It's been about a month since my last "weekly"column. Not that we haven't been busy around here.
Well, well, well.
It's been about a month since my last "weekly" column. Not that we haven't been busy around here. Between Scotty (who's back stateside at the moment if you haven't heard) and myself, we hit about seven tournaments in four weeks all over the country. Yipes! That's a lot of miles covered, a lot of footage shot and a lot of grappling witnessed. Reports/Video/Pictures/Results from each of these events will be up or have already gone up shortly, so I won't talk about things here (I've got a ton to cover this time around).
I do want to mention the CityBoxing Tournament in San Diego put on by Dean Lister, Brandon Vera and Brent Stuchlik (Full report will be up next week). Plenty of action, awesome prizes, and friendly atmosphere summed a great day of competition. The definite highlight for me was as Brandon Vera was refereeing an advanced division on the main mat, tempers between two of the competitors flared and they began to get physical with each other in an unsportsmanlike way. Brandon VERY QUICKLY nipped it in the bud, separating the two contestants and when they failed to de-escalate we DQ'd both and threw them off of the mat. As they angrily tried to plead the case he basically would have none of it, and told them he didn't care who started it, if they threw blows they were both in the wrong and he cared too much for the sport to let them tarnish the image of it. I think both competitors were so stunned by Brandon's quick and decisive action that they both quickly apologized to the tournament and to each other, and the tournament continued without incident.
Glad to see someone who took charge and wanted to protect the image of the sport we all love. Brandon was later cracking about being only a purple belt ref, but I think everyone can learn a lesson from him. IS EVERYONE LISTENING? Good.
This weekend Scotty and I will be at the Grappler's Quest West 4 in Las Vegas Nevada. Word is that this will be the biggest submission grappling/no gi event on the west coast ever, highlighted by three stellar 8-PERSON superfight divisions which are absolutely stacked with talent.
HOLY CRAP, you want to pick a favorite in these divisions? Little did I know when I started doing these columns exactly what kind of mess I was about to get myself into, as plenty of sources are now clamoring to hear how my predictions for each of these divisions will go. Never let it be said that I'm afraid to put my reputation (and thus far high percentage predicitions) on the line here, however this time I truly feel like it could be anyone's day to win the tournament. Bear with me, I have an awful lot of typing to do here!
$1000 Lightweight Superfight Division
This event is stacked. Lightweight divisions typically don't get the same attention as some other divisions, however the eyes of the world is going to be on Las Vegas on March 27th as this 170 and under division unfolds.
Pablo Popovitch (American Top Team Black Belt)
I've said it before about Pablo: Pablo Popovich was at last years Abu Dhabi, where he defeated reigning champion Marcio Feitosa in the first round before going down to the aforementioned Shaolin. Popovich is proportioned like a comic book character, I've literally never seen anyone as ripped as him. In addition to brawn, he's an extremely intelligent fighter, and this has shown time and time again in his application of technique on the mat where his simply outthinks before he out muscles his opponents. His last match was a loss against the seemingly not from this planet Marcelo Garcia, but don't hold that against him, he's still a dangerous opponent and probably has something to prove to the world right now.
Alexander Crispim (Ralph Gracie / Gracie Barra Brown Belt)
Crispim has a list of titles and accomplishment both here and in Brazil that's as long as my arm. I've actually been training a lot with Crispim lately, and I can tell you he is probably the gamest competitor I've ever seen. Weight classes? Location? It doesn't matter to Crispim, because he just likes to fight! It's a lot of fun to watch someone compete who obviously loves it so much. If allowed to he would probably fight in every weight division of the tournament! He favors both the guillotine choke and as a student of the legendary Gordo the vaunted 1/2 guard.
This is a return match, with the two meeting up in the finals of the Music City Grappling Championships in September of last year. Popovitch won by Kimura when Crispim dropped to half guard. Both have since competed in a number of tournaments, but this loss is one that Crispim is very eager to avenge.
Leo Santos (Nova Uniao Black Belt)
Leo Santos is a definite legend of BJJ; 9 time state champ, 3 time world champ and a third place finish at ADCC 2001. He's been considered one of the best in the world for a very long time now. Highly skilled, tons of mat experience, dangerous from everywhere Leo emerges as the narrow favorite in this heavily stacked division.
Jake Shields (Cesar Gracie Purple Belt)
Jake is probably more known for his victories in MMA, as he is highly decorated in Japan with victories over such legends as Mach Sakurai. While less known on the grappling circuit, Jake has shown he has a wide arrange of talents here as well, most notably at the Pain Inc tournament in which he first garnered the fastest submission of the day, then threw everything but the kitchen sink at Jon Fitch (who survived submission attempt after submission attempt to win the match). Still, with a combination of a wrestling scholarship at SF State and a solid purple belt from Cesar Gracie, Jake is a solid opponent who will be exciting to watch. His lack of upper level submission grappling experience makes him a long shot in this tournament (coupled with the fact he has the hardest draws in the tournament), but he's shocked people before when he's had nothing to lose.
Marcos Avellan (Florida Freestyle Grappling)
Marcos Avellan runs the Florida Freestyle Fighting Academy and has had a very active year competing in submission grappling tournaments. Marcos is an outstanding wrestler with unorthodox passes, who will take a submission if the opportunity presents itself. In his loss to Otto Olson at SWO 1 he also showed he can strategize and pull guard when he has to, and reports have him showing a wide array tricks from this position as well. Marcos Avellan without a doubt has to be considered among the top grapplers in his weight class in the world
Jason "Mayhem" Miller (Team Cobra Kai/Oyama)
Jason Miller started off in Atlanta under Jacare, trained with Team Oyama for a long while, moved unto Laimon. He beat Egan Inoue in a MMA fight and was suppossed to fight on the last UFC. He's a certifiable nutcase (in a good way), really entertaining on and off the mat. His unorthodox behavior might serve to throw some people off, but underneath it is a very talented grappler who will take submissions when he can get them. Also look out for one of the most unorthodox passes in the sport.
This is a tough first round match up for both Avellan and Miller, and winner of this match will know that they've been in a battle for sure. It will be interesting to see how they stylistically match up and I'm certain both will be forced to show sides of their game they haven't yet. A slight nod goes to Miller, simply because he is the larger of the two.
Joe Camacho (Aloisa Silva Brown Belt)
I actually like Joe "JC Plentee" Camacho quite a bit as a person and enjoy watching him compete; his problem is that he's an inconsistent competitor. When he looks good, he looks spectacular and when he looks bad, ummâ€¦ He's capable of dazzling you one moment with a fancy move and then making you groan the next. He's always game, but he's going to have to be training very hard for this event specifically to do well in this format. When he puts together all the pieces of his game, he'll do very well.
Jared Weiner (Lloyd Irvin Black Belt)
Explosive, aggressive, excellent takedowns (being a black belt in both Judo and Jiu-Jitsu), and hungry for the submission, Jared Weiner is a dangerous man indeed. His odds are longer as he is the smallest man in this tournament (historically the smallest competitor has NEVER won a GQ 8 man event), but Jared is probably the last person that cares about history. Not the size of the dog in a fight, but the fight in the dog, that's for certain.
Is there a bit of a grudge match here? Jared Weiner lost in controversial fashion to Camacho's instructor/teammate Joao Silva at the Black Belt Challenge III in December and revenge has to be on his mind.
$1000 Middleweight Superfight Division:
When Marcelo Garcia was in this division I felt a lot more comfortable making a prediction here, as in the last few weeks he has proven and re-proven to be the man to beat in submission grappling. I did feel however that if any American had a shot at stopping Garcia, it would have to be Cameron Earle, so there was a bit of drama to this division. However both competitors had to bow out due to injury, and credit promoter Brian Cimins with fielding an absolutely outstanding 8 man field in which anything truly can happen and outstanding match up are provided at every level.
David Avellan (Florida Free Style Grappling)
We've talked about David Avellan in this column before and despite being one of the busiest grapplers in the world in 2003, it seems that 2004 is the year in which he's finally getting his due recognition. David is coming off a big win in overtime against Todd Margolis at SWO 1, and it's Dave takedown abilities and defense which mark his style, followed up by a unorthodox by highly effective guard pass when it does get to the ground. If the submission is there, he'll definitely take it, but Avellan is also very savvy as far as "playing the game" so to speak. He's been very successful at this level of competition and will definitely be dangerous to contend with.
Luke Stewart (Ralph Gracie Brown Belt)
At Ralph Gracie's academy, he's been fortunate enough to have a very high level of talent throughout the years, but four of his American students in particular proved to be exceptionally outstanding talents and were pegged for greatness from the first day: Dave Camarillo, BJ Penn, Cameron Earle and Luke Stewart. That's obviously very high praise to lavish on someone you might not have heard of yet. Luke is less experienced than the others mentioned, both in terms of mat time and competition, but no one who's seen Luke in action will deny that he's destined for greatness. He's very hard to takedown, but will prefer to get it to the ground as quickly as possible in order to utilize his very slick, acrobatic ground game. He's capable of fighting well from any position, but his guard is especially dangerous. Luke possesses as much raw talent as anyone in this field and then some, but he also has the least experience at this level of superfight competition.
Luke's match with David Avellan might be the match I looking forward to the most at the tournament. Fireworks are what I'm expecting, nothing less than full born fireworks.
Diego Sanchez (Jackson Gaido)
Diego Sanchez is aggressiveness personified, and he made a legion of fans with his last performance at Grappler's Quest coming in second to the much larger Roy Nelson. He simply NEVER backs down and is always looking for the kill. Diego's strengths are his explosive (and I do mean explosive) takedowns, his seeming ability to take the back at will, and his aggression coupled with inhuman stamina. On the other hand, the aggression that is his trademark might be his downfall and in the heat of battle he's could get a bit sloppy, relying on his extraordinary attributes rather than position and technique. You could argue that at 7-0 in MMA, and a loss only to the aforementioned (and much larger) Roy Nelson, it really hasn't hurt him however. Diego should be a huge draw in whatever promotion he decides to grace.
Sean Spangler (Marc Laimon/Cobra Kai)
At the previous Grappler's Quest I did a write up on Sean that he agreed was completely accurate to describe his previous style of grappling, but in the last several months of training with Marc Laimon he has radically altered his game. He stepped down from that 8-man in favor of his teammate Roy Nelson as coach Laimon felt the latter had a better shot at winning the Absolute Division (and a revenge match against Frank Mir) and Spangler showed off his new gameplan in the advanced division, which he jokingly asked me not to share until he could unveil at the proper time. Spangler is hungry and his time is NOW. Many of Spanger's previous strengths remain, most notably his wrestling skills and patience, but now you can add the title of submission specialist to his resume. He's got a new bag of tricks in his arsenal, most notable is his own "back hunting" skills.
The 1st round match up between Diego Sanchez and Sean Spangler is especially intriguing, as you have two grapplers with similar strengths and styles (wrestling and taking the back) but with two radically different philosophies of aggression levels and positioning skills. We'll be studying this match up very carefully for a long time to come as each combatant is going to be tested to his limit early on in this division.
Tyrone Glover (Cassio Werneck Brown Belt)
Have I hyped Tyrone Glover in this column enough yet? In case you missed it, I described Tyrone with "Grappling wise he's pretty much the complete package of athleticism, mat savvy, and skill and he's dangerous in any number of ways." Now pretty much the entire grappling world is convinced that the hype is to be believed. He can pretty much beat you with whatever you give him, which is not to say he's not capable of dictating the pace of a match. He perhaps accelerates as well as anyone in the world; in that he can play a slow, methodical game if need be, only to explode for a submission attempt or a positional improvement when the timing is correct. Toe Holds have lately been a favorite finisher for Tyrone, so anyone grappling against him would be wise to watch their feet, if he doesn't decide to attack you from any other position first. His one shortcoming in this tournament is that he is the smallest person entered and would perhaps been able to do more damage in the lightweight division. Credit that to Tyrone's huge heart to go along with his enormous talent.
Gary Grate (Charles Gracie Brown Belt)
Gary Grate is a brown belt in jiu-jitsu, a wrestler who's competed three times in the US Nationals of Freestyle Wrestling and an MMA veteran. Unfortunately for Gary the only time I've seen him compete (that I can specifically recall) was a brown belt match against Luke Stewart at the last US Open that I'm certain that Gary would rather forget. On paper at least he has the credentials to be here however, and in the first round he enjoys a bit of a size advantage against Tyrone, so we'll see to what effect he is able to use his wrestling skills.
Rafael Lovato Jr. (Machado Brown Belt)
Rafeal Lovato Jr. has a lot of things going for him entering this tournament; he's the largest competitor, he's the youngest competitor, and he's the most experienced competitor flying out from his home base in Oklahoma to participate in both BJJ and Submission Grappling tournaments all over the country and around the world. Lovato Jr. would probably have much more experience, however he actually has a problem finding match ups as competitors have literally withdrawn from the division when finding out about the possibility of matching up with him! Unusual for a big man, Lovato Jr.'s favored tactic is to rely on a classical Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Open Guard, which he can employ equally well for sweeps and submissions -in some regards this makes him the most classical orthodox Jiu-Jitsu fighter in the group. Lovato Jr. has faced some of the best in the world, and his status as the favorite in this extremely stacked division is testament to his considerable abilities and the feeling that just may be his time to take the spotlight, in fact I'm predicting big things for Lovato both at the GQ and at the Pan Ams; his black belt cannot be far behind.
Moacir "Boca" Oliveira (American Top Team Black Belt)
Boca is a black belt with the American Top Team and has built up a respectable record in both MMA and Submission Grappling. He recently won the absolute division of the Submission Wrestling Open I in Florida and enters with the most momentum of any of the competitors. Boca's style is known to be methodical and he definitely has the ability to slow down the pace of the match and use the rules very effectively to his advantage. He is also known for his very effective guard pass.
In the opening round match up we have a classic match up of perhaps the best guard in the tournament (Lovato Jr.) against the best guard passer (Boca).
$500 Women's Superfight Division
Think the men's divisions are stacked? The women's division features the top US Grapplers from the West Coast, the East Coast, Brazil and Europe! This is without a doubt the most difficult women's division EVER.
Erica Montoya (Chris Brennan/Next Generation)
Erica, despite her young age, is already one of the most seasoned grapplers on the scene and has made her mark in sports jiu-jitsu, submission grappling and MMA. Erica is dangerous in any number of ways, from chokes to leglocks and she's tougher than hell.
Lauren "Lolo" Cousin (Sylvio Behring Purple Belt; Paris, France)
The top female competitor from Europe, she was very impressive in her runner up performance at the Arnold Gracie tournament. Her sponsors back home have her travel around the globe frequently for both seminars and competition, so she is very seasoned.
Rebecca Faber (Tai Kai Machado Jiu-Jitsu; Delaware)
Rebecca competes on both the East Coast and West Coast and whether she wins or loses always puts on a good performance. She's a five time GQ champion and definitely a force to be reckoned with here.
Lauren Moriera (Las Vegas Combat Club/ Sergio Penha/ Ricardo Pires Brown Belt)
Wow! Despite Lauren's impressive resume here: (-Time U.S. Open Jiu Jitsu Champion, 2003 Las Vegas Grappling and Jiu Jitsu Champion, 2002 Joe Moreira Superfight Champion) I can't say I've ever seen her compete, nor could I get much useful information on here. That makes her the dark horse candidate in this division.
Leonore Avellan (Florida Freestyle Grappling)
Not only the favorite in this tournament, Leonore Avellan has a legitimate claim as one of the best female grapplers in the world, submitting everyone she fought at the NAGA World Championships Expert Division, she also won the four woman superfight division at the World Grappling Games where she was dominating the match with Leka before Leka's unfortunate injury when Leka unsuccessfully tried to stop one of Leonore's takedowns. Leonore is an excellent wrestler and can control the match very well on the ground by both smothering her opponent.
Team Ralph Gracie Representative
Odds: None Given
As of this writing it's not sure which (if either) of Ralph Gracie's dangerous purple belts, Jennifer Locke or Kelly Paul will be in this division. Both have gone against some of the best in the world in BJJ competition and proven to be absolutely dominant (their percentage of submissions in competition rivals the best men at the academy) although neither has competed at this level of submission grappling before, which has proven to be a different animal. Watch this slot carefully come Saturday.
Marianna Garcia (Oswaldo Alves Black Belt)
Marianna is coming off a win in the pro division at the Arnold Gracie event and has numerous titles back home in Brazil, who will be eagerly anticipating the results of her performance.
Felicia Oh (Jean Jacques Machado / Eddie Bravo 10th Planet Brown Belt)
Felicia has been a fixture in California competitions (both BJJ and Submission Grappling) for sometime now and has spent quite a bit of time recently training with Eddie Bravo, so we'll likely get to see the vaunted "Rubber Guard". Those who aren't familiar with those techniques are going to be in trouble.
There you have it! Hoped you enjoyed reading this column because it took me FORVER to write.
Two more plug I HAVE to get out of the way before I'm done. Firstly, have to mention the United Gracie Tournament coming up on May 8th in San Francisco. This one is actually run by my own instructor, Ralph Gracie, so you know OntheMat is going to be all over this one! Furthermore, talking with Ralph and Charles about their plans for this one has already got me excited, they're looksing at a very well run tournament with plenty of talent to spare. Plus if you come up you'll get to party with the OntheMat boys on their home turf! You can't beat that!
Secondly, Scotty and I will be covering our first event in Europe! On April 25th we'll be at the Seni Show in England covering the Gracie Invitational! We've basically been all over the world promoting BJJ and covering events, but we've never been to Europe for this before! We're really excited to see how the grappling scene is going on in Europe, and are looking forward to spotlighting the competitors and fighters as well. We'll be doing the Onthemat thing, which means we'll be filming, interviewing, reporting and basically recording everything for our website. If you like our grappling and BJJ matches on our site, well Europe, now here's your chance to show the rest of the world what you're about.
We're planning on spending at least a week out there, so you have any suggestions on places to visit, people to check out, cheap places to stay (we do this because we love it, not because we're rich), what products you like to see us bring, what superfighters you'd like us to help us set up, or ANYTHING! Let me know.
Back at you next week (maybe) with a column that's less likely to give me writers cramp!