When Sean Robert’s left San Francisco, California last week, he knew very little about the structure of the competition he was about to compete in.
“All I know at this point is that I was invited, along with some of the top brown belts from around the world, to compete in a week long submission-only tournament, held at Lloyd Irvin’s academy.” Roberts said he was told that he and the other competitors would be forbidden to discuss the details of the competition and the outcome of their matches once they arrive at the facility.
In the fall, Lloyd Irvin Jr. announced he would hold the submission-only competition, The BJJ Kumite, with a dozen of the top brown belts in the world vying for a finals slot against Irvin's protege, Keenan Cornelius. The roster of athletes was released throughout November and December, as more names were added to the line up. The final roster of 12 athletes include sport jiujitsu’s biggest names alongside Roberts, such as AJ Agazarm, Darragh O’Conaill, and Victor Santos Silverio. The fighters will compete against one another throughout the week of Dec 11-16. The event will be taped and shown as a reality TV show and according to Irvin, will later be aired online.
Roberts, like many of the brown belts interviewed before hand only had one complaint. “The only thing that is definitely different here is that we are all fighting each other in the first week for the chance to earn the final spot to fight Keenan—I guess because right now he is the man to beat”.
Cornelius cemented his name and became the man to beat after his grand slam 2012 season. The 21 year old earned double gold at the IBJJF’s four major competitions—including the Europeans, PanAms, and Worlds.
On Monday, Irvin was already pulling out some surprises. On his Facebook page, Irvin described how he and Cornelius revealed to the other competitiors on day 1 of the competition, Dec 11, that Cornelius would in fact compete alongside the other brown belts in the competition. Irvin had initially told competitors they would battle one another in a week long tournament and the final man standing would face Cornelius in a final match. The competitors are likely, both thrilled and confused as to the last minute structure change up. Check out Irvin's teasing glimpse on how the competition is progressing:
“Day one competitors were hesitant and strategic as they engaged in open mat at Team Lloyd Irvin?s morning competition class. Competitors stared at each across the room, engaged in guard passing drills and whispered in foreign tongues with one another - ?how do we beat Keenan?? After a grueling 3-hour training session, Master Lloyd Irvin called all of the competitors to the second floor of his gym to await instructions for the next few days. You could cut the silence in the room with a knife ? sweat poured from brows and eyes were wide open ? anxiously awaiting the announcements.
Finally, Master Lloyd and the cameras entered the room and the surprise twist was announced. Keenan Cornelius would join the tournament as a competitor. Gary Tonon grinned from ear to ear as did the other competitors.
"I think it's awesome that Keenan is competing with the rest of us. That was my only complaint, that Keenan should have to be on the same level with all of us. I am excited for this match up."
The other competitors echoed this sentiment. To add further to the excitement, Master Lloyd asked the group ?so which one of you thinks you're the best brown belt in the world?
Everyone in the confident group raised their hand.
However one guy is more accomplished than the rest, Master Lloyd called Luke Costello down from the bleachers to the mat. Luke you are the most accomplished brown belt here.
You get to choose your first opponent.?
Luke shifted back and forth on his feet and turned bright red. Well I suppose I should've done some due diligence.? I don't know, I'll pick the smallest guy here (points to Victor Silverio).? Victor Silverio took to the mat. Master Lloyd asked Victor, do you want this match to be gi or no gi? Victor quickly answers, no gi. Victor later explained that Luke beat him in a previous no gi match so he was anxious to get his revenge.
Everyone in the room was a bit surprised why didn't he choose Keenan? one competitor whispered to another. Then Master Lloyd asked, who's the second most accomplished brown belt in the room? Garry Tonon quickly stepped up the plate. Garry, in true warrior form, chose Keenan for his first match.
Keenan chose to face Garry in the gi. In interviews, Garry explained that he picked Keenan because he's the man to beat. Garry lost a close match to Keenan at NAGA and is anxious to exact revenge. When asked, Keenan revealed his strategy, to choke Garry from the back.”
The matches officially start Tuesday, December 11:
Luke Costello vs. Victor Silverio
Garry Tonon vs. Keenan Cornelius
AJ Sousa vs. Thomas Oyarzun
Darragh O’Conaill vs. Eduardo Salazar
Sean Roberts vs. Ilke Bulut
Luca Anacoreta will get a bye in the first round.
AJ Agazarm will join the tournament on Wednesday, December 12.
Sean Roberts (RALPH GRACIE , USA),
Thomas Oyarzun (ALLIANCE , SWITZERLAND),
Victor Santos Silverio (GF TEAM , BRAZIL),
Garry Tonon (OCEAN COUNTY BJJ , USA),
Ilke Bulut (ICON BJJ , TURKEY),
Daniel Tsatsos (NOVA UNIAO , CANADA),
AJ Agazarm (GRACIE BARRA , USA),
Eduardo Salazar (BRASA , MEXICO),
Luca Anacoreta (AETEMA JJ , ITALY),
AJ Sousa (AVENGERS , USA),
Darragh O’Conaill (RIBEIRO JJ , IRELAND),
Luke Costello (BRAULIO ESTIMA BJJ)