The 2009 No Gi World Championships were held November 8th, 2009 in Irvine, CA. Hundreds of grapplers filed into the Pyramid to fight on one of 12 mats the IBJJF had running for an intense day of competition from the best in the world. The following is my experience at the Worlds.
First of all I must say thanks to my coach, and friend, Brian Johnson. Brian has taught me just about everything I know and has been instrumental in my grappling development. Without you none of this was possible. Thank you brother.
Secondly I want to thank Dana and my family for the unwavering support over the past 18 years of martial arts training. Your love and support has been a light in my darkest moments, a man could not ask for a better family!
Last, but surely not least, I want to give thanks to all my training partners and Jiu Jitsu family. Literally without you I would not have won shit! These medals are all of our medals. Your constant work and experimentation on the mat is not only an inspiration, but also the key aspect of my development. And for that I am indebted.
This all started when I told Brian we needed another BJJ road trip. No girls, no distractions, just good old fashioned hard ass training. He mentioned LA would be ideal, and of course I was down to visit Tim, the Machado's, and Bob Bass! Brian said, "Lets butt this up to the No Gi Worlds since I am going anyways." I was totally on board, but was not sure if I was at a level to compete at such a prestigious tournament, as I have not even won a local or regional tourney. "Are you kidding me!?!? Win, lose, or draw this will be an awesome experience for you!" was all it took for Brian to convince me to jump into the deep end and see if the swimming lessons have paid off. Next thing I know I am registering for the BJJ World championships.
that were back in September. I had to cut weight down to 217 for that tourney which ws no problem. For the worlds, unless I wanted to compete with everyone 216#'s and up (yes, it just keeps going up), I needed to cut down to 215# with my gi and rash guard on. Plus at the Worlds you HAVE to weigh in just before you step on the mat to compete! This changes strategy and method when cutting weight. You want to make sure you have some food before competing, but obviously cannot go over your weight or you get DQed immediately!
Basically all I did was step up my training both at the dojo, and with my boxing coach Wes (who has been working me anaerobically), and start to really clean up my diet (more on this soon, as I learned some great things about the Paleo diet this past week). Cutting all sugar, except the occasional beer on the weekends, and flour was the first thing. Eating more chicken and turkey and veggies every chance I can get. I must say I have found that using Garlic Expressions vinaigrette dressing on broccoli makes it edible. I know it is good for you, but couldn't mother nature make it taste better!? Anyways, I digress....
Making weight was not too bad of a problem starting so far out. Discipline is key, and your mind fucks with you. I normally have no craving for sweets, but when they are forbidden your mind just thinks CONSTANTLY about whatever that forbidden fruit is! Strange.
For the most part I just trained how I always do. One thing I would not allow is for me to leave the mat with energy. Every class, every free roll, every open mat I exhausted myself! I do not understand people who roll and leave when their heart rate just gets to 160! To each their own, but really how do some expect to improve without pushing themselves??
About two weeks out I had a talk with Brian, and he said to just play my game from here on out. No learning new shit, no getting fancy. My game, competition time. Focus! (This is where I apologize to my training partners for those two weeks of crushing, twisting, cooking, and general misery I tried to dish out. I try to pride myself on being a great partner and a smooth technical roller. When training for a comp one must become selfish and roll hard, as surely his opponents are doing the same at their schools!) Basically I only took two days off any given week, on top of my teaching, personal training, and boxing instruction with Wes twice a week.
I felt good going into these last two tourneys. My adrenaline dumped about 3/4 of the way through my first fight, but after that it was smooth sailing. I was very happy with my level of conditioning. By the week of the fight I was walking around at 212-215#'s, and with any given roll I can lose 6#'s, so I was pretty good as long as I could maintain. Basically I have lost 15-20#'s over the last few months. It has made me smoother, faster, and my endurance and stamina are much improved. Most of the weight was fat. Damn beer!
Day Before the Worlds
Brian and I wanted to get into LA early and settle down to relax the Saturday before the tourney. We both had long fights ahead of us and wanted to be as rested as possible, plus allow any time needed for last minute weight cuts.
So we arose at the ass crack of dawn (actually pre-dawn) and jumped a plane straight to Long Beach. After spending almost an hour in the car rental line, and ending up getting a Prius (laugh all you want, we spent $15 in gas over the whole trip!!), we went straight to the hotel and checked in, and promptly checked our weight. I was 210#, and Brian was pretty spot on. We decided later we would jump rope and hit the hot tub. It worked! I ended up weighing in at 205# at the tourney!!!!!!!
We basically chilled the whole day, ate frickin' carrots and sliced turkey, and watched the fights Saturday night. Jake Shields put on a clinic in grappling vs. Jason Miller. Of course the redneck hillbilly ass WWE tools booed the fight, but it was pretty damn amazing from a grappling perspective. Then Fedor knocked what little sense Rogers had out of his head. All in all a chill night. Nerves were not really a factor, and we both got a great nights rest.
2009 World No Gi Championships
I was scheduled to fight at 11:4o am, and Brian a couple hours later. The blue belt divisions were so big they ran about 1/2 hour behind, but all the other divisions were just about spot on. This was hands down the best run tournament I have ever been a part of in any martial art. 12 mats running simultaneously. Blue belt and above. Organized chaos is the best way to describe it.
Basically you are put in a bullpen where you can warm up, chill-lax, or chat with other fighters and your coaches and what not. They call your name over the loud speaker and you take your id to the next little bullpen where the ring coordinator checks your name, takes your ID (you get it back when you lose, or win the division), and tells you which ring you will be at. Next is your physical inspection; clean cut nails, correct uniforms (must wear black shorts, and a rash guard with at least 10% of the color being that of your rank), no cup (an awesome frickin' rule!!! I get so tired of getting cups smashed into parts of my body!), then it is on to the weigher (yes I did just make up a word). Weight is electronically checked and verified. From there you are taken to your ring.
I did not have an opportunity to watch some of the previous fights as I had a bye in the first round, so as soon as I hit my mat I basically had about 5 minutes before I was going! Lesson here... always be prepared!
My first opponent was Alexsander Medrala from Poland's Lutadores Opol. Alexsander was VERY strong and gave good pressure. To be honest I do not recall a lot of the details of the match, and unfortunately I did not tape it (I thought it was prohibited, but then I saw others doing it, so I taped the rest of the matches from their on out). I know he shot a single, kinda picked my leg but did not throw me. I dropped to guard, which I immediately found out counts as a take down for him since he was holding my leg. So I was down off the bat. I never intended to play so much guard in this tourney, it was my goal to work my top game (I know, I know, that is EVERONES goal!). But I ended up playing tons of closed guard, and it really built confidence in my guard when three different fighters told me I had a tough guard! Major compliment coming from men you just beat! I was humbled.
Anyways I got into half guard and started working a sweep. I tucked my head into his hip and started to load him up, so I could pop out the back door. It worked and I believe he turtled up but his arms were loose and I immediately threw my hooks in and got a loose lame grip (area needing improvement), but rode for 3 seconds and got the 4 points for back mount! He then shrugged me off and I squirmed around to pull full guard where we battled a bit for the next 30-40 seconds. I had several advantage points where I had attempted to sweep him from my guard earlier, but I ended up winning 4-2.
Alexsander's English was practically non-existent, but his smile said it all! Two warriors giving it there all and he got beat fair and square. Super nice guy who wished me all the luck in the finals. He was just stoked to be there! He asked with an inquisitive look on his face if I was going to be in the absolute, and I said "Yes!" He got a big smile on his face and said "Good, good!"
I had watched Damian Giatti, of Huntington Beach Ultimate fight earlier and he seemed to be a wrestler with little BJJ experience. Strong, and a solid base I knew he would be hard to take down. I watched him beat Jason Hughes on points. Shortly after Jason talked to me about how to beat Damian. Pull guard and work submissions on him, he is tired and getting gassed... basically was the advice. We scrambled and I pulled guard and started instantly working sweeps, and kimura's. I got cross body and attempted a kimura but Damian kept rolling, and started to slide to my back. I thought, "Fuck he is strong, and is now taking my back, I need to submit him!" Earlier in in my guard I felt that Damian's wrist's were loose and vulnerable, but I did not want to clue off that I am "that wrist guy." As soon as someone knows you are savvy with wrist locks, they tighten up immediately. So as he was trying to take my back, I still had the kimura grip on his right arm. I tucked his elbow between me and the mat and compressed his wrist. He screamed and tapped and immediately argued that wrist locks were illegal.
Silly Damian did not realize that of course I had researched and made sure that wrist locks are legal, and what leg attacks I can do! Even the referee did not know, so he had to look it up real quick. I shook Damian's hand and said he put on a hell of a fight. Then the ref came over, Damian asked if it was illegal, the ref said no and raised my hand!
I cannot describe the feeling. Better than any drug I have ever taken, I am still high from it all. Just writing about it and watching my fight footage is getting me amped! Brian was screaming how proud he was of me and short of my father, his opinion and pride in me means the most of anyone. I was so happy and in surreal shock all I could do was smile and hug Brian thanking him for all his efforts and never giving up on me! I was the 2009 No Gi World Champion in the Super heavyweight Master blue belt division!
My absolute division was not until 5:30 pm, so we got something to eat, and then rested a bit, then came back and decided to fight. I had 23 people in my division! Two separate sheets for the brackets (this will be important later). It was frickin' packed!
My first opponent I will call Johnny, because he introduced himself as Johnny. I have no last name, nor an MO. He was bald, goatee that was died, and weighed about 180#'s. Again Johnny was strong and I ended up playing guard, again. He got two points for a takedown (something needing improvement) and then got two more for a sweep I believe. I ended up getting mount for long enough to count and evened up the score. But Johnny squirmed out. We went back and forth with me getting some advantage points for sweep attempts and submission attempts, but powered through and persevered. The score was 4-4, but I had more advantage points and took the win!
My semi final opponent was Jamie, and he was by far the strongest and most technical fighter I had one against all day. His game was tight, and every attempt I made at anything he had an answer for. To be honest I learned a lot from him in those few minutes of competition. He took me down with a single right away (seems like a common theme lately), but I managed to pull guard and the fight was on! Eventually he moved to side control where I nailed him with one of my bridge sweeps right into side control myself. From there I settled my hips and started to play my switch base game. I threatened his near side arm with a straight arm bar, and like anyone who does not roll at the NWJJA he turned into me to protect it fatefully forgetting about his left arm which I quickly started to set up the Kimura. He realized too late and started to roll into me so I put it on tight, and when he did not tap I cranked on it and he screamed out in pain! Again, I should not have let go until the ref said stop but he screamed so loud it kind of startled me. He said his other arm was trapped and he couldn't tap (lesson to everyone... practice tapping with your feet, snapping your fingers, or even saying "Tap-tap!"). I fucked up his arm and apologized, but he said no worries. He also commented on my guard game which was nice of him.
I was feeling strong and confident now and I had watched my opponent Carlos Rosario from Westside MMA roll a couple times. He was strong and moved okay, but nothing I did not think I could not handle. We were very hesitant to engage each other on the ground and stood fighting for grips for the fist several minutes. Both of us got penalized for "stalling" though I felt I was a bit more aggressive. He finally shots on me, I kind of get out of the way and ride him to the ground where he rolls under me and again I end up in guard. He passes my guard and starts to work around my body where he gets north south. We work back and forth for a few, but then he gets ahold of my arm and quickly dishes out a nice Kimura. I tapped. Today I was the hammer, and then finally the nail! Good fight!
Apparently since there were so many people they handed out two third places, so technically I did not get silver, but bronze and Carlos went on to fight in the final-final to get beat and take second.
Brian fought Rudy Fischman from Wander Braga's academy. Rudy pulls X Guard to which Brian has a sweet pass he does and comes into side control. Immediately Brian starts to work his game and tries to separate Rudy's arm from his body by stepping over his head and working those arms (much like my Kimura). While Brian is working for the far side arm he instinctively has Rudy in a inverted triangle. Rudy does a great job protecting his arms, and it seems like Brian all the sudden has an epiphany, looks back, tightens up his legs, and chokes Rudy out with the inverted triangle!
The first match in the Absolute final Brian draws Stephen Hall, a world class competitor from Team Alliance. Stephen is probably two inches taller than me (I am 6'4") and weighs in at 245#!!!! It was comical to see these two on the same mat. Brian played his game well and did an amazing job, but Stephen got a guard pass about 1/2 way through the match and those 2 points he rode out. Brian tried a couple of submisson attempts, but knee bars on someone who weighs 100 more pounds than you are usually not much of an option! Stephen was just too big and strong! Brian did not get submitted, and lost simply by 2 points. All in all not too bad considering the level of competition!
No one manned up and came to fight David in his weight category, so he won! Then we patiently waited for his absolute division which David owned. He fought two tough fights, one against a cat who came from Scotland! David won his first match on points. I have to go back and review the tape as I cannot remember how he nailed the points, but he held out for the win. In his second match David slapped on a triangle but his opponent would not tap! David rode out the match for the win, but his legs were so exhausted at the end he could barely walk!
Jesus this has gone on enough, so I better wrap it all up! I cannot tell you how positive of an experience this was for me. Now that the dust has settled, the muscles are almost healed I am reviewing the footage and find I have lots to work on. As well as I fought, and as much as I imposed my will I see a lot of gaps both in technique, and timing that I need to work on in the coming months with Brian and my family at NW Jiu Jitsu. I think I am going to try and make one major tournament a year if I can afford it. The experience was invaluable, and we had a blast for the week after the tourney! This tourney boost my confidence and showed me that hard work, dedication, and discipline will make up for lack of skill quite often, as I know I am not the most skillful person to come into BJJ. It certainly has not come "naturally" to me by any means.
Again I thank all of my training partners and coaches! None of this is doable without you. I love you guys. I also want to dedicate this tournament and my fights to my fallen friend Mike Martello. I would like to believe he was looking down and rooting for me. I can just hear his New York accent telling me to "Kick some fuckin' ass Jake!" I hope I made him proud. I miss you Mike....
Train Hard. Train Smart!