Figured I’d hype this column up by dropping the biggest (and latest) news I’ve heard on the grappling front. Figured I’d hype this column up by dropping the biggest (and latest) news I’ve heard on the grappling front.
Marcelo Garcia is coming to the United States.
For those of you who can’t get enough of Brazilian sensation Marcello Garcia (who dominated his field at Abu Dhabi last year and then this past weekend at Campos) he’ll be participating in an upcoming 8-man tournament at the Grappler’s Quest West on March 27th. From what I hear, this 5th edition of the GQ West promises to be the largest yet, with perhaps multiple 8 man divisions taking place, and the addition of superstars like Marcello is sure to bring out some stellar competition.
Hyped yet? There are a lot of great grappling competitions and match ups coming up. In February alone OntheMat will be at the Grappler’s Quest Beast of the East (February 21st in Bayonne New Jersey), Brian Johnston’s Pain Inc. Regional Grappling Tournament (February 21st in Capitola, California) and perennial Copa Pacifica (February 28-29).
Then come March 5-7 comes what promises to be the largest tournament in the country, the Arnold World Gracie Submission Championships. (No, there’s no Gracie named Arnold, rather it’s the tournament sponsored in part by Relson Gracie at the Arnold Schwarzenegger Fitness Expo. The competition is offering the highest paying professional submission grappling tournaments (five thousand dollars up for grabs per weight class) as well as a professional women’s division, and cash awarded to both black belt and brown competitors. Equally as important the promoters have worked extra hard to make sure things run as smoothly as possible, applying their knowledge from the past series of events and adding innovations of their own. In addition, the expo attracts literally tens of thousands of people around the world, including fitness competitors, power lifting competions and body builders walking around that would make Jeff Monson look small.
Speaking of our good friend Jeff Monson he has a very full plate ahead of himself in the upcoming month, with superfights coming up against Xande Riberio (who has a submission over Jeff at the Grappler’s Quest Us Nationals and who is pound for pound perhaps the top submission grapplers in the world) and Pe de Pano (Absolute BJJ champ and who also holds a more controversial victory over Monson). This is in edition to preparing an MMA event in early March! Jeff also may be the most improved grappler in the last year or so, hard to believe seeing as how he is a former ADCC World Champ in his own right, but his training at American Top Team has changed his game radically and the Snowman has a whole new bag of tricks. Jeff Monson winning matches with submissions, who would’ve thunk it?
Well, I just dropped Dave Camarillo off at the airport to Las Vegas. Dave is coaching Josh “the Punk” Thompson who meets Hermes Franca in what is likely to be the fight of the night at the UFC. Josh has been training on a daily basis with Dave who reports the formers endurance is simply unbelievable. There are a lot of match-ups we’re looking forward to on this card: Matt Serra is fighting Jeff Curran, Charuto vs Carlos Newton, Virot Belfort against Randy Couture and of course BJ Penn takes on Matt Hughes.
A lot of people are saying that BJ is crazy to move up a weight class and that Matt Hughes is simply going to maul him. I’m assuming this is as more of a nod to Hughes own astounding abilities as opposed to any knock on BJ. It also may be fair enough if you watched each of their last performances in the UFC (BJ was robbed of a close decision against a game Kaol Uno and Hughes has proven to among the most dominant champions ever in the UFC). However with BJ’s systematic dismantling of Gomi at Rumble on the Rock he solidified his position as the number one fighter at 155 in the world, so this is a match up between the number ones at their respective weight class.
Now I’ve been friends with BJ for about seven years now. I remember him as the skinny kid who came into the academy and ankle locked everyone. It took a little while to figure out his game, but after that he got beat on a lot. BJ then took a little time off, but when he came back he had morphed into a force to be reckoned with. ANYTHING he was shown, he would be using it against you like it was his favorite move five minutes later. In about ten minutes he was already thinking up variations and improvements upon the move. To this day I’ve still NEVER seen anyone pick up on jiu-jitsu as quickly as BJ did, and combined with natural athleticism and drive he became a very scary talent, very quickly.
Here’s a tidbit you may or may not be aware about BJ, most of his career in BJJ was spent fighting above his own weight class. I remember traveling to a tournament with him where he decided to fight two weight classes above his weight. In front of a room full of people, he stepped unto the scale wearing a starter jacket, carrying a radio and eating a sandwich and STILL weighed in ten pounds lighter than he needed to be. (I for one wouldn’t be all that surprised if he pulls that stunt on the weigh in on Friday). Do I even need to mention he dominated everyone who fought that day? He lost in the brown belt finals (in controversial fashion) to the renowned Terere, while once again fighting way out of his weight class. The experience definitely lit a fire underneath him, because in the next year he came back into the black belt division and won the whole thing.
With a guy like as gifted as BJ, it’s all about challenging himself, and so after standing on top of the BJJ world in four short, but intense years he turned his attentions to Mixed Martial Arts. Being an American Black Belt Mundial Champion opened up a lot of opportunities for him, but I believe BJ picked the UFC as his next conquest because he wanted respect and recognition here in the US. (Plus at the time the UFC was the only organization with it’s own videogame, which he wanted to see himself in. Which reminds me, the Penn brothers STILL have some of my Dreamcast games!) Those of you who saw BJ’s first couple of matches in the UFC see the talented and hungry BJ literally fighting for his life as he felt he had to prove himself all over again.
The talent of course never really went away, but I have to say I didn’t really recognize the BJ that fought Jens Pulver for the title and in the matches subsequent in the UFC. Had he won the title easily like was supposed to he might have retired from the sport and set his sights on another challenge. Consequently he was overconfident, over analytical and the game Jens Pulver handed BJ his first loss in any form in quite some time.
I should add I’m probably the only person in the world who was happy with the outcome of the BJ/Matt Serra match, mainly because as a good friend of both I never wanted to see that match happen in the first place. As it is fans of either can claim a moral victory without diminishing the reputation of the other.
With another shot at the UFC title in a rematch against Kaol Uno we thought we were going to see BJ as he was meant to be. Although BJ was dominant throughout the match, he was still not the free flowing happy go lucky Hawaiian of the past and the match was declared in controversial fashion a tie. If you saw the look of disgust on his face after that match and saw how he looked after that match against Terere you would know you would know that something big was about to happen. BJ was angry again. He needed rest however, and took some time off to regain his focus and mindset again, and to once more regard this as fun. And what’s fun for BJ except by challenging himself the way only he could.
Years from now what BJ did in between appearances at the UFC will be cloaked in legend, as he wandered the earth to find what motivated himself. From some of the tabloid inducing rumors I’ve heard, BJ was training with Elvis aboard a UFO. Without an official title to claim, the newly revitalized BJ went after the title of unofficial best lightweight in the world and took that claim over whom many considered the man to beat, Gomi in efficient and brutal fashion at Rumble on the Rock. It’s this revitalized BJ, not as the skinny kid whom I’m often tempted to think of him as still, but as the battle hardened man that enters the Octagon to take on the most enormous challenge of his career in the form of perhaps the most dominating 170lb fighter in the history of our young sport, Matt Hughes. What will happen is anyone’s guess, but I’ve got to believe in my friend BJ. He’s surprised us all many times before.
I’ve got some errands and the like to run. See you all in Las Vegas!
Train hard, Fight Hard Party Hard,