As far as I`m concerned, the biggest controversy of the event was the fact that an event sponsored by Budweiser could have no beer served at the venue! Furthermore, by the time I discovered where the complimentary beer was for sponsors, they were dry.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Grappling Classic Concord, North Carolina As far as I`m concerned, the biggest controversy of the event was the fact that an event sponsored by Budweiser could have no beer served at the venue! Furthermore, by the time I discovered where the complimentary beer was for sponsors, they were dry. (For the record, I`m not even all that fond of Budweiser). Of course, no one (I hope) attends a tournament based on the beverage selection at the concession stand. One of my favorite things about going to this region for tournament is the genuine hospitality everyone shows (that`s not to say the hospitality isn`t great in another parts of the country) and the fact that everyone is generally very excited about jiu-jitsu. I talked to dozens of people and am always very appreciative anyone thinks enough of my work to want to take the time to stop and share their experiences with me. Marc Laimon showed up and got the full rock star treatment as many people asked to have their picture taken with him or get an autograph (hey, Marc is a rock star!) It is fair to say that the Dale Earnhardt Jr. Grappling Classic, with the weight of sponsor`s name and the amount of hype surrounding the tournament had enormous expectations. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was present for a good deal of the tournament. He kept a relatively low profile, but signed autographs when asked. Royce and Relson Gracie were also both present throughout the day. The facility itself was enormous and ideally set up for a tournament of this magnitude. A stage was set up for a scheduled concert and Dale`s #8 Budweiser was there for fans to take pictures next to. 350 competitors submitted 571 entries between the BJJ and Submission Grappling Tournaments, and a fair number of top competitors were slated for the two professional divisions. The tournament began several hours late in part to late arrivals due to the freakishly cold weather (the Southern United States was experiencing a record cold front, a fact not lost on this reporter who was traveling from sunny California). The combination of the late start and sheer number of participants made the planned schedule moot, as the tournament would run all day and well into the night. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Tournament and Submission Grappling Tournament The sport BJJ tournament began first, with the women and children`s divisions both of which had quite a few participants. Quite a few teams had come out for the tournament, from local schools such as the Royce Gracie Network and Team Roc, to Gracie Barra and Relson Gracie representatives to the Texas Punishment Crew, who had driven 16 hours to this event! The tournament progressed through the lower ranked belts in the men`s division and then to a fair number of purple and brown belt competitors. The highlight of the brown belt competition was Rafael Lovato Jr. who met Anthony Tolone in the finals of the open division. Anthony probably in the neighborhood of 30-40 pound to Rafael, who was lean and buffed out enough that he wasn`t instantly recognizable. Rafael began the match by dropping to his open guard, which he utilizes very well (especially for a man his size). Anthony cautiously worked his way on top and pressed for the pass, but a when he shifted his weight a little too far forward on his foot Rafael took advantage and got the sweep. From there, Anthony began to play his spectacular open guard, looking for sweeps and nearly taking Rafael`s back. However Rafael defended well, and when Anthony tried once too often for a leverage sweep, Rafael was able to squash the attempt and pass guard. Rafael worked side control and Anthony definitely didn`t have room to move and the match ended from there. Many of the same competitors who competed in the gi division would later step on the mat late that afternoon for the submission grappling portion of the tournament. Because of the late start of the tournament in general, the submission grappling portion ran well into the night. At some point past 10:00 or 11:00 PM, it was finally time for the first superfight. Todd Margolis vs. Saulo Riberio Todd Margolis out of the Linxx Academy is certainly one of the more colorful personalities on the grappling circuit. From his trademark karaoke style entrances and his broad sense of humor, not to mention his considerable grappling skills, he is quickly becoming a fan favorite. Todd confided earlier in the day (in between nagging from a family member blissfully unaware of the magnitude of his match) that after a year of coming close but no banana he had rededicated himself to training full time (which is a scary thought when you consider how far he had gotten training part time). And what else can you say about Saulo? Six time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Champion, Abu Dhabi champion Saulo is one of the most accomplished grapplers on the planet. About the only surprise Saulo brought to the mat was his bitchin` fro (which seems to be the hairstyle of choice among fashionable grapplers these days). The action began very quickly as both competitors attempted numerous takedown attempts. They moved around the entire space of the mat, but neither competitor could gain an edge. About two minutes in, Saulo shot in butt Todd sprawled nicely, so Saulo countered by pulling an open half guard. Todd worked to stabilize himself and pass, however after a minute he attempted to back out of Saulo`s guard. Saulo would have none of it however, and as Todd went to his feet Saulo scored a takedown. Now Todd was in a butterfly guard and Saulo was on top playing very cautiously. Todd would attempt to elevator or get Saulo off base, but Saulo was very content to keep Todd`s shoulders on the mat. Without about a minute left to go, Too knew he was behind so he decided to press the action more, however this let Saulo pass guard and subsequently achieve side mount where they finished the match. The Pro Division: Now getting very late into the night, the Pro Division (for cash prizes) Submission Grappling tournament had not even begun yet! The tournament was broken into a lightweight tournament and a heavyweight tournament and each division had about 16 competitors. It was a tremendous testament to the participating fighters who hung in there all day to compete in what was definitely a stacked division. Immediately falling the first superfight the pro division began in earnest, as six matches began simultaneously! Naturally, this became a reporter`s (and cameraman`s) worst nightmare, as these divisions were stacked with talent and it was impossible to catch all of the action! The lightweight tournament had plenty of action -and plenty of controversy. In the first round two favorites matched up in Sean Spangler and Anthony Tolone who had a very close match in which the referee awarded the decision to Tolone. A reply showed that a takedown call may have been missed, but the referee`s call stood and Tolone advanced. Nakapan Phungporn advanced all the way to the semi-finals; despite having seeming injured his ankle early in the action only to lose a very controversial decision in which he was seemingly all over his opponent. Even Nakapan`s opponent`s coaches (Saulo included) stated he should have won the match. Later on Anthony Tolone lost in the finals on a referee`s decision in yet another controversial call. The heavyweight tournament had its share of great action as well. On one side of the bracket Rafael Lovato Jr. looked very dominant, winning his matches by either massive buildup of points or tap out. On the other side was Roy "Country" Nelson, likewise mowing through the competition. These two met in the finals and had an exciting (but again controversial) battle. Rafael would continually fall back to play his vaunted open guard game, and although Country showed excellent base in falling for any sweeps, he couldn`t pass either. At one point it looked like Rafael could take Country`s back and work a choke, but he didn`t secure both hooks in for a the points and Country escaped. Each time the match went the feet, Country would look for a takedown, but Rafael would play guard. Finally Rafael went for an ankle lock and came on top, under most circumstances this would have been considered a sweep, however in referee Ed Clay`s interpretation of how the rules were explained, he couldn`t award the points (a point Ed agonized over later). The match ended and Country was awarded the decision and the Heavyweight bracket. Marc Laimon vs. Marcello Clemente Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding this match will probably be the most talked about event of the entire tournament. Marc Laimon is a black belt under Nova Uniao and a favorite contributor here at OTM. Marcello Clemente is a black belt under Royler Gracie, and was announced as being part of the Joe Hurst team. It raised a few eyebrows then when Joe Hurst stepped onto the mat as the referee. The match began rather furiously, as the competitors locked their upper bodies and looked for the takedown. The action went back and forth as both competitors pushed each other all over the place. Finally, about four minutes in Marc shot in but Marcello sprawled nicely, and was able to convert to a single leg for a takedown. At this point (but not for the first time in the match) the action spilled outside of the single mat boundary, but when Joe wanted to restart to the center of the match Marcello insisted on continuing the action and Marc (busy attempting an Oma Plata) agreed. The match continued and Marcello backed out, so both competitors moved to the center of the mat. After more circling Marcello shot for a takedown that took the competitors out of bounds again, Marc sprawled and quickly spun to Marcello`s back. Marcello seemed in slow motion, but began to protest when Marc sunk his hooks in and secured the choke, forcing Marcello to tap. What followed then was 20 minutes of chaos. As marc celebrated, Marcello and his teammates vigorously protested the call, stating the action was out of bounds. The crowd cheered, booed and otherwise watched in disbelief at the commotion down below. Finally it was decided that the match would be restarted on the feet with Marc being awarded four points. The match finally continued and rather than play the takedown game again Marc jumped to guard. Marcello stood up with Marc clutching him tightly and attempted to pry him off. With Marc`s grip slipping he dropped to his feet and Marcello charge ahead pushing Marc over a group of spectators that were sitting on the side of the mats. As Marc literally fell head over heels among the crowd Joe awarded Marcello two points for a takedown! Marcello went back to the center in celebration, and Marc gathered himself up and went back to the mat as well. The match continued with Marc playing his guard and Marcello either hanging on tight, or backing out. Time expired with both sides claiming victory. However, the scorecard said 4-4, so a three-minute overtime was declared! The disapproval of the crowd at this point was plain, as was the look of exasperation on Marc`s face. The match then continued with Marc pulling guard and Marcello either holding him, or backing out. Marc then began to vigorously complain that Marcello was avoiding the guard, but the referee made both competitors stand up. The two began to look for takedowns again, but in one scramble Marcello called for an injury time out as he apparently hurt his finger. Action started up again briefly as both competitors looked exhausted when time expired. The announcer called for a second three-minute overtime, but by this point both Marc and Marcello had apparently had enough. The match was declared a draw, much to the chagrin of everyone present. Daniel Moraes vs. Jorge Gurgel Approaching the 2:00 AM mark, it was time for the final super fight. Both fighters have been hot as of late. Jorge Gurgel had a rather impressive victory at the International Cage Combat show. Daniel Moraes had just won the Abu Dhabi Brazilian qualifier a few days previous! Daniel actually began the match wearing his qualifier rash guard. The match began with Jorge jumping to guard right away. Daniel worked the pass, but with Jorge legs` open he fell back to straight ankle lock about a minute in. This was unsuccessful so Daniel quickly moved back on top to Jorge`s guard. After another two minutes Daniel nearly passed, but Jorge reconstituted his guard with an acrobatic maneuver. It was a short lived little triumph for Jorge, as Daniel quickly passed guard and got side control. From here Daniel played tight, but when he attempted to get a full mount Jorge put him back in the guard. Jorge attempted a loose armbar and Daniel was able to pass guard again. Time expired with Daniel on the side. The Aftermath- Despite some very questionable officiating throughout the tournament and the fact it ran far later than anyone was prepared for due to a number of factors, the tournament could ultimately be called a success and did break quite a bit of exposure to the sport. Mistakes were most definitely made, perhaps exponentially magnified due to the size of the event, and certain factors (such as the unusual cold spell the Southern United States was experiencing) may have contributed to the disarray as well. It was clearly evident from both the hype leading up to the tournament (some of which didn`t pan out) and from first walking into the arena that the promoters had every intention on making this event huge. What will be interesting to see what impact the tournament had on the public at large, as well as within the sport`s community and what we are all able to take away from this. Sometime after 2:00 AM, after leaving the arena and saying my goodbyes, good old Ed Clay, his traveling buddy Steve and I made our way back to a hotel to crash out for the night. Exhausted and freezing, we couldn`t get to the front desk fast enough to check in. "Where you coming from?" asked the clerk. I think it was Steve that told her we were coming from a jiu-jitsu tournament (my brain was both tired and frozen at this point). "Jiu-Jitsu, that`s like karate, huh" she asked. I was about to shift into autopilot mode, as I`m sure most of you have had this particular conversation many times before. "Not quite," began Steve when she interrupted and corrected herself "wait a second, that`s like wrestling with submission holds and stuff" which is a far more accurate response than I was expecting at this time in night in this part of the world under these circumstances. That put a quick smile to my face.