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.

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

With the first Jiu-Jitsu spectacle of 2011 in the books, it’s time to recap what went down at the 2011 European Championships.

Farias (white) vs. Malfacine, Part 1, via GracieMag

Nowadays, when we think of the Atos/Alliance rivalry, we think of Rubens “Cobrinha” Charles and Rafael Mendes, whose matches have been filled with drama to the highest degree and emotion seeping from every pore in the clash of two featherweight titans. But at this European Championship in Portugal, Ary Farias of Atos and Bruno Malfacine of Alliance added another dimension to the rivalry.

The top two light-featherweight contestants put on a show, with a back-and-forth battle of sweeps and submission attempts, with Farias coming out with one more sweep in the end and earning his first black belt title against the reigning three-time roosterweight World Champion.

Farias (white) vs. Malfacine, Part 2, via GracieMag

At featherweight, it was another reason to celebrate for Team Atos. The team went in with four competitors signed up (Bruno Frazzatto, Eduardo Ramos and the Mendes brothers). They all won the matches they were in and closed out the semifinal and final matches together. In the end, the team decided to award Ramos with the gold medal for his tough fought win over Brasa star Ryan Hall.

In the deepest division at this year’s Europeans, Alliance once again came out on top with their two lightweight studs – Michael Langhi and Lucas Lepri. But the division goes way beyond the two Alliance teammates; action took place all over the bracket. Although the bronze is not what he desired, Jonathan “JT” Torres had another stellar showing, with wins against Jake Mackenzie and his heated rival, Augusto “Tanquinho” Mendes. He fell short by two advantage points to Lepri in a classic semifinal matchup but definitely made a point that he’s not going away any time soon.

At middleweight, there was no smooth sailing for the two finalists, Claudio Calasans and Bruno Almeida. Each had their share of battles in the semifinals, with Calasans getting by Victor Estima and Almeida defeating Alan “Finfou.” When they made it to the final, it was evident who the superior fighter was, and Atos had another black belt gold medalist in Calasans.

Estima decided to sign up for the Europeans at the last minute to fight for a friend who had recently passed away, and the day before the competition he attended his friend’s memorial service for remembrance. The next day, the three-time world champion was back competing on the mats with a heavy heart. Braulio’s toughest foe to get to the gold was new middle-heavyweight contender Sergio Moraes. In a tight contest, with the exchange of sweeps for 10 minutes, Estima, in the end, edged the hard-nosed Moraes by two advantage points. After the final whistle, Braulio stood and shouted to the sky “This one’s for you Steve!”

After a disappointing loss in the absolute on Saturday to Calasans, Bernardo Faria was determined to right the ship, and he did just that. Winning every match he had, Faria reached the final along with his teammate Leonardo Nogueira, who was superior over all his opponents on the other side of the heavyweight bracket. In a gentleman’s agreement, Faria was crowned European heavyweight champion of 2011.

After battling and overcoming cancer, jiu-jitsu competition may not cause as much celebration as it once did, but it certainly was a great day and great victory for Lucio “Lagarto.” “Lagarto” dominated the super-heavyweight division with wins in all his matches, including a dominant 8-0 victory over battle-tested world champion Rafael Lovato Jr.  Congratulations go out to Lagarto on the second-biggest win of his life.

In the burly ultra-heavyweight division, no one stood out more than the two-time absolute champion Rodrigo Comprido. Comprido ran through his division like a world champion does and won his side of the bracket. On the other side, up-and-coming contender Igor Silva made a name for himself by cruising through his bracket and reaching the final. In the end, the Brasa teammates closed out the division together and crowned Silva the ultra-heavyweight champion.

In the absolute division, the finals came down to a rematch of the Worlds middleweight semifinal between Sergio Moraes and Calasans. In a technical match where it was hard to gain a lead for long, it was payback for Moraes as he edged the middleweight champion with a 4-4 draw and a single advantage point to none. So, although Moraes couldn’t claim his division’s title, he was able to rebound and snatch the most prestigious division at one of the World’s greatest jiu-jitsu events.

Kickboxing & Muay Thai
by Rob Tatum

After a slow start to 2011, the world of kickboxing and Muay Thai is heating up. A number of big-name fighters have been in action recently and more will be competing over the course of the next month.

Armen Petrosyan (photo courtesy of Hye Fighters)

Most notably, two-time defending K-1 MAX champion Giorgio Petrosyan took a decision over Sudsakorn Sor. Klinmee at Thai Boxe Mania 2011 on Jan. 29 in Turin, Italy. Other key bouts on the card included Petrosyan’s younger brother, Armen, claiming victory over Miodrag Olar by decision, and Abdallah Mabel finishing Vladimir Shulyak by third-round TKO.

Both the welterweight and heavyweight belts were on the line on Jan. 22 in Suphanburi, Thailand at the World Professional Muay Thai Federation event. Antuan Siangboxing became the new welterweight champion by winning a decision over Bovy Sor. Udomson. Meanwhile, Wehas Topkingboxing successfully defended his heavyweight belt against Thor Hoopman, also by decision.

Also continuing over the past week was the Isuzu Thai Fight 2011 Qualifier in Bangkok. Noparrat Kiatgamthon ended the night of Kongjak Sor. Tuanthong with a fourth-round KO. There are two more bouts left in the group stage, as Tuanthong will face the heavily favored Kem Sitsongpeenong and Prakaisaeng Sit-Or battles Thanongdet Petpayatai. Both Thepsutin Pumpanmuang and Nopparat Keatkhamtorn have already been eliminated from the tournament.

Looking ahead, Malaipet will be in action at the Lion Fight Promotions event from Buffalo Bill’s Casino in Primm Valley, Nev., on Feb. 12. He will be rematching Michael Mananquil in the main event. The pair battled to a split decision that went in Malaipet’s favor in July of 2010. In case you missed it, MMA DieHards recently interviewed Malaipet.

Another rising star in the kickboxing world will be in action on Feb. 23, as current It’s Showtime 77kg (169.4 lb.) champion Artem Levin will meet current WBC light heavyweight champion Kaoklai Kaennorsing. The bout will be contested under full Muay Thai rules, as it is rumored that Kaennorsing’s belt will be up for grabs.

In U.S. Muay Thai news, the March 5 MTAA event in Los Angeles will be headlined by a WBC Muay Thai Super Middleweight National Title fight between Joe Schilling and Chase Green. Schilling’s original opponent, Ky Hollenback, withdrew to take another bout in April. Also on the card will be a MTAA Super Welterweight National Championship fight featuring Sevak Ohanjanyan against Bounthong Syvanthong.

Back to the Petrosyan brothers, both will be in action on March 12 in Milan, Italy as part of the Oktagon 2011 event. Giorgio will headline the event against former It’s Showtime 77kg (169.4 lb.) champion Cosmo Alexandre. The Brazilian will be dropping down to 70kg (154 lb.) to battle the K-1 superstar. Younger brother Armen will face K-1 MAX runner-up Yoshihiro Sato at the same event. Other big names on the card include 65kg (143 lb.) That Fight champion Fabio Pinca against Andrei Kulebin, and Dzhabar Askerov taking on Dutch veteran Chris van Venrooij in the one of the night’s three tournament bouts.

In related news, Alexandre has again stated a desire to compete in MMA. He is currently teaching Muay Thai at Link BJJ in Massachusetts (home of UFC veteran Gabriel Gonzaga).

Finally, rumors are swirling about possible combatants at the March 14 It’s Showtime event from Lyon, France. There is talk of K-1 superstar Badr Hari competing on the card, as well as Daniel Ghita. Also possible for the event is a fourth meeting between Giorgio Petrosyan and Abdallah Mabel, although with the close proximity to the March 12 event in Milan, the feasibility of Petrosyan fighting at both events appears doubtful. Another bout will pit Fabio Pinca against Mosab Amrani. And last but certainly not least, kickboxing legend Jerome Le Banner may be fighting on this card as well.

Amateur Wrestling
by Staff, The Open Mat

Iowa's Luke Lofthouse (R) tries to keep Penn State's Justin Ortega (photo courtesy Steve Manuel/Globe Gazette)

At the start of this year’s college wrestling season all eyes were on the East Coast for the first time in decades. Not many people thought the perennial powers from the Midwest such as Iowa, Minnesota and Oklahoma had much of a chance.

Well, that all changed Sunday.

The Iowa Hawkeyes took a trip to State College, Pa., the home of Penn State. The Nittany Lions were the newly appointed No. 1 team in the land. The Hawks entered the dual ranked sixth. From the opening match, where defending champion Matt McDonough of Iowa set the bar with a pin, the Hawks showed they were serious. The biggest surprise may have come when Montell Marion of Iowa knocked off Andrew Alton in a pivotal match. (in-depth coverage)

The Minnesota Golden Gophers quietly went about their business of winning. The fourth-ranked Gophers took on the fifth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers Sunday, as well. The match may have been a bit overshadowed by the above referenced dual, but was just as exciting.

Early on it appeared to be all Minnesota, as it built a solid lead. However, the Badgers clawed their way back to make it only a three-point deficit with only the heavyweights left to go. Minnesota sent out their back-up, Ben Berhow, and he delivered with a crazy scramble (rare with the big men) as time expired to earn a win. (in-depth coverage)

Since another top team dropped, a former No. 1 reclaimed the top spot. Cornell is once again the team to beat. Cornell has only suffered one loss on the season and gets one of the better wrestlers back from injury in Mike Grey.

Iowa jumped four spots to take over the No. 2 spot. The next few weeks should be exciting with Minnesota taking on Iowa and Penn State. This has been a crazy season so far and we expect the national tournament to have more drama then an episode of Jersey Shore.

Top 10 Teams in DI Wrestling

1. Cornell
2. Iowa
3. Penn State
4. Minnesota
5. Wisconsin
6. Rutgers
7. Oklahoma State
8. Boise State
9. Oklahoma
10. Virginia Tech

A complete listing of individual and team rankings can be found on The Open Mat website.

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