The Match

I don’t think I need to go into the jist of how IBJJF competitions are run – there is enough information on the topic elsewhere and I visited that pretty thoroughly in yesterday’s post. Instead, here are the nuts and bolts of my only match at the Pans this year.

My name is called (I’m told repeatedly, though I only heard it once.)

I walk to the scale and weigh in at 163 lbs – 4.5 lbs light for the division. I yell to Emilio that I’m on mat 10, thumbs up to the Mat Coodinator (shrimpy little nothing of a kid, glasses, huge MC vest on – really nice guy) and get my gi checked. So far, so good.

The gi checker tells me to get my flip flops, so I have Joe (my training partner extraordinaire) throw them to me. I meet my competition, shake hands and we follow the MC to mat 10. During this initial walk is when I realize that he’s bigger than me and flew all the way out from DC. This is going to sound like I’m an asshole, but my initial thought was “I wonder if he’s sandbagging.” I stand on the right-side of the table, Cedric – my competition – on the left. I ask him how the flight from DC was and he says it was easy. Then he tells me that his first match was a bye because his guy never showed up. I think it odd that this is my first match, but I bat it out of mind.

I slap my thighs to make it all real, get warm, get my mind right. I hear Emilio behind me telling me to breathe, so I take a large breathe in through my diaphram, hold it, and exhale through my mouth. We step on the mat and the feeling is wrong. This isn’t my home mat – it’s too… tough and slippery and textured. I remember sliding the ball of my feet across the mat like a bull, getting used to it. Cedric and I shake hands again, we shake with the ref and we begin:

I come out aggressive and push into him; we lock up collar-and-elbow style, then fight for underhooks and grips.

This guy is strong. I can’t peel his grips and he’s forcing me around the outer edge of the mat. I find myself change direction multiple times in order to stay in bounds. Back and forth, we try to snap the other down. We both budge back and forth. I see a potential outside leg sweep and try to go for it using my right leg to trip without the necessary grips; it fails. I recover my stance and fight for an underhook on the right side. We swim back and forth, but I’m holding the underhook firmly when I find my head too far over my hips – bent over and far outside the traditional wrestling stance. It is then that Cedric turns his right hip back while snapping down, bringing me running to my left and falling into a takedown.

I get to half-guard and after a 4-count, Cedric has 2 points. He’s fighting to pass my half-guard and picks up an advantage point for almost passing. Quickly, I realize that he’s carrying his weight too far forward. A little bump and roll –  he tries to base out his left arm, but I pull it in and we’re scrambling. I get two for the sweep as his back is on the mat for about 4 seconds; he does a technical stand-up and we’re back to our feet. We immediately collide again and he’s using head control against me, trying to push me the way he wants me to go until he can shoot. I feel the shot coming. I can hear his breath beginning to come more ragged; my tank is still full, but my heartrate is through the roof. I work the underhook and get my right hand all the way down to his belt and grab on, trying to stuff the shot I think is coming. I can hear nothing from my coaches – but I hear his. They’re saying to remove that grip somehow. He circles; I circle with him. At this point, I should have hip thrown him, but didn’t see it/think about it/hear my coaches screaming at me.

He pummels out of the grip and I get my feet twisted up in time to let him throw me to my ass and give him another two points. I’m now down 4-2. Again, I fall into half-gaurd and get the sweep the same way. Bump, roll, remove his base. Now we’re tied, 4-4. I’m in his full guard and his feet are glued together, I swear to God and all that’s holy. I cannot BREAK this fraking guard, but I maintain good base, head up hips into him. Lucky for me, he goes to open guard …. I work on pinning his left leg down and using a toriano pass to get to side-control — I can hear my coach telling me to push his feet down but Isuck at this movement and can’t get it to work for me. Instead, I give up a grip and feel him begin to scissor sweep to my right. This is my bread and butter sweep. I counter this all day in class — and hit it pretty regularly as well. So obviously, the best thing to do in competition — post the wrong leg. He went for it to my right side and for a reason I can’t explain, I posted my left leg.

I roll through the sweep, hoping to come up fighting, but end up stopping on my left side, arms in. He’s right there, where he needs to be, putting his right knee on me so I can’t squirm, underhooking my right arm and maintaining position for the armbar.

I feel the armbar coming a mile away. I can’t think of anything to do to counter, though I know that I know that I know what to do. My arm extends, then hyper-extends. I tap twice on his pant leg. Match over.

We stand, shake hands and I feel like I let my team, coaches and family down. Being the first person to represent my gym in competition, it’s a heavy weight to bear. His arm is raised and I walk back to Emilio.

“Sorry I rolled like shit, coach.”

“You’ve got some things to work on, but I’m proud of you. You went out there and competed. That’s more than a lot of people can say.”

Later in the evening, I talked to some of my other coaches too – and they all reiterated the same thing. I’m glad I have a chance to sit under their tutelage and, win or lose, they have my back. In hindsight, it was a great experience and, except for that gold medal I’d like around my neck, I wouldn’t have changed any of it.

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