I spent a small amount of time in Las Vegas almost four years ago and I loved the city, but this trip however, I was headed to the “City that Never Sleeps” to storm the World Professional Jiu Jitsu Championships Abu Dhabi Trials held there. The Trials were for an all expense paid trip and qualification to compete in the world famous Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates tournament. The tournament was last weekend, January 29th, so dieting and training through Thanksgiving and Christmas was very different, although I should have been used to it from back in my high school wrestling days. I was making a cut to 83kg (183lbs.), a weight I hadn’t been at in over seven years! KCBJJ Teammates Charles Hiersche and Andrew Tyson were also making the trip to Vegas with me, and they had even rougher cuts to make
Vince Vitatoe, an old friend and training partner from KC had moved out to Las Vegas about a year and a half ago, started law school at UNLV, keep training his bjj and mma and landed a gig with the UFC; a paid internship. photo © 2011 Scott Hirano Learning all this I was so stoked for him, he was following his goals and nailing what he set out to do, word for word. So when we flew in Thursday night to start the trip, right from the start kickass Vince was to greet us and take us to Randy Couture’s gym, Xtreme Couture, where they both train. We were there to get some rolling in and continue the weight cut for the following evening’s weigh-ins. Being the epicenter fight city and really the epicenter fight gym for the “whos who” of MMA we saw Randy himself prepping “The Phenom” Vitor Belfort for his upcoming title fight this Saturday at UFC 126 against arguably the greatest pound-for-pound fighter, the champion, Anderson Silva. I saw firsthand a sneak peak, a once in a lifetime moment. Now I met Randy back in 2006 but let me just say that I don’t get awe-struck by anyone, but he is the man! Watch out Silva, with Randy the strategian and The Phenom sparring in beastmode with a huge weight vest on...nuff said!
We drilled and rolled with a Randy’s head jiu-jitsu coach, Neil Melanson, learned some great techniques and tricks. After we hit the sauna and all felt pretty comfortable where our weights were at. Friday we chilled at Vince’s kickass house before heading to the local gym to knock out one final weight cutting session before the official weigh-ins. Mainly Tyson and I were there to help Charlie mentally finish the job, he was hurting and was maxed out bodyfat-wise, looking like a Holocaust victim. Charlie smashed it and then we all weighed-in successfully at the Sports Center where the huge event was to be held the next day.
Immediately following weigh-ins we strolled to Panevino, a very elegant, romantic, and relaxing Italian restaurant for the three of us dudes post weigh-in feeding frenzy. Dehydrated, short-fused, hungry, carrying gym bags, and extremely under-dressed, amazingly the staff and manager at Panevino not only welcomed us, but gave us five star treatment the entire night. A crowd of waiters and waitresses appealed to our every request, and the food was among the best salmon dishes I have ever tasted. A truly great dinning experience, one that I find would have been hard to come by anywhere else other than Las Vegas. Great job Panevino! We tipped very generously, and immediately all of our moods were elevated, turned 180 degrees from the previous two days. Food is a wonderful thing, never to be taken for granted.
The tournament was underway, kids and women around 9am. The WPJJC runs tournaments very similar to the IBJJF, and I was in the warm up area in plenty of time before my first match. I had a bye in the first round due to a “no show” and my next match was up against Jason South from Unified JJ...again, big surprise, another tall opponent. I knew this was going to be a tough match, they all were. He tried a hip toss and I sunk my hips, and after one lift attempt I just worked around to his back. For the next minute or two I threatened his back and the choke, and eventually got my four points. We go back and forth with the back attacks until I end in dominant north/south and time expires...I win. My second match was up fast, and I knew there wasn’t much time. I was right into the finals. After only a few minutes it began and immediately I knew this guy’s game plan; his guard. I was relentless with my passes, unsuccessful until the very end I threaten mount, and somehow score two points to tie it up right before time expires. I looked at the scoreboard and it read 2-2 with no advantages awarded...I knew then it goes to the referee’s judgment call on who dictated the match, who was the aggressor with more action. I pumped my fist with confidence, thinking I had won and sealed the victory...so did my opponent. We stand next to the ref, him holding our wrists to raise the victor’s arm. In what seemed like minutes was only a few seconds, standing there waiting for the decision...the ref raised my opponents hand, I had lost.
Up next was my first match in the Purple Belt Absolute division. It was a tight match. Down by two near the end of time I needed points. From his half guard I went high almost passing completely into S mount. He was hanging onto my foot with his all as I transitioned into a reverse triangle, looking for back points. I locked it up and started to sink it in...time expired. No points, no win. I was devastated, couldn’t believe it. That was my chance to qualify for Abu Dhabi. I let the opportunity slip right through my fingers. I knew I had that match, I knew I was better than that.It’s such a game of inches, every little bit counts.
Not that I am one to sulk, but I didn’t have time to, my nogi division was up and the $200 professional cash prize on the line. First match right away I transitioned to S mount just like the match before. This time however, I secure the hooks in back mount and relentlessly choked the guy, scored the tap in under a minute. I felt good, immediately writing my wrong, so to speak. It didn’t get me my qualification chance back, but it felt good to jump forward, erase the mishap and just move on. Like an mvp quarterback who throws an interception, shakes it off and comes back the very next series to put together an impressive scoring drive. My second match was all over the place, and with a duck under to a tight-waist takedown into side control at the end, I secured the victory by points. Third and final match, I was to face Jason South again. Early in the match I hit a tight guillotine. Wanting to finish the fight early, I went all out, but without securing his body he freed himself and recovered. Later he would tell me I nearly popped his head off. It wasn’t enough, however, and I ended up losing the match, and the cash prize.
Charlie had a tough first round gi match that he lost out in, came back and won the bronze in his nogi division. Tyson, in his first ever tournament won the bronze in his gi and silver in his nogi. We all were unhappy with our placings and wanted to rewrite our small mistakes that cost us our matches. We got the hardware, but only mere mortals would be satisfied with 2nd and 3rd place. We are champions.
We got out late that night after eating and to the strip, showing Charlie around for his first time there. Sleeping in the next morning we kept Charlie’s request and hit the Belagio buffet. Ranked one of the best in the world, Charlie had vowed for two months he would go there, and with his rough weight cut, did he ever deliver on his vow
Two silvers. Too close for my liking. I was immediately hungry for more and wanting redemption. I hate silver. I want to be a champion and win the qualification trip to compete in Abu Dhabi. There is one more shot, Trials held in San Diego March 5th and 6th...I need to make that happen somehow...