Photo: John "Ric" Ricard

Photo: John “Ric” Ricard

Have I ever mentioned that I love competing in New York City? Well anyway, this weekend I competed in the New York Summer Open and thankfully the results met my expectations going in as I won my weight category and the open class. I was really happy with the win as I always put an extra emphasis on winning at home and representing my team well in our own backyard. I was also happy because nothing was given to me, the guys I faced were tough and I really had to work hard for each win.

In my weight category I had two matches, my first being against Steve Barnett, a really strong competitor who I happen to train with about once a week (he visit’s Marcelo’s every so often.) Although it benefits me to have trained with him because I have a good idea of his game, I also knew to be careful because he also knew a lot about my game.

In the beginning of the match I was able to get into a good berimbolo position and start setting up a leg drag. For about a minute or so I felt like he was going to try setting up a knee bar or some type of footlock so I made sure to keep my weight low and heavy on the leg he had a figure-four on. Once I felt him slow down on going after my leg, I took the opportunity to get a full leg drag, freeing myself from the figure-four and taking the back as he attempted to turn away to defend the pass. Shortly after getting the hooks and the four points, I started working high up on the collar with my left hand, reaching for the pant leg with my right hand and finishing the match with a bow-and-arrow submission.

Finishing the bow-and-arrow in the semifinals. Photo: Erin Herle

Finishing the bow-and-arrow in the semifinals. Photo: Erin Herle

In the final I faced Rodrigo Freitas of Gracie Barra. He’s a black belt who I’ve respected not only as a solid competitor who has beaten guys like JT Torres and DJ Jackson, but also as someone who is very quiet, humble and down to earth so it was cool to get a chance to compete against him. In the beginning I was able to get to my guard and from there I started to play my de la riva and spider guard/lasso game. But I noticed throughout I was having a tough time getting the sleeve grips I preferred because of how long he was and how he would try to pass with a very upright posture. So I unexpectedly started finding myself playing with the lapel a lot (a position I’ve only begun to try to incorporate.) Thankfully though I felt comfortable enough and began trying to work my sweeps. Often I was able to knock him down to his butt by simply grabbing both ankles and lifting my hips up and out but he was quick enough to come up on top before I could score the points. From there I would also try to set up berimbolo’s but he also did a good job posting out and not letting me get too far underneath. Finally towards the end, I was able to get a good sweep attempt to earn an advantage then with ten-seconds left I was able to get a sweep to win by 2-0.

I was happy with getting the win over a quality opponent, but along with my goal of winning I also wanted to make the match exciting. I do see that at black belt sometimes it’s tough for the match to be a thriller especially when two guys are neck-and-neck with each other, but nonetheless I’d like my matches to be remember for being fun to watch and I didn’t feel like I accomplished that in my weight class final.

In the absolute, I had three fights with the first one being against Steven Barnett once again. This time I decided to come up on top and forced half guard position. From there I went for the cross collar choke from half guard, at first to force him to protect his neck but once I felt like I had it tight I went even harder for the submission and I eventually forced him to tap from the choke. I thought it was cool to get that submission because it brought me back to my blue belt days where that would be my primary submission if I didn’t have the back.

In the semi’s I fought Eliot Kelly and for whatever dumb reason I didn’t go in considering his strength advantage, and when he got a hold of me I was surprised with how strong he felt. In the beginning, he put some good pressure on my guard and was even able to work a weird calf slicer that I had to scramble out of. But once I was able to calm myself a bit and slow down his momentum I was able to get a berimbolo sweep and then soon worked into the leg drag postion from a single leg X position he held. From the leg drag, I was able to pass for the three points then take the back for another four points. By the end of the match the score ended up being 11-2 after we traded a pair of sweeps. From there it was on to another New York Open absolute final.

The final ended up being another match against Rodrigo Freitas, and by this point I think we were getting a little sick of each other. But man was I pumped for that final, when I started hopping around like a madman all I had going through my head was “This guy is not beating me, not here, not today- not at home.” With the MGA team loud in my ear before the fight I was even more energized and when the ref called us out to the mat I sprinted my way out there full of energy.

Besides the moment where I picked up the single leg from open guard and drove Rodrigo out of bounds, the match was close to a carbon copy of our match we had earlier in the day where it was a battle of grips and positioning. He did a better job at avoiding the lapel grip that worked earlier, and forcing me to play with more conventional sleeve grips. Throughout the ten minutes, I felt like I did a good job at remaining aggressive, still thinking about my goal of having an exciting match. I was able to attempt three-or four berimbolos and a few more sweeps that forced Rodrigo to bounce up from his butt like in the previous match. I heard everyone telling me to keep moving so until the very end I tried to keep up a consistent pace. But, unlike our first match where I scored a sweep at the end, this time the time ended with a tied score at one advantage and one penalty each. Judges decision…oh god I hate judges decisions.

I felt like had to have won it, I knew there couldn’t have been any doubt and thankfully a decision did finally go my way! Two judges went for me while one went for Freitas- “YES!” I screamed in my head like a lunatic, “nothing like winning at home.”

But, at the end of the day, my favorite part was how our team performed overall. From blue to black belt, from the hobbyist’s competing for the first time to the guys training to be a world champion, everyone performed so well and in the end we took home the team title by almost twice as many points as the second place team.

Ok, now I’m tired. It was enough living through that long day in that humid gymnasium once, and now to try to relive the day again has made me hit a wall. Time for sleep and back to training tomorrow morning for the next challenge. Until next time…Osss.

 

Gianni Grippo
Marcelo Garcia Black Belt | English Major at Montclair State University | NJ/NYC
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    July 21st, 2014 15:19
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