This past weekend, while around the area teaching seminars, I competed in the Las Vegas Summer Open in the black belt featherweight and absolute categories. I decided to compete for a couple of reasons, one being that I always want to gain more experience so the more I compete the better. Secondly, I wanted to compete to keep up the momentum after winning double gold at the New York Open just two weeks prior; I felt good, and just wanted to test myself and see if I could repeat the same results. I also wanted to embrace the challenge of winning away from home and with the crowd going against me.
Okay, so let’s go back to this past Saturday…
Besides this tournament being away from home and in an area I haven’t competed in since I was 14, I also had to re-adjust to dieting a bit for this tournament. I admit, during the summer tournaments I usually don’t like to have to diet since I am already doing it from January through June starting at the Europeans all the way until the Worlds. But, unlike New York where there weren’t too many featherweight competitors, in Vegas there were a handful of challenges like Samir Chantre, Osvaldo “Quiexinho” and Vitor Paschoal so I knew I’d have to suck up the four or five pounds and go after it in my regular weight category. But thankfully getting down to the proper weight was no problem and I ended up weighing in at 153 pounds and was ready to go.
I don’t know if anyone feels the same way about this like I do, but I hate having the bye. I’d prefer to fight the extra match rather than have to wait for my first opponent to get really acclimated and with a little momentum after a win. So, to counter this I like to warm up like a mad man- skipping rope at all different speeds, sprinting down and back the bullpen area, whatever it takes to get the heart rate going. I like to go in having the feeling that I’ve already fought my first match. People must think I’m dangerously overweight, but no, I just really need my warmup.
Once I’ve soaked through my rashguard and sweatshirt I hear my name called to mat 8 to face with Vitor Paschoal who won his first match by points (I believe.) Vitor is someone who I’ve fought a number of times and has always been a tough challenge. At brown belt we fought three times, with me winning the first two in the gi then most recently he beat me at no-gi worlds. So, although payback wasn’t the first thing that came to mind, I certainly had it in the back of my head.
The match itself had a little bit of everything (which made me happy.) Although at times we would get stuck in the 50/50 guard I felt like we did a good job at opening up the match and doing different things. We exchanged foot locks and scored points off of them, some de la riva sweeps and I even played some X-guard and single leg X I’ve been working on (one of my proudest moments.) In the end, I won by a score of 8-6 to move on to the final versus Samir.
The final was a rematch from this years Pan semifinals where I won by points off a sweep and controlled from a leg drag position, so I knew he’d be extra motivated. But regardless I felt prepared for the match and was only concerned with doing what I had to do to win. Let’s just say the match was a snooze-fest. After I came on top from a double guard pull and exchanging sweeps from 50/50 thats where the fun stopped. While on top and in a tied score we stayed locked in the 50/50 for about 7 minutes, which was getting me irritated. I felt like there should have been stalling calls against him for lack of movement as I was at least trying to free my leg from the position, but…that’ll be the end of my little complaint there. With 20 seconds left and the score still tied I tried to dive for a foot lock and in the process left my leg exposed and he attacked the kneebar. His attack was tighter and I was forced to let go of the foot and defend. Time expires and he gets the deciding advantage.
I never like it when I hear guys go on social medias making excuses about why they lost so I’ll promise to never do the same. I’ll just chalk it up to me allowing myself to fall into Samir’s game and Samir doing what he had to do to win.
After this I was now really invested in the absolute. I really wanted to enjoy a nice dinner on the Vegas strip with my girlfriend with two gold medals, so if I couldn’t at least get one I would have had to relegate ourselves to a dinner at the Applebee’s across the street from our Double Tree hotel.
Lately in my success at some IBJJF events in the absolute I’ve been able to beat some really good guys like AJ Agazarm, Rodrigo Freitas, Tiago Riberio, Eliot Kelly and Renan Borges but I still never got the chance to fight some ultraheavyweight-type guys. Well in Vegas, I finally got my chance.
In my semifinal I faced off with Carlos Eduardo Faria who was the ultraheavyweight champion of the day and a giant at that. So automatically I pulled guard and since he stayed on his knees I went into playing spiderguard with the lasso. It was very hard to force him to move, but thanks to the help from Adam Benayoun I was able to turn the lasso into some omoplatas by letting go of the sleeve and reaching for the elbow. Besides that, I feel like I did well at keeping the distance and not letting him pound me down with his weight. I made sure to stay aggressive enough and in the end I took a unanimous decision win into the final.
In the final I went against another ultraheavyweight in Ranieri Albuquerque and he ended up being even scarier than the last guy because he was a lot more mobile during the match. In the beginning he started off with two points for foot sweeping me while I went to go pull guard, but from there I went right into my berimbolo position where I started to look to take his back. But, he countered by putting his back flat on the mat so instead I came on top and took the mount position, something that surprised even me. There with the sweep and mount I scored six points. But, being the monster he was he bridged me off soon after and I was back on my back up by four points.
Then things started to get tricky. Like I said, he moved well for a big guy and it showed and he would continually try to throw my legs to the side and drop his weight. After the third time trying this, I went inverted and he smashed through it forcing side control to score three points. In the past, I would have panicked here but thanks to being put in positions like this rolling with Bernardo Faria everyday I knew to keep myself calm and simply keep him from advancing his position. I knew I still had the lead so I took my time in recovering my position and going into 50/50. From there I kept my distance while trying my best to sweep until the time ran out. 6-5 was the final score and I was cleared to enjoy a buffet dinner on the strip! Overall I was still bummed about the result of the weight division, but I was happy to end on a good note and win my fourth absolute gold at an IBJJF open event.
Overall, I’m pleased with the tournament because I walked away learning a lot about myself. I learned that I am capable of taking challenges on my own and not needing someone in my corner every second to help guide me. I also learned that I can bounce back from disappointment better than I thought I could, as I showed that in the absolute category. And finally, I learned that I’m just not cut out for three full plates of food at any buffet, especially one in Vegas!
Now, on to the next challenge/opportunity/lesson to be learned.