It's been a busy couple of weeks here in Rio and I am finally getting a chance to sit down and type up some of what has been happening here in Brazil. Two weeks ago I made a return to MMA sparring for the first time since I injured my ankle training in June.
For my first session back I didn't take the easy route. First I sparred with Carlos, a new arrival from Columbia. Carlos is considered one of the top fighters in Columbia, currently 12-0 professionally in MMA (and most of those by KO). He is solid on the ground but where he shines in on the feet. I have never sparred against someone who moved and mixed their strikes like him. He is constantly changing angles and directions only stopping to unleash lightning fast shots. I managed to stay calm and keep my defenses up to avoid the worst of it (narrowly), and I finally was able to pin him against the cage and take him down in the last 45 seconds to work from ground and pound.
Talking with him after I learned his boxing coach used to be one of Muhammad Ali's regular sparring partners, which explains the way he moves.
Next I sparred against Pequeno Nogueira and we traded shots back and forth. I was able to use an overhand right to set up a single leg. He defended so I switched to the double lifted and finished, but as soon as we hit the mat he shot back up to his feet and continued on.
For the final round I sparred with Milton Viera. I was able to work some nice body shots and get in on some nice shots against the cage, but he pretty well handled the round. This includes a perfectly timed head kick, which if I hadn't had my hands up I would have been taking a nice nap. The shot fired me up though and I finished the round working some dirty boxing against the cage.
With my ankle feeling better I have uped the intensity of my training. In wrestling the biggest thing I have been working on is my timing on my attacks and being explosive/shooting through my opponent. A lot of times when going for a takedown a person will just close the distance and shoot into their opponent. While this might work if the guy doesn't have good defense, it will be far more difficult to finish against better competition. Your objective should be to shoot and drive through your opponent allowing you to drive him off his feet and send him crashing to the mat more easily.
With BJJ I trained and drilled hard the past few weeks. I have been reping out guard passes several times a week on the mats here at the CR house, and it's beginning to pay off. My grips and guard passing techniques are feeling much better. However, the biggest way the drilling has been paying off is that it has really helped me to open my game up. Instead of stopping and thinking about what I want to do, I am feeling more how my opponent is moving and able to confidently/quickly move to attack. While I still am getting it handed to me by the higher belts I feel like I am making them work and react to my offense more. With a number of BJJ competitions coming up I am excited to be feeling so good in my rolling.
The biggest area I was able capitalize on was explosive takedowns and increased confidence in my BJJ in MMA sparring this past Saturday. A couple of guys are training for upcoming fights in Russia, so the sparring was as intense as ever. I was able to use my strikes to close the distance and work takedowns, and from there use ground and pound to advance position. Several times I found my self defending submissions but I was able to remain calm and work my way out of them. I managed to work some BJJ offense of my own and attempted several submissions including a finish with an arm triangle choke. Though I left with some bruises, I felt great, like I really took my game another step higher.
This past Saturday we put on a huge BBQ here at CR for UFC 165. Everyone chipped in and we grilled KILOS of meat, yeah that's right kilos of meat. Throughout the night while we watched the fights live on Channel Combate we had food coming off the grill. Thin Flank steaks and thick tender cuts of picanha with a garlic Cilantro dipping sauce, chicken and spicy pork sausage, grilled blocks of cheese on sticks, steak and veggie kebobs, and spicy marinated chicken breast. To top it all off we had fresh made pasta salad. It was enough for everyone eat until they were full (and then some), and with the total bill divided amongst us came out to around 15R a person. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday night-- watching great fights, with good friends, eating great food.