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
The first major International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) tournament of 2011 is finally upon us, and it takes us to Lisbon, Portugal for the European Open Championships, beginning on Jan. 27. This year, the final tally of competitors registered has officially surpassed the Pan Jiu-Jitsu Championships and is now the second biggest tournament in the world.
This year’s Europeans look more like a Mundial championship roster of the best black belts around. Here are my fighters to watch in each division and who I think could make a run at gold in the tournament’s biggest divisions:
Light-Featherweight (Pluma) 141 lb.
Without a roosterweight division, the light-feather will be the lightest weight category at black belt in 2011. The division’s top black belt standout is roosterweight world champion Bruno Malfacine, but the newly promoted Atos black belt Ary Farias has dominated at all previous belt levels and is currently a two-time brown belt European champion. Look for this division to come down to those competitors, but don’t forget the dark horses in the division such as Laercio Fernandes, who is coming off a great win over Caio Terra at the American Nationals.
Featherweight (Pena) 154 lb.
One of the more interesting categories is the featherweight division, since now both Rafael and Guilherme Mendes will be fighting in the same division together. Also, the brothers will be sharing the same division with two other teammates, Bruno Frazzatto and Eduardo Ramos. Expect a possible gentleman’s agreement in the final, but never underestimate the rest of the competition, including No-Gi world champion Justin Rader and ADCC medalist Ryan Hall. They too can make a serious run at gold.
Lightweight (Leve) 167 lb.
Probably the deepest division in the entire tournament, there could easily be six or seven guys that are deserving to be at the top of the division. Last year’s co-champions Michael Langhi and Lucas Lepri will be looking for a repeat performance, but Gilbert Burns, Jonathan Torres and Augusto Mendes will be standing in their way.
Middleweight (Medio) 181 lb.
With the current Worlds silver medalist Claudio Calasans in the division, it is easy to see who the favorite will be. But that doesn’t mean Alan “Finfou” Nascimento, Marcos Souza, Ryan Beauregard or Victor Estima can’t spoil the Atos black belt’s fun and make a run at gold. Expect a category open to plenty of upsets and new faces to make a big impression at this European.
Medium-Heavyweight (Medio-Pesado) 194.5 lb.
This category contains tons of top talent including two world champions, Sergio Moraes and Braulio Estima. Look for the finale to most likely come down to the former middleweight in Moraes and former heavyweight in Estima to see who will be the champion. But don’t rule out the tough Rogel Monsalve as a strong third force in the weight class.
Heavyweight (Pesado) 207.5 lb.
As we get to the big boys of the competition, one of the best “big” black belts in the world is Bernardo Faria, who most recently claimed the status of world champion by beating two-time absolute champion Xande Riberio. In a division with the least amount of competitors, it’s a good expectation to see Faria reaching the final. Also, 2009 brown belt absolute champion Leo Nogueira is a heavy favorite to make a run. These two top heavyweight teammates look to be heading in the direction of closing out their division without a final.
Super-Heavyweight (Super Pesado) 221 lb.
Coming off his gold at the No-Gi Worlds, look for Rafael Lovato Jr. to walk into the building with the status as favorite for the super-heavyweight division. But there are plenty of candidates to make an upset in the division, including the veteran Bruno Bastos and Eduardo Almedia Ramos.
Ultra-Heavyweight (Pesadissmo) Above 221 lb.
In the division of the “big boys” the 2010 world champion, Rodrigo Cavaca of Checkmat, is the heavy favorite to come out victorious in his class. Without Gabriel Vella, Roberto “Cyborg” or Antonio Braga Neto signed up, this is Cavaca’s opportunity to make it gold in the Euro’s for the second straight year.
by Staff, The Open Mat
If it seems that we are talking about Penn State every week in this column, it’s probably true. The Nittany Lions really leave us no choice as every week they seem to be getting better and better. Now that is downright scary for the rest of the field because every week their young guns, Alton, Taylor and Ruth, become more and more confident and transfer Andrew Long becomes more and more comfortable.
Oh did we mention All-America Quinten Wright is back from injury? Wright recorded a fall in his second match back against Indiana. Penn State continued to look like a perfect storm, winning 36-8 against another quality program. In a week full of upsets, the Nittany Lions wrestled stronger than ever. Scary. Very scary. (in-depth coverage)
Well, apparently nobody told Lehigh that after being upset by Navy last week they were supposed to wilt under the bright red light that was No. 1 Cornell. The Big Red came into Bethlehem, Pa., a bit bruised up. Nobody could have expected how things would play out.
Steve Dutton of Lehigh mounted a furious comeback against Corey Manson. Then Kid Dynamite (Kyle Dake, Cornell) proved he doesn’t have the bang we are used to seeing. Finally, the middle weights that failed to come through against Navy brought the home crowd to a frenzy point when Brandon Hatchette and Rob Hamlin knocked off top-three wrestlers in Justin Kerber and Steve Bosak. This is why the Lehigh-Cornell Rivalry is one of the best in the country. We can’t wait to see part two at EIWA’s. (in-depth coverage)
The strong season for east coast wrestling continued last Friday in Piscataway, N.J., as the Rutgers wrestling team continued to ascend to new heights when they beat a formidable Virginia Tech team, 24-7, in what was probably the biggest win in Rutgers wrestling history.
The Scarlet Knights have come a long way since what we dubbed a lackluster season opener at Brockport. They chose to start the match at 125 with Joey Langel against Jarrod Garnett. The match got the crowd into it right away as the two exchanged leads all match. In the end, Langel was able to pull off the upset. Although Virginia Tech won the next bout with a major decision by Devin Carter, the Hokies never really got into the hunt. From that point on the only bout they won was at 157 when Jesse Dong slipped past Darrell Coccozzo in the last few seconds.
It’s increasingly evident that the culture is changing on the East Coast as teams like Cornell, Lehigh, Penn State, Rutgers, Virginia Tech and Maryland look to be contenders year in and year out. It was definitely exciting to have a match with that kind of feel in our backyard. It continues to prove that wrestling is a viable revenue source for universities and, if promoted properly, can be successful anywhere. (in-depth coverage)
Top 10 Teams in DI Wrestling
1. Penn State
8. Oklahoma State
9. Boise State
A complete listing of individual and team rankings can be found on The Open Mat website.
Kickboxing & Muay Thai
by Rob Tatum
Jan. 22 saw “The Contender Asia” participant Dzhabar Askerov knock out Riccardo Lecca in the first round of their bout at KnocKOut in Rome. Also on the card, Marco Pique claimed a decision over Bruno Franchi after an extension round.
In Japan, Hinata picked up a third-round knockout victory over South Korean fighter Woo Yong Choi at Rebels-EX.
Current Lumpinee Stadium 70kg (154 lb.) champion Saiyok Pumpanmuang will retire following his final bout on Jan. 25.
Feb. 5 will see kickboxing legend Andy Souwer face off against Abraham Roqueni under K-1 rules in the main event of El Desafio K-1 in Malaga, Spain.
The It’s Showtime card slated for March 6 is rumored to include Leroy Kaestner battling Ramzi Tamaditi, Fran Palenzuela against Dennis Schneidmiller, Manuel Hinojo fighting Hafid el Boustati, and Youness el Mhassani facing either Olver Tinda or current 77kg (169.4 lb) champion Artem Levin.
Mike Zambidis will compete in the main event of Iron Challenge from Athens, Greece on March 12. His “Kings of the Ring” super welterweight title will be on the line as he faces Ali Gunyar.
Rumors are swirling that Isuzu Thai Fight 2011 will now feature both 67kg (147.4 lb) and 70kg (154 lb) tournaments. The likely representative for Thailand in the 70kg tournament will be Buakaw Por. Pramuk.