Anchorage youth wrestler Manny Novelli’s confidence soars after multiple national titles

Winning a national title is a goal that some young wrestlers aspire to from the time they learn how to sprawl.

Anchorage’s Manny Novelli is just 12 and in only his fifth year of wrestling, but he has already captured four national titles in the past year.

“It’s been busy,” South Anchorage high school and club wrestling coach Randy Hanson said. “He’s been traveling a lot, competing a lot, trying to find the toughest competition in the country. That’s how you test yourself and get better.”

Novelli’s first title came at last year’s Kids Nationals for Greco-Roman. He added another in April at the U.S. Open in Las Vegas, where he won in Greco. Then in late June, Novelli won a pair of national championships in Greco and freestyle at the USA Wrestling Kids Nationals in Farmington, Utah.

“It was pretty cool to represent Alaska,” he said. “We’re not very known being from here.”

Novelli believes the hardest of the two national tournaments was the U.S. Open because he faced a “more technical” wrestler but still managed to defeat him.

While Novelli is proficient in both styles, he enjoys Greco more.


“I just like the feeling and the style of it,” he said. “(I like) the moves and all that technique.”

The chief difference between the two styles is in the legs: In freestyle, wrestlers can use their legs to attack or defend. In Greco, there is no scoring below the waist.

Even though he favors Greco, when he competes in freestyle, Novelli incorporates folk style as well. Folk style is generally the discipline practiced by competitors at the high school and college levels.

“I do all three of them and I always have to switch it up with what I do,” he said.

Novelli admitted to having given up the occasional point for using a folk style or freestyle move when wrestling Greco, but says he stays disciplined.

“He is one of the most focused kids in the room when there is a technique showing or if drills are being done,” Hanson said. “He’s usually dialed in and focused the whole practice, which is awesome to see somebody that young practicing like that.”

Novelli, who attended Huffman Elementary and will be a seventh grader at Golden View Middle School in the fall, comes from a martial arts background and family.

His father, Niko, owns Legacy Jiu Jitsu, where he was introduced to the sport. Hanson has worked with him every step of the way as a part of the Avalanche Wrestling Association.

“With him, it’s really just the mentality and maturity of how he competes,” Hanson said. “He doesn’t let the little things affect him. He doesn’t let the competition affect him. No matter who he’s wrestling, you get the same Manny.”

Novelli won Kids Nationals wrestling in the 78-pound weight division but plans on bumping up to 83 pounds in middle school, and he looks forward to eventually wrestling for Hanson at the high school level at South.

“We’re excited for six more years with him and he’s got a gang of brothers following behind him in his footsteps,” Hanson said.

Long-term goals on and off the mat

Even though he’s not even technically a teenager yet, Novelli is already thinking about his postsecondary future in athletics and academics.

“I want to go to a good college and want to make the (U.S.) worlds team for any style, freestyle or Greco,” he said.

He met some of the top wrestlers in the nation in Las Vegas for the U.S. Open, including fellow Alaskan Spencer Woods, who won the Senior Men’s 82-kg Greco-Roman finals; Olympic gold medalist and six-time world champion Jordan Burroughs; Olympic gold medalist and WWE pro wrestler Gable Steveson; and two-time world champion and Olympic bronze medalist J’den Cox, to name a few.

That opportunity helped elevate his aspirations further. Novelli said he’d like to represent Alaska on the world stage at the Olympics as a member of Team USA.

[Alaska wrestler Spencer Woods proves ‘7th time is the charm’ with win over two-time Olympian]

He wasn’t the only young Alaskan to shine at Kids Nationals or the U.S. Open, and Hanson is encouraged to see how far the quality and respect for the Alaska wrestling community grow.

“It’s becoming a thing where it’s becoming more of a norm to go down to a national tournament and compete and do well,” Hanson said. “We’re trying to build a culture here so people don’t just see Alaskans and say ‘I got an easy match.’”

Josh Reed

Josh Reed is a sports reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. He's a graduate of West High School and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.