The European Trials will see 108 of Europe’s best grapplers vying for the ultimate goal in submission grappling, a place at the World Championships and the chance to compete with the standout players from Brazil and America.The road to the ADCC World Championships in Trenton, New Jersey this May is almost complete, with only the European and Japanese Trials remaining. This weekend in Turku, (Finland); , the European Trials, organized by Markko Leisten will see 108 of Europe’s best grapplers vying for the ultimate goal in submission grappling, a place at the World Championships and the chance to compete with the standout players from Brazil and America. European sub grapplers have generally made a limited impact on the world stage, with the notable exception being the giant Norwegian grappler and MMA fighter Jon-Olav Einemo, who defied the odds in 2003, beating Brandon Vera, Larry Papadopoulos, Roger Gracie and Carcareco to become ADCC Champion. In 2005, courtesy of some horrible brackets, only Jon-Olav and Rob Sulski managed to even get past the first round, Rob beating the BTT Black Belt Bento Ribiero and then succumbing to Jacare in the second round and Jon-Olav beating American stand-out Rick Macauley and then Vitor Vianna before losing to Carcareco and then Xande Ribiero to finish fourth.
Alistair Overeem, the Dutch MMA fighter who cut a swathe through his division, guillotining all 4 opponents, was unable to take up his invite to the finals last year due to commitments at the Pride LHW Grand Prix. He may be confident of repeat success, but the rise of Poland as a European powerhouse has taken many by surprise and they will be strong challengers in most of the categories.
The field at the qualifiers this year is the strongest yet and promises to provide a stiffer challenge to the Pan-American hegemony at the ADCC Finals.
Gumby doesn’t have much exposure to European Grapplers and although even a grappling geek like me can’t know everybody, here is my take on the categories as they stand at the moment:
The Men’s categories.
2005 Trials Winner: Toni Kröger (Finland)
Other qualifiers: Teemu Launis (Finland); Daniel Ackermann (Germany); Hélio Perdigao (Portugal); Mike Cüppers (Germany); Renier Nicolas (France); Zjezdzalka Jaroslaw (Poland); Fran Alcalde (Spain); Michael Hockenjos (Germany); Julian Nguyen (Denmark); Matteus Lähdesmäki (Finland); Jarkko Keränen (Finland); Musse Hasselwal (Sweden); Ezekiel Zayas (Spain); David Lejenäs (Sweden); Emmanuel Fernandez (France); Tomas Barlow (U.K.); Per Eklund (Sweden);
The top grapplers in the European lightweight category have previously been Jani Lax, Teemu Launis and the last trial winner, Toni Kröger. Lax, returning in the heavier weight category this time, lost to Wagney Fabiano, and Kröger faced a gaunt but obviously ever dangerous Marcio Feitosa. Launis is a veteran of ADCC 2003 and was runner-up to Kröger in the 2005 Trials. This time however, I think that the Scandinavian stranglehold may be loosened. Leading the charge from the rest of Europe, will be De La Riva Black Belt Manu Fernandez, who narrowly lost on points to ‘Megaton’ Diaz at the European Championships in Lisbon. Helio Perdigao from Gracie Barra Lisbon will also be in the hunt, Perdigao took Purple Belt Gold at the 2006 Europeans and has good takedowns, but on balance I think this will come down to Fernandez beating either Kröger or Launis in the final.
2005 Trials Winner: Martin Linqvist (Sweden)
Other qualifiers: Christian Sandberg (Sweden); Nik Ruben Nikolaisen (Norway); Mariusz Szczerek (Poland); Ville Manninen (Finland); Chaabi Said (Belgium); Eduardo Rios (Portugal); Saffiedine Tarec (Belgium); Frodi Vitalis Hansen (Denmark); Robert Sundel (Sweden); Jani Lax (Sweden); Tony Backman (Finland); David Pierre-Louis (France) Tito Beltran (Spain); James Walsh (U.K.); Christopher Harmanstad (Norway); Matias Awad (Sweden); Waldo Zapata (Sweden)
Linqvist, like many of the European qualifiers in 2005, faced a harsh draw, meeting the top American BJJ player Cameron Earle. A former European Champion at Purple belt, he faces an even stiffer draw here, with a very talented array of grapplers in his division. His teammate, Finnish standout Tony Backman has won Blue Middleweight and Absolute and Purple Belt Middlewight twice at the past 3 European Championships. He also took bronze at the last Mundials, losing to the eventual winner, Kron Gracie.
The growth in European BJJ is evident by the increasing number of Black Belt players at the trials. This category has the experienced French grappler David Pierre-Louis, JJ Machado Black Belt and former Grapplers Quest champ Jamie Walsh, Brasa member Waldo Zapata, and ‘Manimal’ Black Belt, Tito Beltran. On paper, Beltran has more experience than most of his opponents and is a veteran of the original ADCC Championships in 1998.
Another challenger to Linqvist will be Mariusz Szczerek, who I understand is a former Polish National Wrestling squad member, whose wrestling ambitions were thwarted by a knee injury. Mariusz won all his matches at the ADCC UK qualifiers thanks to takedowns and whilst I feel he is more than capable of taking down all his competition here, I think he will face grapplers much better at fighting off their backs. Grapplers such as Pierre-Louis and the Brasa Black Belt, Waldo Zapata. Waldo was recently crowned Black Belt European Champion and was a double brown belt bronze medalist in 2006.
Depending on the draw, I think this will come down to one of Pierre-Louis, Zapata and Beltran, with the Frenchman my tip to take the title.
2005 Trials Winner: Marko Helen (Finland)
Other qualifiers: Ilari Grönholm (Finland); Nelson Semedo (Switzerland); Nicolas Gregoriades (Greece); Martin Janson (Sweden); Makdoumi Karim (Sweden); Khalidow Mamed (Poland); Pedro Rodrigues (Portugal); Daniel Dowda (Poland); Yasubei Anomoto (Switzerland); Sauli Heilimö (Finland); Andreas Smith (Germany); Thomas La Cour (Denmark); Morris Cilfoni (Italy); Antony Rode (France); Jude Samuel (U.K.); Johnny Larsson (Sweden); Tor Troeng (Sweden);
This division is of particular interest to me, given two of my friends and instructors at Roger Gracie Academy are competing. Jude Samuels, the first BJJ Black belt in the UK and pupil of two giants of the BJJ world, father and son, Mauricio Gomes and Roger Gracie, is a much decorated gi grappler, medaling at the Pan Ams and European championships on multiple occasions. Nicolas Gregoriades, a brown belt under Roger put in a commanding performance at the ADCC UK qualifier and recently fought at the 10K Challenge event in London. Whilst not at a level yet where he can compete with the best Brazilian and American brown belts, he should prove more than a match for most of this line up, but he faces a stern test, not only from Jude, but also from Marko Helen.
Marko is a very seasoned grappler, veteran of ADCC 2005, where he lost to Demian Maia and recently crowned Heavyweight Brown Belt Champion at the CBJJ European Championships in Lisbon. Helen defeated Roger Gracie brown belt Helio Perreira in that final and no doubt Jude and Nic will be looking to avenge their team-mate.
Even with the absence of Rob Sulski and the BTT Black Belt and MMA Fighter David Belkheiden, who, like Sulski, fell victim to Jacare at ADCC 2005, there is much strength in depth in the rest of the field: Antony Rode, a very slick footlock specialist from France, Sauli Heilimö, the current European Shooto Champion and runner up to Linqvist in the lighter -76.9kg Trials last time, the powerful MMA fighter Khalidow Mamed, Johnny Larson, 3rd in the Trials in 2005 and some accomplished BJJ players in the shape of Janson and Rodrigues should ensure some exciting matches.
My pick: I think Marko’s experience, skill and strength will prove too much for the rest of the field.
2005 Trials Winner: Alistair Overeem (Holland)
Other qualifiers: Samuli Perälä (Finland); Einar Naes (Norway); Tomas Szczerek (Poland); David Haagsma (Holland); Gouram Hakim (Belgium); Grabowski Damian (Poland); Toni Vivas (Spain); Michael Materla (Poland); Panayiodes Melodias (Greece); Diong Staring (Holland); Ilir Latiffi (Sweden); Juha Tuhkasaari (Finland); Michael Grothe (Sweden); Mikko Rupponen (Finland); Radek Turek (Poland); Ösgur Sel (Sweden); Joachim Christensen (Denmark);
Jon-Olav Einemo, as a former ADCC Champion, has already been invited straight to the Finals, which is a considerable relief to the rest of the field here. As previously mentioned, Overeem was unable to take up his spot at the World Championships in 2005, but is scheduled to be back to defend his trials title. With a day before weigh-in, Overeem will be sure to come in with a massive height and weight advantage over the other competitors. He took out all his opponents last time with guillotines and must be a favourite once again to qualify.
Grothe and Latiffi are also ADCC Veteran; Grothe, runner-up to Overeem in the trials, benefited from his withdrawal, but drew Xande Ribiero in the first round last time. Latiffi lost to Dean Lister and Pe De Pano in 2003. Tuhkasaari has performed well in the past and Tomas Szczerek is another competitor to keep an eye on, a skilled wrestler out of the London Fight Factory. Again, a few names that I am not familiar with, but I think that all the competitors will struggle to take Overeem down, let alone submit him and he is my pick for this division.
2005 Trials Winner: Mustafa Al Turk (U.K.)
Other qualifiers: Janne Pietiläinen (Finland); Ivajlo Markov (Bulgaria); Rogent Lloret (Spain); Hans Stringer (Holland); Ziegler Carsten (Germany); Biskup Przemyslaw (Poland); Daniel Minangue (Spain); Heiko Schönborn (Germany); Martin Wojcik (Denmark); Deivydas Banaitis (Lithuania); Miodrag ‘Pele’ Petkovic (Serbia) Gunnar Johansson (Sweden); Visar Kelmendi (Sweden); Karol Bedorf (Poland); Tommy Rasmusen (Norway); Piotr Szwed (Poland); Jarno Nurminen (Finland);
Mustafa, fighting out of the famous London Shoot gym in the UK, under the guidance of Paul Ivens and Alexis Demetriades, dominated the trials in 2005, but was unfortunate to be drawn against one of the world’s top heavyweight BJJ players, Gabriel ‘Napao’ Gonzaga, in the first round. Mustafa has been making great strides in his MMA career of late, recently demolishing an admittedly sub-par Mark Kerr at Cage Rage. He is in better shape than 2005, is very agile for a big man and has a very solid wrestling base. Petkovic also has form on the world stage, albeit losing to Pe De Pano in 2005, but I don’t feel he will be challenging Mustafa for his spot here.
Grapplers who will be trying to knock Mustafa off his throne will include Rogent Lloret, a black belt under Robin Gracie in Barcelona who won the UK Qualifier and the Polish MMA Fighter Biskup Przemyslaw. I have to confess, I do not recognize a few of these guys and am going to have to make an educated guess that this will go to either Rogent or Mustafa. Mustafa has superior wrestling and takedowns, whereas Rogent may have the edge in submissions.
The Women’s categories.
For the first time, a women’s category will be contested at the qualifiers and although the talent pool is, in line with the rest of the world, much smaller than the men’s’, some very skilled grapplers will be competing. The number of medals from the Europeans and Mundials these ladies have is most impressive.
-60kg Female category
No previous Trials Winner
Other qualifiers: Marina Weckström. (Finland); Caoimhe McGill (U.K.); Anny Hammarsten (Sweden); Yasmin Tahira (Holland); Gdula Agnieszka (Poland); Rachel Wheatley (U.K.); Carmen Jahnke (Germany); Sara Capoferri (Italy); Maria Dolores Asensi. (Spain);
Caoimhe (as you might expect, that’s pronounced Keeva), from Gracie Barra Northern Ireland, took Blue Belt gold at last year’s Mundials and was promptly promoted to Purple Belt by Carlos Gracie Jr. Weckström, Jahnke and Tahira have also similarly tasted gold at the European Championships, but may not have the strength to match the wiry McGill, who is a circus acrobat in her day job.
Rachel Wheatley, a purple belt under Mauricio Gomes and now a student of Braulio ‘Carcara’ narrowly missed out at the UK Qualifier, but won the Spanish qualifier to get her place here. For many years she was ‘The Man’ as it were, in the UK, so limited was the competition, she often found herself competing in the men’s divisions. There is more depth these days however and it was McGill herself who beat her in the UK. Although she is very talented, if they face here, I think it will be the same story and Caoimhe will go through
An indication that women’s grappling in Europe still has a way to go, is that one competitor, Capoferri, qualified because she was the only female competitor at the Italian Open. That having been said, there should be some highly technical matches in this division and my pick is Caoimhe to beat Jahnke in the final.
+60kg Female category
No previous Trials Winner
Other qualifiers: Jennifer Guiola. (Sweden); Monica Vanessa Silva. (Portugal); Marloes Coenen. (Holland); Kunz Sandra. (Germany); Devi Ahuja (Norway); Camilla Gjelsten (Norway); Dusi Bozovic (Denmark); Ella Rudfeldt (Sweden); Arnela Hadzisulejmanovic (Sweden);
This group boasts four BJJ world champions, Silva and Gjelsten have both won Purple Belt Gold at the Mundials, Monica in 2006 and Camilla in 2005. Guiola won the Copa Do Mundo and Ahuja the Mundials at Blue Belt in 2006.
Silva has also picked up European gold at Blue Belt in 2005, Silver at Purple Belt in 2006 and Gold at Purple in 2007. Camilla additionally won the Purple Belt Gold at the 2006 Europeans, beating Monica in the process. Camilla has ADCC World Championship experience on her CV too, having fought at ADCC 2005, losing to Australian grappler Stacy Cartwright.
This is a tough group however, Monica and Camilla aside, Rudfeldt, Ahuja and Hadzisulejmanovic (and you thought Brazilian names were difficult to pronounce) have all medaled at the Europeans in BJJ, a number of them have medaled or won at the Scandinavian Open and all the competitors here have deep experience in no gi competition.
Equally tough competition will come in the form of the Swedish grappler Jennifer Guiola. Guiola, who works as a nightclub bouncer and has taken gold at the Copa Do Mundo and the Europeans and silver at the Mundials.
My pick for this category is none of these ladies however. The Dutch MMA fighter Marloes Coenen, who also fought at ADCC 2005, beating Yuuki Kondo in the 60kg+ quarter finals before losing to Cartwright in the Semi finals. She swiftly got revenge over Cartwright, beating her in the Absolute quarter finals but was injured in the process and could not continue. She is a very experienced fighter, currently 11-1-0, with most coming by way of submission – some readers may remember her spectacular flying armbar on the American MMA fighter Becky Levi, which broke Becky’s arm. Her only loss was to another US fighter, Erin Toughill.She is physically bigger than most of this relatively lightweight category and I think her experience and strength will prove decisive here.