Local wrestler’s self discipline fuels unparalleled success story
One of the most prolific wrestlers born and raised in Michigan, Alec Pantaleo’s introduction to the sport was less than earth-shaking.
“I was probably six years old when my dad (Mike) took me to a little community rec wrestling program at Discovery Middle School (in Canton),” Pantaleo recounted. “I remember being in a cold gymnasium, wearing basketball shorts, not knowing what to do. It didn’t go well for me, let’s put it that way.”
Pantaleo can chuckle at the memory now, almost 20 years later, as he reflects on a mat career that has churned out more gold than Fort Knox protects.
A Division 1 state champion at Canton High School where he carved out a four-year record of 177-9, Pantaleo carried his success and Herculean work ethic to the University of Michigan, earning multiple All-American honors while securing a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a minor in entrepreneurship.
His post-collegiate accolades include a freestyle title at the 2021 Pan American Continental tournament and a gold medal effort at the Cerro Pelado International in Havana, Cuba.
Now 25, Pantaleo wrestles professionally for the Ann Arbor-based Cliff Keen Wrestling Club with an eye on making the 2024 United States Olympic team.
Pantaleo recently sat down with SocialHouseNews.com Editor-In-Chief Ed Wright to offer insight into his successful mat endeavors.
You’re a super-nice guy off the mat. How do you shift gears when it’s time to compete?
If you look at most successful people – in business, sports, whatever – they all have an ego to some point, an over-zealous confidence. I try to stay grounded (off the mat); I think my parents raised me well, taught me to stay humble. But when it comes time to step on the mat, my mindset is: No one is better than me. I’m the best person at this weight. There are times I’m wrestling against guys more accomplished than me, but I’m a firm believer that I’m better than they are, that I work harder than they do. It’s what separates people who use rationale versus people who defy rationale.
Talk about the discipline required to reach the level you’ve reached.
There are a lot of sacrifices involved with it. There have been numerous times I think I could have been better friends with people, but I can’t go out and hit the bars with them and I can’t go on weekend getaways as often as other people my age do because what I do is a lifestyle, it’s not just a sport. If I fail, it’s on me. To a normal person who does a sport for leisure, wrestling seems super-intense. But it’s something I’ve been doing my entire life, so my lifestyle has been kind of honed around this craft.
Is there a win you’ve earned that stands out above the rest?
Winning a state championship in high school was huge, then it was beating an All-American for the first time, then beating a (collegiate) national champion and an Olympian. But the win that gave me chills was in 2019 in Cuba when I was standing on top of the podium and the National Anthem played. It was a very cool sensation seeing people in a foreign country standing up for our National Anthem for the sole reason that I won the tournament.
How strict is your diet?
Competing in a weight-based sport, I have to be very disciplined when it comes to not over-indulging. I’ve found that if you take away everything, you only want it more, so moderation is everything. When I’m training, I eat very, very small portion sizes and try to eliminate starches and sodium – things that make my life harder. When I’m not training for an upcoming competition and someone says let’s go get an ice cream, I’ll say, ‘Let’s get two’.
What’s your take on the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)? Do you see yourself giving it a shot someday?
I think Mike Tyson put it best when he said: ‘Everyone has a plan until they’re punched in the mouth’. I think everybody should try a combative sport at least once to see who they really are. That said, I’ve been in a few fights in the past and getting hit in the head is not fun. Even though there’s a lot of money (in the UFC), I didn’t go to the No. 1 public college in the world to get hit in the head for money. I think I have too much going on up in my skull to have it get bashed in.