The three "OTM Breakthrough of the Year" awards go to one individual, male or female, in each of the following combat sports: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), Submission Grappling (No-Gi), and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). The winners of these awards have already established himself or herself on the competition scene, as a talented and well-respected competitor, but over the past year they have achieved that moment of clarity in their respective discipline that pushed their career to even greater heights.
In doing so, that guy or girl attained that coveted breakthrough performance that we all strive for, win or lose, each time we step on the mat. Moreover, this would not only be a career accomplishment enjoyed by the inidvidual, but a breakthrough that clearly resonates with everyone else who witnessed it. As Jay-Z says in his song Moment Of Clarity, "Thank God for granting me this moment of clarity. This moment of honesty. The world will feel my truths." In 2011, the world indeed felt the truth of the following three breakthrough performances!
OTM Breakthrough BJJ Player of the Year: Augusto "Tanquinho" Mendes
Augusto "Tanquinho" Mendes is no stranger to the competition scene. He began training jiu-jitsu when he was 14-years-old under the encouragment of his older brother Bruno "Tanque" Mendes. These siblings should not be confused with the famous Mendes brothers from the Atos team, but they are a pair of formidable Brazilians sharing the same last name nonetheless.
Unlike the Mendes brothers from Atos, however, these two are actually known by their nicknames. In Brazilian Portuguese, Tanquinho means "little tank". Augusto was given the name, since he was smaller and younger than Bruno, who was already known as Tanque meaning "tank". In customary Brazilian tradition, fighters are given nicknames based on physical attributes and both Tanquinho and his brother were affectionately referred to as "tanks" after going through everyone during training sessions.
The "little tank" Tanquinho immediately began breathing, eating, and sleeping jiu-jitsu and the results would soon follow. After winning the Worlds as a blue belt and purple belt, he took second as a brown belt, and eventually received his black belt from 9th degree red belt grand master Francisco Mansor. Soon after, Tanquinho and his brother Tanque teamed up with Rafael "Formiga" Barbosa, Leandro "Tatu" Escobar, and Alvaro Mansor to create the famous team known as Soul Fighters.
It was with that structure of skill and talent around him at Soul Fighters, that Tanquinho's competition career really took off. After placing at the Pan Ams and No-Gi Worlds in 2009 and 2010, Tanquinho started really getting everyone's attention in 2011, after successfully dropping down from lightweight to featherweight. It was there where he defeated some of the most decorated world champions in Jiu-Jitsu.
This breakthrough performance for Tanquinho reached a fever pitch in April at the World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Cup in Abu Dhabi, UAE, where he won the gold medal in the 65 kg weight class. In the process, he defeated Ryan Hall and the entire Atos featherweight line-up: Ary Farias, Guilherme Mendes, Ed Ramos, and Rafael Mendes. This accomplisment in itself had seemed unfathomable until Tanquinho did it in April. Just a few weeks later, he would also beat Atos' Bruno Frazatto at the 2011 World Jiu-Jitsu Championship.
During Tanquinho's run at the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship in Long Beach, California, Tanquinho actually defeated Hall, Frazatto, and 2009 world champion Rubens "Cobrinha" Charles to reach the finals against 2010 champion Rafael Mendes. Many had expected there to be another Cobrinha vs. Mendes final, which has become one of the fiercest rivalries in the sport due to them dominating this division in both the gi at the Worlds and no-gi at ADCC. However, Tanquinho crashed the party by elimating Cobrinha in the semi-finals, before dropping the final match to Mendes in a rematch of his finals match win over him at the WPJJC in Abu Dhabi six weeks earlier.
We here at OTM are proud to announce that Augusto "Tanquinho" Mendes is the winner of the 2011 "OTM Breakthrough BJJ Player of the Year" Award and can't wait to see more from him in 2012!
OTM Breakthrough Submission Grappler of the Year: Jeff Glover
Unless you just started training in Jiu-Jitsu and Submission Grappling or live under a rock between training sessions, you have certainly heard of Jeff Glover. Some know him as "The Pipe Layer", while the ladies know him as "G-Lover", but we all have come to know him as one of the most electrifying athletes in the sport today. Glover is a Paragon Jiu-Jitsu black belt under Ricardo "Franjinha" Miller and has been entertaining crowds across the country for years. Glover fell in love with jiu-jitsu as a teenager and has compiled a trophy case full of national and international titles that would make anyone proud.
Known for his patented Deep Half Guard game, Glover is noted worldwide as having one of the most dangerous submission arsenals on the planet. While many jiu-jitsu stars look to play it safe, Glover is always looking for the finish, while awing crowds with his almost effortless technical fluidity.
During his well-documented career, Glover has competed and trained in many countries on various continents, as well as all across the USA, but somehow a Top 3 finish in the biennial ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship has eluded Glover's illustrious career until this past year.
Competing in ADCC's über-stacked -66 kg (145 lb) weight division, also known as "Murderer's Row", Glover got his first taste of a ADCC medal match against Ryan Hall at ADCC 2009 in Barcelona, Spain. However, Glover is always quick to point out that opportunity was only afforded to him and Hall, after Leo Vieira and Rani Yahya were injured during their semi-final matches with Rafael Mendes and Rubens "Cobrinha" Charles. That is why Glover set out to achieve similar success at ADCC 2011, but this time on his own terms.
ADCC 2011 took place in Nottingham, England, United Kingdom this past September and Glover would be paired up with the British fans local favorite Tom Barlow in the first round. After cruising to a comfortable win over Barlow via points, Glover would then meet the 2010 ADCC USA East Coast Trials winner Marko Ramos. The Edson Carvalho protégé Ramos had also won by points in his first round match against Brazilian grappler Rafael dos Santos, but was clearly overmatched. Glover submitted Ramos with a lightning fast D'Arce Choke just 90 seconds into their quarter-final match.
That win advanced Glover to the second day of the competition, along with the division's elite: Rafael Mendes, Robson Moura, and Rubens "Cobrinha" Charles. The world title tally between Mendes, Moura, and Cobrinha alone reaches a staggering 16 world titles. After losing a hard fought match with Cobrinha, Glover would find himself in the same bronze medal match he was in at ADCC 2009. However, this time he had earned every bit of it and he wanted to make it count. That is exactly what he did as he shocked everyone inside the Capital FM Arena by submitting the 7-time world champion Moura via Guillotine Choke. The win put Glover on the ADCC medal podium for the first time in his career, which is truly a huge breakthrough performance in his already sparkling grappling career.
We here at OTM are proud to announce that Jeff Glover is the winner of the 2011 "OTM Breakthrough Submission Grappler of the Year" Award and we all look forward to what he has in store for 2012!
OTM Breakthrough MMA Fighter of the Year: Ronda Rousey
Ronda Rousey may be new to Mixed Martial Arts, but she is no stranger to combat sports. For starters, her mother Ann Maria Rousey DeMars, had a decorated Judo career and was the first American to win a World Judo Championship back in 1984. Growing up with a world champion judoka as your mother certainly helps the mindset for any combat athlete destined for greatness.
Rousey began training Judo as a child and would embark on a highly-successful Judo career, which led her on a path to the Olympics. She would go to both the 2004 Olympic Summer Games in Athens, Greece (where she was the youngest judoka at the Games) and the 2008 Olympic Summer Games in Beijing, China. It was in China where Rousey became the first American to win an Olympic medal (bronze medal) in women's judo, since it became and Olympic sport for women in 1992 in Barcelona, Spain.
Rousey had been involved in Judo her whole life, but after medaling in the Olympics, she felt it was time for a new challenge. That is when she saw female MMA fighters like Gina Carano making a name for themself on TV and in Hollywood and saw the sport as a viable career path, so she began focusing on MMA at Team Hayastan with Gokor Chivichyan, Leo Frincu, and "Judo" Gene Lebell, along with UFC fighter Manny Gamburyan, WEC veteran Karen Darabedyan, UFC veteran Sako Chivitchian, and NFA MMA veteran Sevak Magakian.
Rousey would soon make her amateur MMA debut in August 2010. In her debut, she defeated Hayden "Diamond" Muñoz in 23 seconds via armbar. This submission, which is a staple of the newaza game used by Olympic level judoka, would become Rousey's MMA calling card. She would win her next two amateur MMA bouts with the same technique in under a minute, before deciding to test herself further by fighting professionally in 2011.
Rousey would also begin teaching and training full time at Dynamix Martial Arts in Santa Monica, California alongside Rickson Gracie black belt Henry Akins and UFC and K-1 veteran Antoni Hardonk. Rousey being an Olympian and 4th dan black belt in Judo was now able to supplement her MMA training perfectly with the help of Akins' Jiu-Jitsu and Hardonk's Muay Thai.
Rousey's decision to fight professionally went even smoother than she planned. Just as she had unleashed her trademark Olympic level Juji Gatame (Armbar) on her three opponents in amateur MMA , she would use the same technique on her four professional opponents over the past year in what has been the most impressive breakthrough performance in MMA , male or female, over the past 12 months. Furthermore, while Rousey needed no more than 57 seconds to armbar her three opponents as an amateur, she would need no more than 49 seconds to do the exact same thing to her four opponents as a professional MMA fighter in 2011.
Rousey's high-level technique and exciting finishes, including two in Strikeforce's featherweight (145-pound) division, have certainly not gone unnoticed. She was actually signed by Zuffa after they bought Strikeforce last year. She took full advantage of the opportunity by dispacthing both Sarah D'Alelio and Julia Budd in dominant fashion (she snapped Budd's arm in her last fight in November) and is now set to challenge current Strikeforce bantamweight (135-pound) champion Miesha Tate for her title on Saturday, March 3rd, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio. That's what you call putting an exclamation point at the end of a tremendous career breakthrough!
We here at OTM are proud to announce that Ronda Rousey is the winner of the 2011 "OTM Breakthrough MMA Fighter of the Year" Award and we can't wait to watch her fight Miesha Tate for the Strikeforce bantamweight title on March 3rd!
Check out the rest of the winners from the OTM Awards 2011 here: www.onthemat.com/blogs-posts/otm-awards-2011-recap .