Matt Azevedo danced around the featured mat at the Las Vegas Convention Center, pumping his fists in the air, grinning a movie-star grin, celebrating his first United States Wrestling National title.
It was all too familiar for Azevedo. The former Eldorado High School state wrestling champion has been on this stage before -- in his mind.
"I do sleep in bed at night and dream about it," Azevedo said after pinning two-time defending national champion Henry Cejudo 18 seconds into the second round of their 121-pound championship match Saturday. "I always envisioned getting this award here and holding it up. Looking at it, throwing it up, just winning and having it in my hands.
"This is definitely my dream come true."
Too many times before, the dream vanished.
Azevedo lost to Cejudo in the 2006 national finals and fell in the semifinals last year. He also has second-place, third-place and fourth-place finishes in the World Team trials.
So what changed this time around? Azevedo finally is working with a coach -- former Olympic silver medalist Sam Henson, who serves as an assistant for Azevedo's uncle, John, a coach at Cal Poly.
"Before, I was basically training myself," said Matt Azevedo, who also coaches at Cal Poly. "I didn't really have a coach, so I'd just work out with the college kids. I was basically training myself through workouts. Sometimes it became a little unmotivating -- you can only push yourself so far."
With Henson in his corner Saturday, Azevedo brought a plan into the match, countering Cejudo's frenetic energy -- the 21-year-old grasshopper tried move after move -- with patience and discipline.
"He locked me up in a front headlock, tried to expose my back and flip me through, and I just reacted, defended, and he tried to force it," said Azevedo, who was named the outstanding wrestler of the tournament. "In freestyle, those falls come pretty quickly; you don't have to hold them there very long."
After the pin, Cejudo stayed on his knees, almost too shocked to move. Azevedo's move was lightning quick -- and a reminder of last year's nationals.
But the win makes up for all those close losses, those seconds and thirds and fourths -- almost.
"This definitely takes a lot of pain away," Azevedo said. "Last year, I lost in the semifinals in a similar heartbreaking way. I got up like, 'What the heck just happened?' So I definitely know that feeling -- and losing just sucks."
In other matches:
• At 132 pounds, 2007 Pan American Championships champion Shawn Bunch defeated 2008 NCAA champion Coleman Scott of Oklahoma State, 4-0, 1-0.
• Doug Schwab scored a 1-0, 3-0 decision over Bill Zadick at 1451/2 pounds in a matchup of former University of Iowa NCAA champions.
• Two-time national college wrestler of the year Ben Askren defeated Tyrone Lewis 3-0, 3-2 in the 163-pound match.
• Former two-time national champion Mo Lawal (2005, 2006) took advantage of a unique scoring rule to defeat Andy Hrovat 1-1, 1-0 in the 185-pound finals. Lawal and Hrovat each scored one point in the first period, but Lawal "won" the period by virtue of scoring second.
• Daniel Cormier, who finished fourth in his class at the 2004 Olympics, had the most decisive decision of the night with a 7-0, 2-0 victory over Nik Fekete at 2111/2 pounds.
• Defending national champion Tommy Rowlands scored a 3-0, 0-2, 1-0 decision over now-four-time national runner-up Steve Mocco at 2641/2 pounds.
Contact reporter Jon Gold at jgold@ reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4587.