There are numerous reasons that the ADCC Submission Fighting World Championships is a special event. It only comes around every two years, the rules are the most wide-open of any tournament, only the best athletes are present and the participants must be invited by a member of the U.A.E. royal family like some kind of death-match tournament in a Shaw Brothers film circa 1978. This year’s tournament more than lived up to the uniqueness that one associates with the ADCC.
The 2011 ADCC was hosted at the Capital One arena in Nottingham, England and was broadcast live over the internet by BudoVideos. Those who made the effort to watch the tournament, including myself and many others who made the effort to wake-up at an unreasonable hour to watch, were rewarded with a two-day showcase of the best techniques, strategies and athletes that submission grappling has to offer.
Braulio Estima vs. Jacare Souza – Manto photo.
There were few flaws in the tournament but those that existed should be addressed. The tournament was very well run so that only three mats were needed to keep the schedule humming. This opened up a substantial amount of space on the floor of the arena that unfortunately wasn’t put to good use. This was manifested primarily in the lack of padding surrounding the small Dollamur mats, which led to many tumbles onto the hard surface as contestants frequently drove out of bounds.
The broadcast itself was exemplary – the high definition feed had few if any issues and the commentating team worked tirelessly to provide context of what we were seeing on the mats. But the commentators were positioned in a way that limited their view of the scores and times, leading to much confusion. In future tournaments it is likely that these issues will be addressed.
There were some complaints that the liberal leg lock rules resulted in multiple injuries – including Rafael Lovato Jr., Rodolfo Vieira, David Avellan and even Rafael Mendes. However, the competitors are all high-level professionals who knew what they were getting themselves into and knew the risks of not tapping to leg locks. Unfortunately Avellan was intentionally injured after the ref had attempted to stop his match with UFC middleweight Rousimar “Toquinho” Palhares. Palhares’s leg-lock heavy run in the 87.9 kg category was one of the most entertaining stories of the tournament in the same way that people consider bullfighting and the “Saw” film franchise exciting.
-66 kg Category
The under 66 kg category often produces the most high-paced technical matches of the tournament and this year was no exception. Yet it seemed almost anti-climactic due to the compelling events of the two weight categories above it and the near-foregone conclusion of Rafael Mendes holding on to his title. The division started out with matches that were either slow and conservative or completely lopsided.
The Nova Uniao legend, Robson Moura, several years out of competition, let everyone know he was back with a blistering flying triangle to guillotine to mounted guillotine combination on Finland’s Gregor Forsel. He didn’t get the tap but racked up enough points in the second half to advance.
Testsu Hadairo entering the arena in a full body spacesuit and a silver alien mask before being dispatched by a disciplined Ryan Hall. Hall had a nice backroll waiter sweep from deep half guard to the 50/50 heelhook position, making it clear that his gameplan was going to be based around his signature position. This unfortunately proved his undoing later in the competition. Apparently Hadairo bit Hall at one point but the American continued to a workman-like victory seemingly unperturbed.
The match between Mendes and Justin Radar in the second round. It saw one of the most technical and mind-blowing transitions in the tournament when Mendes pulled inverted guard to an omoplata, then stuck his leg through for an inverted armlock before swimming up to the back and flattening Radar out for the rear naked choke. It took less than two minutes to put the rest of the division on notice.
The final match of the day saw Ryan Hall lose to Robson Moura in one of the most technical and high-energy matches of the tournament. Hall’s insistence on footlocks may have cost him since Moura is well known for being unperturbed by leg attacks. Moura’s final combination of a toreador and kneecut pass to one side followed by a leap to the other side pass Hall’s guard was a work of kinetic art.
Jeff Glover angering off a large portion of the audience due to his showboating and taunting in his match against the local UK grappler Tom Barlow. He made up for it by beating Robson Moura for the bronze, however.
The finals were a re-match of 2009’s epic battle between Cobrinha and Rafael Mendes. The two traded excruciating footlocks leaving the winner, Mendes, limping and icing both his ankle and knee. He only won due to a negative point called on Cobrinha when the Alliance legend pulled guard following a takedown attempt. The rule was that if the takedown was attempted for three seconds he could sit guard without penality. Clearly Cobrinha thought this was the case but it didn’t matter. Rafael Mendes was crowned 2-time ADCC champion and begun a bizarre series of pre-choreographed poses in celebration.
Division Favourite: Rafael Mendes.
Division Champion: Rafael Mendes.
Most-Exciting Competitor: Robson Moura.
Robson Moura vs. Ryan Hall. Dan Rod Photo.
Rafael Mendes vs. Rubens Cobrinha Charles. Dan Rod Photo.
-77 kg Category
As soon as Marcelo Garcia walked onto the mat many could sense that this year would see some amazing action in the under 77 kilo division. But Marcelo wasn’t alone in making it the most exciting category of the tournament. Murillo Santana, Kron Gracie and Leo Vieira all played their part.
Marcelo’s first match against Davis Hart. Garcia immediately shot for a double leg to one leg X guard sweep. After a series of guard pass attempts he slid into a perfect mounted guillotine to guard guillotine and got the tap in less than two minutes.
Murillo Santana and Kron Gracie were both in beast mode. Santana quickly armbarred Toronto’s Jorge Britto while Gracie performed a rolling guillotine on Jason Manly to start the show. Kron in particular showed he had everything it took to win the tournament. He gave Marcelo the most difficulty of the tournament with a very close guillotine. How close was it? In his post-victory interview Garcia told Budo Jake, “Everybody saw what surprised me. It was that tight guillotine in the semi-finals… I thought I was gonna go to sleep.”
Apparently the takedown of the tournament came at the hands of Leo Vieira who delivered a huge Seio Nage to Enrico Cocco, which was not shown on the broadcast. Leo Vieira is another legend who looked in top form despite his years, battling it out with Cocco, JT Torres and Claudio Calasans to make it to the finals against Garcia. Leo’s match with Calasans was a barn-burner with the CheckMat captain securing the back in the last five seconds for the win. Calasans was one of the favourites to win the tournament.
Leo Vieira versus Marcelo Garcia was a dream match that many of us thought we’d never see. Marcelo made short work of the smaller Vieira with a takedown and a guard pass to the mount where he sunk a gnarly triangle. As rare as it is to see Garcia triangle anyone, the result is anything but unusual as Marcelo Garcia takes his fourth ADCC title.
Division Favourite: Marcelo Garcia.
Division Champion: Marcelo Garcia.
Most-Exciting Competitor: Marcelo Garcia.
Kron Gracie vs. Jay Manly. Manto photo.
Marcelo Garcia vs. Victor Estima. Dan Rod Photo.
-87.9 kg Category
Probably the second most intense division of the tournament the under 78.9 kilo category was without its champion as Braulio Estima was to participate in a superfight against Jacare Souza. This didn’t mean the category was without a favourite, as Andre Galvao was in top form.
Gunnar Nelson. Although he didn’t achieve to the level he wanted, the young Icelandic fighter showed considerable skill and poise against a ludicrously tough draw in Marko Helen and Andre Galvao.
Not exactly a highlight, but the poor performance of Romulo Barral was noteworthy. Barral came out flat against Kyle Griffin (brother of UFC lightweight Tyson). Griffin meanwhile gave a stellar performance before being quickly submitted by Rafael Lovato Jr. by triangle. This event isn’t the first time in recent memory where Barral just didn’t look like the Barral of old.
Rousimar “Toquinho” Palhares was in many ways the story of the tournament. His match with David Avellan resulted in one of the most gruesome knee-bars of all time when after already popping Avellan’s knee multiple times after wrenching on a heelhook after the referee tried to stop the match, the Brazilian tree stump almost came to blows with Avellan before he torqued Avellan’s knee again leading to the American being carried off the mat.
Galvao looked like he was playing it safe but turned it on in spurts showing the world the nimble yet explosive athlete of years past. He got past the very game Nelson and Pablo Popovitch to make it to the finals against Palhares. The finals were very tense, due to the risk of Palhares’s determination to tear apart people’s knees. Galvao played it smart, with key sweep to the back half-way through that brought him up 9-4 (with one negative apiece) for the win.
Division Favourite: Andre Galvao.
Division Champion: Andre Galvao.
Most-Exciting Competitor: Rousimar Palhares.
Toquinho vs. David Avellan. Manto Photo.
87.9 kg and absolute champion Andre Galvao. Dan Rod Photo.
-99 kg Category
This is where everything started to go wrong for me. You can tell my bias for the lower weights by the fact that I didn’t make a single correct prediction from -88 kilos and above. In my defence, there were more disappointments and upsets in the heavier divisions that saw new champions emerge and long-forgotten champions reclaim their thrones.
Antonio Braga Neto’s and Joao Assis’s eventual collision course. A pair of quick finishes led the two to face off in a quarter-final leglock battle that saw Assis tear apart Braga Neto’s knee and his chances for a medal at ADCC.
Also in the quarter-finals, two-time former-champion Xande Ribeiro looked in top form choking crowd-favourite Lagarto Rodrigues unconscious. Unfortunately Xande fell victim again to Assis’s no-gi prowess.
The red singlet. A Japanese competitor nicknamed Animal by the broadcasting team showed up in a single-shoulder strap red singlet before getting eliminated in the first round by Lagarto.
On the other side of the bracket, Abu Dhabi Pro no-gi absolute winner Rodolfo Vieira looked good early, but was hampered by his lack of experiences without the kimono. He lost to the eventual division winner, however, with a first ADCC run that shows promise for the future.
Dean Lister – the champion returns. Winning the absolute in 2003, Lister has long since been counted out on the podium. Apparently Lister didn’t get the memo as he ran through Rodolfo and Assis for the gold.
Division Favourite: Rodolfo Vieira.
Division Champion: Dean Lister.
Most-Exciting Competitor: Joao Assis.
Xande Ribiero vs. Lagarto Rodrigues. Manto Photo.
+99 kg Category
The big guys started the tournament off with a bang and finished with the single most talked about event of the tournament. Several divisional stalwarts made bids for the gold but a young upstart ruined their plans.
Cyborg Abreu’s bizarre rematch with Fabricio Werdum. The two are clearly friendly and the showboating and banter from 2009 continued with Werdum again coming up in the lead on points.
Vinny Magalhaes’s gamble against D-1 wrestler Jerry Rinaldi pays off. Taking the negative point in order to sit guard, Vinny was able to sweep Rinaldi and take his back, more than making up for it.
The final of the heavyweight category had everyone rushing to the mat to watch what everyone believed to be the certain destruction of Vinny’s arm at the hands of Werdum. Caught in a deep armbar, Vinny waited patiently as Werdum gassed himself out, nearly suffering a broken arm in the process. Vinny again gambled that Werdum was too tired to finish properly and escaped to the loudest cheers of the day. Vinny wins due to an earlier rubber-guard omoplata sweep.
Division Favourite: Fabricio Werdum.
Division Champion: Vinny Magalhaes.
Most-Exciting Competitor: Vinny Magalhaes.
Fabricio Werdum vs. Cyborg Abreu. Dan Rod photo.
With half the competitors of a men’s division each of the woman’s divisions were a shorter, more contemplative affair. This may be code to describe what were a series of rather dull matches. The highlight of the female ADCC run was the final between Kyra Gracie and Michelle Nicolini. Nicolini’s guard was incredibly aggressive and technical – putting out the division’s elite champion Luanna Alzuguir in the semi’s. But Kyra was able to hold on for the win. It’s been four years since Kyra won her division but it seems that she hasn’t slowed down a bit. It was great to see family members Renzo, Kron, Roger and Rickson congratulating the only Gracie to win gold in 2011.
In the over 60 kg category everything went as expected, which meant that an oversized Gabi Garcia one again smothered her competition to win gold. Briefly flummoxed by a game Hanette Staack, Gabi was once again too much for her division.
Division Favourites: Luanna Alzuguir and Gabi Garcia.
Division Champion: Kyra Gracia and Gabi Garcia.
Most-Exciting Competitors: Michelle Nicolini and Hanette Staack.
Kyra Gracie. Seymour Yang, Meekratsu Photo.
The superfights, as is often the case, were subdued as well. On Saturday Braulio held out against a clearly stalling Jacare to win by a back take. On Sunday, Mario Sperry relied on copious amounts of sweat to pass the guard of Renzo Gracie. Neither match invites repeated viewing although the tension of local-favourite Brauilo overcoming a man who has beat him on four previous occasions was worthwhile.
Superfight Favorites: Braulio Estima and Mario Sperry.
Superfight Champions: Braulio Estima and Mario Sperry.
Braulio Estima vs. Jacare Souza. Manto photo.
The absolute division in 2011 saw everything we learned in the previous two days thrown on its head. Victor Estima, who fell to one of the fastest submissions of the day against Marcelo Garcia, beat the -99 kg runner up Joao Assis on points. The undersized but game middle weight beat the superheavyweight champion Vinny Magalhaes by referee’s decision. Former-middleweight Pablo Popovitch was also given a decision over Xande Ribiero, who won over Jeff Monson who was caught greasing with Vaseline. Crazy. These results should drive home how competitive the middleweight division is at ADCC and how much ability Marcelo Garcia, who wasn’t in the absolute, actually has. The finals were unexpectedly quick with Andre Galvao earning double gold with a toe-hold on Popovitch.
ADCC 2011 was an amazing event. Maybe that’s because my own expectations were quite high, lending the event a tension that other viewers wouldn’t have felt. But I can only speak for myself. I was very impressed with the Jiu Jitsu of many competitors including Robson Moura, Rafael Mendes, Marcelo Garcia, Leo Vieira, Kron Gracie, Andre Galvao, Gunnar Nelson, Joao Assis, Dean Lister, Fabrico Werdum, Vinny Magalhaes, Kyra Gracie, Hanette Staack, Michelle Nicolini and superfight champion Braulio Estima. Looking back on my predictions last week, I managed to predict 6 of 9 winners, which is pretty good but shows that either I have a clear bias towards the lower weight classes or that the upper weight divisions really are wide open to anyone. It’s unfortunate that we have to wait for two years to see another ADCC, but like the wide-open rules and the electric, anything-can-happen atmosphere, the wait is part of the appeal.