On Saturday, November 18, 2006 hundreds of competitors, coaches, and spectators alike filled the Long Beach City College's Hall of Champions gymnasium for the 6th installment of the internationally renowned American International Championships.
Tournament director Ryan Gregg of World Grappling Games along with Scotty Nelson of OnTheMat.com and their staff worked tirelessly into the night preparing a stellar Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Submission Grappling extravaganza. Just about every obstacle imaginable was thrown their way from being forced to change dates just weeks before the tournament to having to set up and break down an hour early due to a women's basketball game. What seemed like the impossible was quickly transformed into an overwhelming success, due to their efforts, the spectacular level of talent that particiapted, and the support received from sponsors OnTheMat.com, OTM Fight Shop, Lucky Gi, Future Fighter, Sinister, TapouT, DaHui, Mats4Rent.com, Liquid Charge, Silvia's Brazilian BBQ, and Warrior Wear.
The festivities started off with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (Gi) competition promptly around 9:00 a.m. with the future generation of grappling and jiu-jitsu stars competing in the Children's and White Belt divisions. However, the first competitor that really caught my attention came during the Men's 160 lb. Blue Belt division. A good friend of mine Mike "Vice Grips" Feldman was looking forward to his very first gi competition was forced to compete with guys half his age, entering himself in the 160 lbs. Blue Belt division. His first opponent, David Dean of Ralph Gracie's Academy looked very serious and ready as soon as he stepped onto the mat with Mike. Now for anyone that has trained with Mike, the first thing that comes to mind is how incredibly difficult it is to move him, which is how he was given the nickname "Vice Grips". However, David quickly pulled guard and through one leg over, appearing like he was looking for the triangle. No one really felt Mike was in any real danger, but to our surprise that was simply the bait as David only crossed his ankles with the triangle set up, neglecting to sink the triangle as Mike postured, and transitioned into an effortless armbar one minute into the match. David then went on to submit his next two very game opponents with the same exact series of movements. There was no other way to describe this kid other than an "armbar machine." After he submitted all three of his opponents with the same armbar setup and transition, I felt compelled to speak with him after he received his gold medal. David, who has been training for over two years, attributed his training to Ralph Gracie, but the triangle-to-armbar set up he kept landing at will on very tough opposition to none other than Jeff Glover, who he had spent a lot of time training with early on in his career. Later, when I spoke with Jeff, we were both agreed that it's only a matter of time before we see David Dean creating havoc in the Purple Belt divisions.
The women's gi division featured an interesting storyline in its own right. Internet legend Valerie "Valhalla" Worthington would go on to defeat her first two opponents with very calm and technical guard passes that would make even Joe Moreira jealous. Meanwhile on the other side of the bracket, Val's former training partner and teammate from Carlson's school in Chicago, Crystina "Xtina" Coates was making quick work of her competition with a very active guard, submitting her first opponent with a triangle and her second opponent via armbar. That set up a finals match between Valhalla and Xtina, who were very familiar with each other's games due to hours of training together. Xtina would quickly pull guard and Valhalla quickly began looking for the pass. Xtina was able to do something Valhalla's first two opponents failed to do by limiting Valhalla's guard passing prowess with a very active closed guard. Soon the match would go into over-time. Xtina was able to pull half guard, but soon the minute overtime ended and the two were forced into a sudden-death scenario. Valhalla was able to open Xtina's guard and fell back into a very tight straight achilles lock. Though Xtina did not tap, Valhalla won the match for putting Xtina in more danger while remaining active inside Xtina's very formidable guard. The two would go on to face each other in the finals of their No-Gi division as well with Xtina pulling off the victory this time and both ended their day with one gold and one silver medal a piece!
Each division was chalk-full of talent and hungry competitors ready to leave their mark in this sport, but it wasn't until the Men's Advanced 150 lbs. and under division started that the crowd started to really stir with anticipation. The division featured some very high profile competition from all over the map, including Cobra Kai's Sonny Nohara, Dean Lister's Chance Farrar, 10th Planet's Scott Epstein, Roger Machado's Kahlil Moreland, Gracie Academy's Chris Holdsworth, Internet Warrior Jimmy "Wutang" Tang, and Barret Yoshida's Mike Cuse.
Sonny Nohara and Jimmy Tang started things off with Sonny getting the better of Jimmy with 3 mounts and 2 guard passes. The next match was a war between Scott Epstein and Kahlil Moreland that saw the match go into a sudden-point over time with Kahlil scoring 2 points for a takedown, which ended the match. Sonny's next opponent was Mike Cuse, who gave everything Sonny could handle. In the end Sonny won with two single-leg takedowns and a sweep to 1 sweep. On the other side of the bracket, Chance Farrar who was easily the most physically imposing competitor in this division finished Kahlil with a rear-naked choke. After Mike Cuse defeated Kahlil Moreland in the 3rd-place match, the finals match was set, which featured Cobra Kai's Sonny Nohara and Dean Lister's Chance Farrar. The match was neck and neck after Chance scored an early takedown. Then with only 10 seconds left Sonny landed a flying as the two grapplers were headed out of bounce. Chance simply carried Sonny back to the middle of the mats and gutted out the final seconds for the win. This left everyone wondering how the match would have ended if the mat space was only a few inches wider. In all the division was stacked with talent and everyone in attendance was treated to a very high-level and technical display of submission grappling.
In the Purple Belt 150 lb. (Gi) division, the third place match featured Jimmy "Wutang" Tang and Kahlil Moreland. After several position changes, Wutang got to Kahlil's back and finished him with an impressive gi-choke to take 3rd place. In the finals match, Sonny Nohara who had previously defeated Kahlil with a sweep and a pass, faced Ralph Gracie's Tay Crivello. This was the very last match of the day and saw a lot of humor and good sportsmanship between Tay's coach UFC contender Gabe Ruediger and Sonny's coach Scott Bieri. As Sonny began frustrating Tay with his half-guard, Gabe kept joking to Tay to punch him in the face and he better start ground n' pounding. After Sonny swept Tay, he fell back into a very tight ankle lock, which forced the tapout and secured the victory for Cobra Kai's Sonny Nohara.
In arguably the closest action of the day, Black Belt Joao Cunha faced off against Lloyd Irvin's newest project in Purple Belt Ryan Hall, who had triangled his first two opponents, in a No-Gi showdown in the finals of their Advanced 160 lb. division that had everyone in the building stirring with anticipation and curious chatter. After Joao landed a 2 point takedown, Hall known for his "120 triangles" quickly used one (I believe #73 if I'm correct) to put the accomplished Black Belt in very close danger to passing out. He kept transitioning and repositioning himself to secure an impossibly deep angle on the choke, but some Joao dug down deep to escape his 21-year old opponent’s submission attempt and strategically avoided engaging his Hall on the ground for the remainder of the match. This disappointed the crowd a bit as they wanted to see more action, but it enabled Joao to walk away with a 2 point victory without getting caught in another triangle. In a nutshell, Ryan Hall possesses that special something, which is a combination of excitement and technique, which will undoubtedly make him a star in this sport for years to come!
Other noteworthy matches of the day included Laguna Beach BJJ's Eric "Twerp" Goo vs. J-Sect's Dave Howard in their Purple Belt division. Twerp took his time, executed what appeared to be an effortless takedown, pass, and mounted armbar, which left much to be expected in Twerp's jiu-jitsu future. Meanwhile, world champion Gracie Barra Black Belt Alberto Crane, who had submitted Black Belt Joe Camacho with a mounted armbar just one night before at L.A. Sub X, tore through his division as well to bring back an American International Championship title back to his school in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
One last thing that was unique about this tournament, which shouldn't go without saying, was the numerous well-known personalities known throughout the Jiu-Jitsu forum community. Randy Bloom Brown Belt and internet personality Wendell "Wen" Vincente a.k.a. "The Filipino T.J. Lavin" found time to come down and support the tournament. He could be easily spotted heckling Jimmy "Wutang" Tang from the bleachers, only until Wutang pulled off his gi choke from the back over a very tough Roger Machado purple belt Kahlil Moreland for 3rd place in his purple belt division. Black Belt Andy "TaiwanBJJ" Wang who competed the night before at L.A. Sub X, Black Belt Randy "Choked Out Surfer" Bloom, Nova União Black Belt Gazzy Parman, Wander Braga Brown Belt, Rudy "Rudini" Fishman were just some of the elite level officiating crew that ran their mats quickly, effortlessly, and with out controversy throughout the entire tournament. Eddie Bravo Black Belt Felicia "Uh-Oh" Oh, Shawn Williams Blue Belt Parker a.k.a. "HPF" both helped run fast and efficient scoring tables, which was very much appreciated due to the time constraints of the tournament. Finally, On The Mat's Allan "Gumby" Marques, AliciaPhotos.com 's "Alicia", and GrappleTV's Kenny "Escojido" Jewel worked endlessly capturing the days action on both film and camera, which will allow everyone in attendance and those that weren't able to make it, footage of the 6th American International Championships, which will allow us all to remember this piece of grappling history for years to come. Thanks everyone for making this a spectacular event!