Every sport has a breeding ground for its future stars. In the case of mixed martial arts, the worlds of grappling, kickboxing and amateur wrestling are most likely to spawn the next Demian Maia, Mirko CroCop or Brock Lesnar. Collectively, these sports fall under the umbrella of “combat sports.” Every Wednesday, MMA DieHards reports on the biggest happenings in each of these realms of combat.

Kickboxing & Muay Thai
by Rob Tatum

Saturday, March 12, marked one of the busiest days of the year in the kickboxing and Muay Thai world. The Isuzu Thai Fight qualifier wrapped up in Bangkok and a number of K-1 MAX superstars were in action all over the globe.

Petrosyan (black trunks) vs. Alexandre

The biggest action of the weekend took place in Milan, Italy at Fight Code Oktagon 2011, as two-time defending K-1 MAX champion Giorgio Petryosyan battled former 77kg (169.4 lb) It’s Showtime champion Cosmo Alexandre. The larger Brazilian opened the fight the aggressor, showing off his powerful Muay Thai attack, but Petroysan never flinched. The southpaw delivered yet another masterful performance, remaining calm and precise throughout the fight and winning a unanimous decision.

Also fighting on the same card was Petrosyan’s younger brother Armen, who certainly had his stock rise by disposing of Yoshihiro Sato by decision. The most exciting finish of the night came from Dzhaber Askerov, who used a lead left hook to put the lights out on Chris van Venrooij in the opening round of their fight. Finally, Sudsakorn Sor. Klinmee delivered another solid performance by outpointing Xu Yan.

Elsewhere, Greek powerhouse Mike Zambidis outclassed Turkish fighter Ali Gunyar at the Iron Challenge in Athens. Zambidis is next scheduled to battle John Wayne Parr for a third time on May 28 in Melbourne, Australia.

Things did not go as well for fellow K-1 MAX fighter Albert Kraus, who dropped a decision to Batu Khasikov at Battle of Moscow 3 in Russia. Kraus has hit a bit of rough patch over his last few bouts. He was thoroughly dominated by the aforementioned Giorgio Petrosyan in both the 2009 and 2010 K-1 MAX tournaments, but was expected to defeat the Russian in Moscow.

In Thailand, the final bout of the qualifying round of Isuzu Thai Fight 2011 ended with a third-round knockout from tournament favorite Kem Sitsongpeenong. He finished off Kongjak Sor. Tuanthong with a massive elbow and moves on to the semifinal round of the 67kg (147.4 lb) tournament.

Looking ahead, despite the tragedy that has struck Japan over the last week (and forced the cancellation or rescheduling of a number of events), it appears as though the Krush Triple Final will take place as planned on March 19. The event features former UFC, PRIDE, and recent Sengoku combatant Akihiro Gono, who makes his return to kickboxing. Gono will take on Yuya Yamamoto in a 70kg superfight. The event will be headlined by the conclusion of the promotion’s 55kg (121 lb), 60kg (132 lb), and 63kg (138.6 lb) tournaments.

Finally, in local action in Colorado, MMA DieHards’ own Conner Cordova made his amateur kickboxing debut at Clash of the Titans 9 on March 11. Cordova landed three impressive head kicks and finished with punches to defeat Dave Harper by TKO at 0:37 of the first round.

Grappling & Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
by Gianni Grippo, four-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion

With the 17th Pan Jiu-Jitsu Championships only a week-and-a-half away, let’s get our blood pumping a bit, and take a look back at some of the great competitors and matches of past years that have made this Championship one of the most prestigious in the entire world today.

This is where the rivalry really started:

Today we look at Roger Gracie and Alexandre Ribeiro as two of the greatest jiu-jitsu players we have ever seen. But back in 2006, these two titans were still working their way up to greatness at the highest levels – Roger was coming off a second-consecutive Worlds absolute finals loss to Ronaldo “Jacare”, and Ribeiro was still just considered Saulo’s younger brother and was trying to get rid of the status as “third man” behind Roger and Jacare. On their path to an eventual five World absolute titles between them, they met twice at the 2006 Pans and a storied rivalry began.

They met in the super-heavyweight final, where Ribeiro played a strategy he set-up perfectly to beat Graciefor the first time. At that time, it was only Roger’s fourth loss as a black belt, and his first in a non-absolute finals match. On the podium, Roger, in clear disgust, was already quietly calculating how he’d beat “Xande” in the absolute category.

In the absolute, both would have their way with their opponents, Xande having to go longer to make it to the final, beating Demian Maia by advantages and Braulio Estima, 4 to 2. In the final, the two would meet again but this time Roger would have it his way. After only two minutes of action, Gracie pulled guard and quickly locked in a triangle on a careless Ribeiro. A few moments after applying the submission, Xande tapped and Roger got his revenge. They finished the day with a split, but the rivalry was just beginning.

Brown Belt Kron, Perfect in 2008:

Never before had a brown belt stole the show from the black belts the way Kron Gracie did at the 2008 Pans in Dominguez Hills, Calif. Already a World Champion at brown in 2007, Kron went into the Pan still as a brown belt and came out on fire! In an attack-first style of jiu-jitsu, Gracie would finish all eight of his opponents in the middleweight and absolute divisions to become brown belt grand champion of the Pans. “He doesn’t think about points, he goes straight for the attack. His jiu-jitsu is more aggressive than mine,” said Andre Galvao, who just happened to be that years black belt medium-heavy and absolute champion, in GracieMag.

2010 – A Year of Unexpected Surprises:

We know Bernardo Faria, Zak Maxwell and Kayron Gracie are three of the best names in the sport of jiu-jitsu today, but the way they performed at the 2010 Pan left the building stunned as they went from tough underdogs to favorites.

Maxwell only fought in featherweight in 2009 and was brown belt World Champion, but who would expect him to make a run in the absolute with the big boys? Well, he proved all those doubters wrong in Irvine, Calif., at the 2010 Pan. Coming into the year as a
lightweight (167.5 lb), Maxwell came out on fire, destroying all in his path to gold at the lightweight division. But the surprise really came when the next day, he did the same thing, destroying much larger opponents, including middleweight champion Lucas Rocha, to become the 2010 brown belt grand champion. In each match, his game was flawless, displaying a Roger-like style of pass, mount, choke. His performance was simply amazing and could go down as one of the best ever.

Kayron Gracie was a newly minted black belt under his father, Carlos Gracie Jr. He was participating in his first tournament as a black belt. Although everyone knew he was as talented as anyone, no one really expected the young Gracie to really make a serious run at gold. Wrong. Gracie proved the doubters wrong and fought with flawless technique, beating 2008 World Champion Sergio Moraes by an advantage in the semifinals and then beating a fellow surprise of the tournament, Abmar Barbosa, in the finals, 6 to 4. In only his first tournament at black belt, Gracie already became black belt Pan Champion of 2010.

Bernardo Faria (Carlos Ozório/GracieMag)

Faria was the big name to shocker at the 2010 Pan as he captured both the heavyweight and absolute titles. The relative unknown went through studs such as Rafael Lovato Jr., Rodrigo Cavaca and Gabrielle Vella to get to the final, where he met 2009 champion Antonio Braga Neto. In the absolute final, for the first nine minutes it looked like the favorite was going to have his way, as Neto was controlling the match with a dominant base and great pressure on Faria. But with a little over thirty seconds remaining, Faria was able to free himself, snatch onto an omoplata and then move to Neto’s back for two points. Soon after, the whistle sounded and Bernardo (as he usually does) cried out in victory. With that win, Faria cemented himself as favorite, and carried momentum into the World Championships where he would go on to beat two-time absolute champion “Xande” Ribeiro in the finals.

Who will rev up the new big rivalry in jiu-jitsu this year? Will we see the next Kron Gracie or Zak Maxwell appear? Who will take Faria’s crown, or will he hold onto it for another year? Get ready, because the 2011 Pan starts on March 24!

Amateur Wrestling
by Staff, The Open Mat

It’s time for NCAA National Championship Weekend.

I think this tournament is Penn State’s to lose. Sanderson’s guys didn’t real get any seeds of death and looked good at the Big 10′s. They have a legitimate chance to place everywhere they qualified and I think they will wrestle with reckless abandon. Cornell was the early season favorite, but have had injury issues and have not been dominant of late. With that said, with guys like Grey, Dake, Lewnes, Bosak and Simaz as legitimate title threats, a National title is not out of the question. I am also interested to see how teams like Lehigh, Rutgers and Virginia Tech show for themselves. A top-five finish for any of those teams can be great for their programs moving forward.

Being a underdog come March is not something Iowa is used to, but I can see Coach Brands feeding off this. We all saw what happened when Iowa strolled into western Pennsylvania to hand over their crown to Penn State. Don’t be surprised if they come into Philly in the same mood. The issue is it is much easier to creep up on someone in a dual meet than a tournament and I am not sure if they have enough ammo to keep up.

Another interesting team to me is the Wisconsin Badgers; they have a lot of talent, enough to make a legitimate run at a top-three finish. With the health concerns they may place to three or maybe not even in the top ten, we will have to wait and see.

Nobody can argue that the Midwest is the hub of college wrestling, but what the NCAA need to realize is that constantly hosting the championships in places like Omaha and St. Louis hold the sport back. I am not saying that smaller Midwest cities shouldn’t host the championships. I am saying that we need to expand our markets. This year’s tournament sold out in record time and I think other markets such as Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, Texas and California would do the same, maybe even better. Hardcore wrestling fans will travel anywhere that is hosting the championships, even Juneau, Alaska! But for the growth of our sport, we need to open it up to new markets, and also places that are made to welcome large events and offer affordable opportunities for the fans. Go online and check airline and hotel fares, and also look at the larger base of social activities for the weekend. Make the wrestling championships more like a major college bowl game or the Final Four. Imagine the possibilities. I strongly believe that wrestling can become much bigger than it is; we just need to find better ways to get it to fans rabid and casual alike.

On a final note, “Shame on you!!!” to the people pulling the plug on Nebraska-Omaha! If anyone knows of another example in any sport where a national champion program gets the axe the same season they win a title, man that is just crazy. That is why I continue to say as a community we need to find new ways to make sure this doesn’t happen, not just try and bail out a program when the axe falls.

There are no rankings for this week. The next set of rankings will come at the end of Nationals.

For in-depth coverage of National Championship Weekend, be sure to visit The Open Mat.

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