Rocky Mountain National Championships and win the Golden Gear award. The son of Mikey Lucero and nephew of Sammy Guevara, who both wrestled at Garden City High School, Braydenn is a promising upstart at a growing youth wrestling club in Garden City called Southwest Grapplers (SWG). None of their members have ever won a Triple Crown before or even come close to taking the Golden Gear.
According to his grandmother, Monica Lucero, Braydenn was born mat-side watching his father and uncle wrestle, and he must have taken some of that with him. At 4 years old, he started with SWG a year earlier than most, which his coaches attribute to an obvious willingness to learn.
In person, Braydenn is at first ostentatiously quiet. His shy disposition is almost a show in and of itself. He poses next to the enormous trophy he won and sheepishly demurs. But as his dad starts to talk about his accomplishments, he quickly becomes more interested and assertive.
Spongebob Squarepants plays in the background while Mikey explains that Braydenn didn’t take wrestling seriously at first. But Braydenn disputes that.
“What?! Yes I did!” he says.
As Mikey explains the number of times Braydenn wrestled in a tournament — four or five times, he said — Braydenn insists it was only three. When Mikey says he stopped wrestling in his junior year of high school after having shoulder surgery, Braydenn questions it.
“I thought you said you got scratched by a tiger,” he says incredulously.
Eventually he wanders off, but as his dad continues to talk about him he occasionally chimes back in. “What!? I don’t do good!?” Braydenn protests after Mikey explains how well he listens. After being assured that he does in fact do well, Braydenn smiles in satisfaction and continues shooting a toy laser gun at invisible enemies.
Even as he communicates with his dad, he parries in conversation like he would on the mat, where he says he uses switches, stand-ups, shots and cradles to win. He doesn’t go into more detail than that, but it must be a good strategy because if Braydenn can win the Who’s Bad tournament in Denver on Dec. 30, he’ll be a Triple Crown national champion.
“We’ve never had any kid at any age do that,” says Steven Sellers, club president of SWG. “We never have in the whole existence of this club. He’s moving mountains. We’ve had lots of great wrestlers come through this club, lots of state champions that are on the wall of the Garden City High School, but we’ve never had anybody achieve those things.”
Joe Arellano, the founder and head coach of the club, didn’t deny it. Having started the club about 20 years ago, Arellano recalled coaching Braydenn’s dad when he was about the same age. He said that while Mikey might have had more physique at the time, he was “not quite the technician that his boy is now.”
Arellano said they’ve been teaching Braydenn moves since he was 3, just old enough to develop any kind of complex coordination. But he said that what matters most with the young ones is a sense of commitment and a willingness to pick themselves back up when they lose.
Braydenn didn’t do as well as he would have liked at his last tournament. Earlier this month he fell short at the Haysville King of the Ring wrestling tournament in Haysville, taking second in the 6 and younger division and third in the 8 and younger division. Sellers says that disappointment pushed him to return to practice the following Tuesday like a young Rocky Balboa of wrestling.
“He understands at a very young age, 'I’ve got to work hard at this sport or I’m not going to excel,'” Sellers said. “For a lot of kids, they don’t understand that until they’re way older, and I think that’s what makes him so special. He’s already figured a big part of it out. He’s got to come in here, he’s got to work hard every single night, and he’s got to go in there and bang with the big kids, and he’s going to go out there and be fine.”
Sellers and SWG Assistant Coach Mike Palacios are taking the kids to national tournaments this year, and Sellers said the kids were chosen for “many different reasons,” whether it be skill level, a hunger left from the season before, or a desire to travel. But regardless, “We knew when we were putting the team together that hands down we wanted him to come with us and go out there and do something,” Sellers said.
Braydenn exceeded everyone’s expectations.
“Six years old, I didn’t expect we’d have him out there, two-time national champion,” Sellers said. “And the reality of it is he almost did it in Las Vegas, too (at the Freak Show tournament). We were two matches away. The same kid beat him… And when he went from the first match to the second match, it was like night and day. He had already corrected himself that much.”
Palacios said that at the rate he’s going, Braydenn, who the coaches call “Mighty Mouse,” could become the next Michael Prieto, a four-time state wrestling champion who graduated from GCHS in 2016 and wrestles for South Dakota State University.
And that, Sellers said, is ultimately the purpose of the SWG club: “to help feed Garden City High School and their wrestling program.”
This year, the club already has 60 kids participating, without counting junior high and high school-age kids. Sellers says it’s Braydenn and young wrestlers like him that are helping to “rebuild” the organization and make it great.
“The future is going to be bright for that young man,” Sellers said. “It’s going to be very bright. I’m not going to get into what could happen, but I think if he continues at the pace he’s on, he’s going to be a great, great young man at Garden City High School.”
Contact Mark Minton at email@example.com.