Check out the highlight videos from the tournament!
On the weekend of June 9-10 in Las Vegas, Nevada, we got to witness the start of something special in the grappling world. For years we have speculated if submission grappling would ever be recognized on an international level as an Olympic sport, just as our wrestling and judo counterparts have enjoyed for years. This weekend FILA (the governing body for the IOC) for the first time ever, hosted a U.S. trials for submission grappling (listed simply as "Grappling"), alongside Roman-Greco, Freestyle, Sambo, and Beach Wrestling. The Grappling trials were held at the Las Vegas Convention Center, which is a huge mall like facility, located just off the center of the Las Vegas Strip. Inside, you could find coaches, fans, and world-class wrestlers from all over the country, competing alongside their fellow submission grapplers. Though I never saw any of the Sambo or Beach Wrestling, I was still excited to see the Greco-Roman and Freestyle superstars go at it alongside the best in Grappling. This gave a real feel of acceptance, usually relegated to athletes of various sports inside an Olympic village. USA Wrestling is a monster of an organization that poured over $15,000 into the event set-up, which included a huge warm-up area, four 50" flat panel televisions for people warming up to watch the action on the main stage, a full medical staff, a skin doctor, frequent seminars from Olympic wrestlers and coaches, as well as stadium style seating on all four sides of the venue that allowed for ample, spacious, and unobstructed viewing of the four mats that were raised up on a four foot stage.
As for the competition itself, it ran timely, smoothly, and was extremely professional. The first matches of the Men's 70 kg (Saturday) and Men's 62 kg (Sunday) took place on the back mat around 10 a.m., since they had the most competitors. Each grappler had 30 minutes of rest in-between matches and then started back on the four mats on the main stage. The Semi-Finals started several hours later at 3:30 p.m. Then the Finals started around 6:30 p.m., which gave everyone more than enough time to rest, eat, and do what they wanted between their matches. The fan base was primarily there for the wrestling trials, but one couldn't help but notice how intrigued they were during the grappling matches. I had more than one wrestling official ask me about the grappling point system, appearing very eager to learn about their new cousin. While in the media booth with ESPN analysts and USA Wrestling veterans, they couldn't help but joke, when the P.A. announced, "Jeff Glover is the winner at 70 kg over Cub Swanson via triangle choke." They admitted that was something they never would have thought they would hear at a major wrestling event. Many of the wrestlers including Cael Sanderson were very approachable and interested in what submission grapplers had to offer, but more importantly some of the most accomplished cross-trained wrestlers in the world showed up to show their support for both the wrestling and grappling. Dan Henderson, Matt Lindland, Robbie Lawler, Matt Hughes, Roy Nelson, Jay Hieron, and Frank Trigg were just a few of the wrestling based MMA stars, who have crossed into the realm of submission, that were on hand this weekend to encourage the growth of both wrestling and grappling as a whole. For many of the wrestlers on hand, seeing these men support submission grappling too was a good way for submission grappling to gain a greater acceptance among the hardcore wrestling fans. We still have a long way to go, as the wrestlers received most of the fanfare, media coverage, and a full award ceremony, but this was a good start. In the words of Tara Larosa, "We're still wrestling's neglected cousin." That being said, a few years ago, the amount of acceptance we did receive would have seemed like a pipe dream.
Now for my personal highlights. First I want to start by noting that as good as the turn out was, Team USA will be even stronger in future years with the addition of Chris Moriarty, Rafael Lovato Jr., Jake Shields, Diego Sanchez, Rick Macauley, Nick Diaz, David Jacobs, Mike Fowler, Ryan Hall, Sonny Nohara, and many other young active Americans who were not present this weekend. Team USA could be even deeper if some of the coaches on hand decided to compete as well. Some of those coaches present were Marc Laimon, Eddie Bravo, Javier Vazquez, Johnny Ramirez, and Josh Barnett. As it was, many of our country's best were present, which brought a great deal of patriotic pride to me, starting with the National Anthem and ending with the competition itself.
In the women's divisions, Valerie "Valhalla" Worthington and Felicia "Uh-Oh" Oh led the way as two of the biggest cornerstones in American women's grappling. Val has one of the biggest networks of training partners in the country and displayed impressive stand-up grappling to go along with her adept ground game. She had a talented division, which included Josh Barnett's girlfriend Shannon Hooper, Pedro Sauer's top female grappler in Milda Shibonis, and MMA star Elaina "Beef" Maxwell. She ended her first match against Shibonis in exciting fashion by hip throwing her in OT. Then followed that performance up by throwing the much stronger Maxwell (who fought Gina Carano in December's Strikeforce) to the floor with a 5-point throw and quickly submitted her with a slick D'Arce choke. Afterwards, when speaking to Elaina, she didn't even know what Val did to make her tap, because it happened so fast. This is arguably Val's biggest win as she is now set to face the world's best in Antalya, Turkey in September at the 2007 Grappling World Championship. Joining her will be Felicia Oh, who is one of the best pound-for-pound female grapplers in the world. She backed up her ADCC North American trials title and ADCC World championship runner-up status with a dominating display of grappling this weekend. She won her division by scoring a major technical against Cristina Rodriguez followed by an arm-triangle submission from the mounted position over Bahar Shamidi (who had submitted her previous two opponents) in the finals. Winning the ADCC Trials, taking second at the ADCC Worlds, and winning the U.S. Grappling Trials is a pretty impressive run for somebody who told me she retired from competing at last year's Best of the West. Having Val and Felicia compete in September is great for the women's American grappling scene, as they are both excellent representatives on and off the mat.
Also going along for the ride to Turkey in the women's divisions are Cristina "Midget Twister" Rodriguez and Shayna "South Dakota Twister" Baszler who both placed third in their respective divisions. Val and Felicia appeared to take Cristina under their wing this weekend, which should only help her mentally and competitively. In her first match she showed hints of her instructor Rob Kahn's game by submitting MMA veteran Angela Magana with a quick guillotine choke from the guard. Then during her third place match, she showed a lot of heart fighting back from a 5-point deficit against a very tough wrestler in Carla O'Connell. Carla landed a high amplitude hip throw landing in side control, which earned her 5-points. However, Cristina fought back to guard and stayed active, while Carla looked to stall out the remaining time. This stalling was penalized and Cristina got 1-point plus the choice of position. She chose the top with Carla on her back. Cristina then passed guard, took the back with hooks (to regain the 5-points), broke Carla down with good back pressure, and sunk the rear naked choke for the win. In Shayna's third place match she had a rematch with Crystina "Xtina" Coats, who she had already faced in her first round match. The MMA veteran Shayna, who has a penchant for twisting backs into pretzels, secured her signature twister submission hold to take third and join Val, Felicia, and Cristina in Turkey.
In the men's divisions there were a lot of highlights for me. The first came on Day 1 when the old school Dennis Hallman met the new breed Bill Cooper in one of the most interesting match-ups in style of the day. Hallman had Matt Lindland and Jeff Monson in his corner, while Cooper had Franjinha Miller and Marc Laimon in his. This alone made the match interesting, signifying a clear MMA grappling style vs. a jiu-jitsu grappling style both in form and mentality. Cooper got the better of Hallman by the slightest of margins winning 9-8 in one of the most action-packed matches of the day. Another highlight came when Scott Bieri put a jiu-jitsu clinic on David Edwards, but lost on points due to a questionable point system and time out system. Many people were quick to point out that Bieri constantly had Edwards in danger with armbars, triangles, omoplatas, and gogoplatas, but the part that bothered me was after Edwards somehow managed to escape Bieri's triangle, he looked wobbly as they began to engage again. This was from the obvious abuse and pressure that the triangle had on his head. As Bieri looked to secure another submission, Edwards complained to the referee about a random "knee injury". To me this was a verbal submission and the match should have stopped right there. He didn't appear to know where he was and used this loophole in the rules to gather his thoughts. Bieri was quick to lock on a belly-down armbar off a takedown and even heard the arm pop, then Edwards complained about his knee again, forcing Bieri to his corner, while Edwards gained more rest time. In reality Edwards had more rest time than actual competition time and many of the other officials that witnessed this match as well as Josh Barnett, agreed Bieri was the superior grappler and suggested to officials that the rules should be examined due to the unfortunate outcome of this match. Though this match showed the most obvious glitches in the rules: too much injury time (that was taken advantage of) and not awarding dangerous submission holds (that caused the injury time outs), I would have to say overall the rules appear to be more solid than not in their approach of developing a universal and complete grappler. They emphasize action, active guard/guard passing, as well as solid guard pulling and takedowns. In the end 25 out of the 36 grapplers that placed in the top four were jiu-jitsu based grapplers and nearly half of those matches ended in submission. It is also worth noting that overall, about 3 out of every 4 matches in the 9 brackets ended in a submission.
Now for some additional highlights and footage. Denny "300" Prokopos earned the submission of the weekend by frying Saul Mitchell with the electric chair in a men's 70 kg consolation match. Even though he didn't place in the top three, Lundell, Glover, and Crane aren't out of the woods yet, as 300 is still eligible to qualify for Team Greece. Ulysses Gomez can also look to capitalize on this rule by competing for Team Mexico, as he too had an impressive showing by scoring the first major technical in Men's 62 kg USA Grappling history as well as a quick Mexican Bowtie submission against Erik Luker. Other possibilities to capitalize on this rule of competing for the country of their parent's origin are Gazzy Parman (Team Iran), Rudy Fischmann (Team Germany), and Jimmy Tang (Team China), who were all in attendance to show their support. Then in one of the most anticipated match-ups of the weekend, which was actually one of the last matches of the weekend, we saw two young jiu-jitsu phenoms Darren Uyenoyama and Simpson Go face each other in the finals of the Men's 62 kg division. Darren and Sim have a young budding rivalry, which had everyone's attention as it showcased Darren's aggressive top game against Sim's technical guard game. In the end Darren was the victor via decision, but both men will be flying to Turkey in September to represent possibly the deepest American division at 62 kg. I'd also like to note that, even though the match was action-packed as expected, I do feel there should have been one added incentive. The winner should have got a date with Clarissa Chun who once again dominated the women's wrestling world on Sunday. Lord knows how dangerous her kid's would be if she ended up with Darren or Sim! Finally, I want to thank both Will and Jason Townsend for their continued effort in growing submission grappling as a whole, which will hopefully one day be recognized as an Olympic sport.
2007 U.S. GRAPPLING WORLD TEAM TRIALS CHAMPIONS
62 kg/136.5 lbs. - Darin Uyenoyama, San Francisco, Calif. (Fogtown Jiu Jitsu)
70 kg/154 lbs. - Ricky Lundell, Orem, Utah (Pedro Sauer Team)
80 kg/176 lbs. - Don Ortega, Albuquerque, N.M. (No Limits)
92 kg/202.5 lbs., - Malcom Havens, Parker, Colo. (Grapplers Edge)
125 kg/275 lbs. - Jeff Monson, Olympia, Wash. (Victory Athletics)
48 kg/105.5 lbs. - Lisa Ward, Lacy, Wash. (United Fight Team)
55 kg/121 lbs. - ¬Felicia Oh, Tarzana, Calif. (JJ Machado/BJMUTA)
63 kg/138.75 lbs. - Tara LaRosa, Woodstown, N.J. (unattached)
72 kg/158.5 lbs. - Valerie Worthington, Los Angeles, Calif. (New Breed/Hollywood Brazilian Jiu Jitsu)