At one time the Midwest was a barren world for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and submission wrestling. However the tide has changed and the scene has exploded.
The fourth Annual Relson Gracie U.S. Nationals proved to be another very successful event lead by the tournament director John Cooper and Chairman Relson Gracie. At one time the Midwest was a barren world for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and submission wrestling. However the tide has changed and the scene has exploded. Jiu Jitsu has pushed in from the coasts and the Midwest is flourishing. The Midwest is historically been home to some great grapplers. It is great to see wrestlers starting to train with the gi and competing in submission wrestling events, it really has raised the level of the game. The event got kicked off the day before with weigh-ins that stayed open till midnight Friday night to make sure everyone got a chance to weigh in and get the event schedule. Troy from Zebra mats was up late too making sure all five rings were set up and ready. Cooper and Gracie decided to add a fifth ring to make sure the event would keep moving all day long. After last year`s Arnold`s drew record crowds and over 750 Gi competitors and several hundred No-Gi competitors they wanted to make sure the event ran smooth and didn`t get held up due to a lack of mats. They also wanted to make sure there was plenty of room for spectators and athletes so they had the Columbus Civic Center bring four large grandstands and chairs for seating. It was a very nice set up with the rings and grandstands. Two separate areas were set up for competitors one to relax and another with a small set of mats to warm up along with free water and snacks was a nice added touch as well. The event got off to a small delay due to a few unavoidable problems. This only delayed the event for the first few divisions and by the time the white belts started at noon they were back on track with the time schedule, the five rings had paid off. The day started out with the purple belts gi divisions. These divisions in the past lacked competitors but not this year. A lot of guys have been training hard and it shows that the sport is maturing a lot. Some highlights from the purple belts were Pete "the Greek" Letsos, who was the returning champion of the Light Heavy Weight Division. Pete fought a very tough match against Chris Moriarty from Jorge Gurgel`s team. Pete spent 4 or 5 minutes stuck in a triangle but hung in for a 2 to 0 win. Chris is a very game fighter and was a little upset with the results. He later redeemed himself with a great performance in the no gi. In the Light Weight Division Relson Gracie`s Phillip Cardella fought an all out triangle battle with Robert Bihn from Gracie Barra Cincinnati. The match started with Carolella in Bihn`s triangle and ended with Bihn in Carolella`s triangle, submitting Bihn for the victory. It was an exciting match and both fighters never even thought about the points. In the Medium Heavy Weight Division Mike Ruthmeyer from Team Vaghi pulled out a upset against Angelo Popofski of the Relson Gracie-Caique Team. The Relson Gracie-Caique Team dominated the Heavy Weight division where Tony Zara and Toney Waldeckor closed out the division. There were only two divisions in the brown belts. The Light Weight Division was Sergio Indigdo from the American Top Team who fought Henry Matamoras from Pedro Sauer. Indigdo came after Matamoras with fire in his eyes and flying high jumping right in to a flying triangle armlock. Matamoras defended it well and ended up on top in Sergio`s closed guard. Matamoras was setting up to pass when Sergio let loose again this time using an overhead sweep to set up an armlock attempt. Matamoras again defended it well and it was back to a close guard game. Another sweep to attack attempt put Sergio on top and gave him two points. The fighters rolled out of bonze and were started in the center standing. This time Matamoras flew for a triangle of his own but failed and Sergio started passing. Matamoras fought off the pass but gave his back Sergio never got the hooks or the points and retreated to his guard looking for an armlock but with some rolling around the fighters end up out of bonze. The referee brought them back to the middle where Matamoras pulled open guard. Sergio worked franticly to pass but Matamora`s guard. Matamora set up a beautiful kimora shoulder lock sweep right into Sergino`s cross side. Sergio fought to his knees and then to guard where he nailed an arm drag that left Matamoras face down on the mat. Matamoras quickly recovered and back to guard. At this point Matamoras realized that the referee had not awarded his points for the sweep and was discussing this with the referee when Sergio made a leap over his knees to mount. Sergio landed on Matamoras chest and face hard. Matamoras upset by this and the fact he didn`t receive his points quit the match disgusted with the referee. The next brown belt match was in the Middle Weight division between Francisco Scares from the American Top Team and Robin Giesseler from the Relson Gracie-Caique Team. Scares pulled guard right off the back switched to haft-guard and tried a loop chock. He missed the choke but reversed Robin to his back. Robin worked hard from his guard holding off Scares`s pass attempts for a while. But, Scares switched from the right to the left Robin couldn`t hold him off and Scares passed. Scares tried knee on the belly and then for an armlock but neither were successful. Then after a small struggle in the guard Scares passed again for 3 points ending the match with the necessary 12 points to win. There was only one black belt match and that was in the Open division. Aaron Lapointe from Carlson Gracie fought Harry Jackson from Impact MA. Aaron weighed in at 135 pounds and Jackson was well over 200 pounds. As soon as the ten-minute match started the much smaller Aaron pulled guard and began working for sweeps. Almost the entire match was an open guard battle with Jackson trying feverishly to pass. A few times Jackson was successful at using his weight advantage to bring some good pressure on Aaron but Aaron used his foot on the hip to make space. Aaron has very good hip movement on the bottom that keeps Jackson`s pressure and weight off him. Aaron was able to sweep Jackson with a scissor sweep for two points but he could not keep the top position against the much stronger man and was forced to retreat to the guard. But, Aaron was much more comfortable in the guard and was able to apply an armlock from the guard. It looked like he had it but Jackson continued to threaten to pass so Aaron released the armlock and played the open guard with one foot on the bicep. Aaron swept again for another two points but still could not hold the larger Jackson down. He returned to his guard and worked for another armlock and then a triangle. The match ended 4 to 0 for Aaron Lapoihta who was dead after taking out the much bigger Jackson. The amature no gi was the main draw of the event. Not only were the US National title, a gold medal and pride on the line, but there was also a chance to move up to the professional level. Wining this event earned the competitors an invite to fight in the largest professional submission grappling event on US soil, the Arnold Gracie Championships. The Arnold Gracie Championship is a three-year-old event that draws more spectators than any other Submission Grappling event in the USA. Held the first weekend of March every year, the Arnold Schwarzenegger Fitness convention is a huge event that draws 90,000 people from around the world. This event features everything from bodybuilding and power lifting to Kung Fu and cheerleading competitions. Arnold`s partner, Jim Lorimer, was on hand to thank John Cooper and Relson Gracie for being a part of the Arnold Fitness weekend and how the Gracie Jiu Jitsu event has become the fastest growing and one of the most popular events at the entire Schwarzenegger fitness expo. Mr. Lorimer also said that they are working to move this year`s Gracie Jiu Jitsu event to the main hall making it one of the show case events. This is a huge step for Jiu Jitsu in the United States being featured like this at the Schwarzenegger Fitness Expo. Awesome. The men`s no-gi trials had six divisions and the open. All the divisions were filled with great battles a long the way. The first division final was the 200-215 pounds. Mark Adams from Jorge Gurgel and John Menke from Team Vaghi fought their way to the finals. Looking at these two guys you would have never though they were in the same weight class. Menke was much taller than Adams, but it had no bearing on the match. Menke wasted no time on the feet and pulled guard. Menke worked from a closed guard trying different submission attempts but Adams shrugged them all off and waited for his chance. He even trying a front choke / can open from the guard himself. Then with a burst Menke powered the guard open and when Adams rolled he took the back for four points and worked for a choke rear naked choke. Adams escaped and they ended up in the haft-guard. Menke fought back to the guard but by then it was too late. Adams took the win on points 4 to 0. In the 155 and under division Sergio Omizolo and Tiago Tavares both from the American Top Team closed the brackets. The 155 to 170 division was the toughest of the day. These guys are both strong and fast. In the finials we saw Francisco Soares from the American Top Team against Henry Matamoros from Pedro Sauer. Soares struck fist with a takedown attempt but shot right in to a front headlock. He recovered well with an outside trip. He was just as quickly reversed when Matamoros bridged out and in the scramble that ensued Matamoros arm dragged to Soares to take his back with both hooks in for four points. Soares escaped to haft-guard and made spave to take Matamoros down with a double out that landed out of bonze. Back on their feet and in the center of the ring both men exchanged tie-ups till Soares jumped closed guard and worked for an armlock. Matamoros defended and Soares opened his guard and went for a knee bar. Matamoros again defended well by locking on to the head of Soares. Eventually when Soares gave up the knee bar attempt Matamoros was able to jump on his back but with out the hooks in. Soares slid out and Matamoros slid down for an armlock attempt. Once again rolling out of bonze the referee put them back in the middle with Soares in Matamoros`s guard. Soares stood up and Matamoros went for a sweep and then a knee bar, but Soares was one step a head and forced Matamoros to his back. A mad scramble ensued and the returned to the original position with Soares on top again. Soares pushed to the haft-guard but as he passed was almost rolled by Matamoros again with another strong bridge. Another scramble ensued and positions were exchanged relentlessly with Soares almost taking the back and Matamoros almost reversing. Time ran out as the action continued. It was Soares over Matamoros by two points. Men's 170-185 was another action packed division that was so close it went in to over time. Thiago Jambo from American Top Team fought Chris Moriaty from Jorge Gurgel. Both fighters worked from their feet at first neither wanted to go down. Then Moriaty got tired of the dancing and pulled guard and this is when the action started. Jambo worked for a figure-four foot lock and Moriaty broke the grip and closed his guard. Moriaty worked hard to open the game up, shooting triangles and defending Jambo`s pass both guys were fighting hard. The fight was a real good match and the actions was back and forth the whole time. But, neither fighter could score a point. At the end of the match I had Moriaty ahead but with no points the fight went in to a two-minute overtime. In the over time Moriaty seemed to have spent more energy early in the match. Jambo at one point leaped to the mount over Moriaty`s legs. Moriaty defended quickly and no points were awarded but it was enough of an advantage to give the fight to Jambo. Jambo won on decision. Congratulations to Moriaty who fought in every division he could that day and taking home two silvers medals. Look for him to be an up and coming American to watch. In the 215 and over class the American Top Team guys dominated and Petrus Walker & Santiago Marcus closed the brackets. In the 185-200 division Mike Rethmeyer from Team Vaghi faced Jeffrey Serafin from Mcvicker`s Jiu Jitsu. Rethmeyer pulled guard right as the match started but that left him open for a foot lock and Serafin took it. Serafin couldn`t finish and Rethmeyer pulled his foot out and came on top. Serafin kept working for submissions with a knee bar set up to a toehold. Again however Rethmeyer escaped and came on top. But, Serafin worked again for another foot lock. Only letting go to come up on top and in to Rethmeyer`s closed guard. Rethmeyer managed a sweep for two points while Serafin was rolling in to another foot lock. Serfin would not give up the foot locks and just kept trying for them. Durring one scramble Serafin almost had a triangle but Rethmeyer escaped and passed for another three points. Rethmeyer set up an armlock from the top in the final twenty seconds but Serafin reversed him. Then with just seconds on the clock he dropped back for one last footlock attempt but time ran out. Great match Serafin went form submission to submission really well but it was Rethmeyer who got the points and took the win 5 to 0. Great events like this one are not easy to organize. A special thanks to all the volunteers and sponsors: GLCdirect.com who have been a committed sponsor for the Nationals and Arnold event over the past few years, GrappleGear.com, Zebra Mats, and Gracie Brothers. Casca Grossa was also a big help and great sponsor of the event. They brought free refreshments for the fighters along with their huge selection of Brazilian gis and gear. Casca Grossa also had a booth set up of the Rocinha Project showing how dedicated they are to making a difference to a special project. MMAPhotos.com was there cameras in had to cover the event and they shot hundreds of photos check out their site for a huge photo gallery. Relson Gracie, John Cooper and event staff did a really great job and we are all looking forward to the Arnold Schwarzenegger Fitness Expo even this March 5th - 7th, 2004. Take a look at their site for the details and to pre-reregister. www.GracieWorlds.com