Pictures coming later, I'm feeling pretty lazy about my camera right this minute.
This past Saturday, I took part in the 2008 Will-Machado BJJ Australasia Championships. I competed in the Male Blue Belt Lightweight division (60-70 kg). Loads of people were here, not sure if there were more spectators but definitely more competitors. There were 8 guys in my division, compared to the middleweight division (70-80 kg), which had like 20 guys.
The adults were scheduled to get going at 11 am; my wife and I arrived at around 10, when we met none other than Aziz, from Kreation BJJ! He decided to take the plunge and make the trip out here from Singapore, and this would be his first tournament as a blue – something about which I do know a little (the 2007 Machado Nationals was not only my first tournament as a blue, it was my first-ever tournament). Aziz was signed up for the middleweight division.
The three of us spent the time leading up to the matches chatting. We had some time to kill – Aziz’s division was only scheduled to begin at 12.45, and mine was set for 1.45. We just sat there and had bouts of nervous laughter looking around at all the huge Australian guys. I do not know what they feed these people but it is unreal. I mean, we knew they were mostly white belts but come on.
We had a light roll before Aziz’s first match to get the jitters out. He asked me to be his corner man, something that I was honoured to do (during the Singapore tournament he acted as mine). Unfortunately, there were just so many guys in his division that mine started before his first match! There was also a women’s division that was running concurrently on the same mat as Aziz’s, which didn’t help.
I had weighed myself just an hour prior to my division getting together and clocked in at a kilo under the limit. Sweet. However, when I got on the scales with an official watching, my weight was DIRECTLY on the limit, I literally made it by the skin of my teeth. I actually thought I was over. All I could say was “…uhh?” to which the official replied “it’s ok, you just made it, you’re alright. You were ****ing bricks for a second there, huh!” I managed a weak smile and staggered off to sit down and get my head right.
Mine was the 3rd match in the division so I had a bit of breathing room. Just then Aziz came up to me. As it turned out he ran into some bad luck, he got armbarred in the first round. I saw the guy Aziz had to fight and will very gladly vouch for the fact that he was huge. Not necessarily a genetic freak (debatable) but still scary-looking (not debatable).
Now to the actual matches – I apologise in advance, as I was really bad with last names on the day.
MATCH 1: v. Joel
I started the match by getting a sleeve grip. His response was to shoot for a takedown. I got a really sloppy sprawl and we lurched, as one, towards the edge of the mats. What ended up happening was that I managed to push myself forward and land on top, in his open guard.
He kept working the hip bump sweep – kimura – guillotine combination but since he was leading with the sweep I was able to stop it by getting up on my knees, pushing forwards and locking my arm. I worked my way to halfguard, but it is unclear whether he also wanted this for his own game, as I heard some guys telling him to lock my leg down. No complaints from me, I stopped worrying about the leg and went for an ezequiel.
I didn’t get it, as soon as he felt my arm around his neck he went for a cutting armbar but my arm was bent too far, giving me the time I needed to slip out. He was still going for the sweep, after a few attempts he went for the guillotine but I knew it was coming as I heard his corner yelling at him to do it. I blocked it, got my leg past his and took mount. At this point I think he was starting to tire out, I went for and hit an ezequiel.
I do want to say that Joel and I had a quick few words before the match – nice guy, with a great attitude.
Result: Win via submission (ezequiel choke). I was also apparently leading in points.
After this match I was really zoned, it always amazes me how much tournament matches take it out of me. I can only imagine what high-level athletes or professional fighters go through, especially at the start of their careers, it must be crazy.
MATCH 2: v. Paul
I was pretty nervous about this one. We (the other guys in the division) were all watching Paul’s first match – which he ended in less than a minute with a very smooth armbar, so we knew he was still fresh. I was still feeling wrecked from the previous match and honestly wasn’t sure I could win.
This one started with me trying to get a sleeve grip, he was trying to circle around. I was actually trying to clinch him and use that to push him down, but he never let me get the first necktie in.
Like the first match, he shoots in and I sprawl. Unlike the first match, he gets out right away and we scramble, ending up with him getting hook guard. At this point I hear a voice yelling, “He likes to play fast! Slow him down! Slow him down!” I stopped myself from asking Paul if that guy was talking to me or to him.
He immediately begins to work a cross-lapel choke. He got past my chin at one point but my neck pulled me through and I held out long enough to push his hands up. He was still really going for it though, so I was happy.
He spent the next part of the match trying to hip escape away from me as I was working for the halfguard. However, in almost a mirror image repeat of the first match I pushed his leg down and took mount. I went right to secure my position for the points. He tried to sweep but I hop up, let him roll and took his back.
Around now I hear the same voice going “Albert! Albert!” (So I know it’s for me) “You’re smashing him on points, just don’t do anything crazy! Don’t do anything crazy!” I was really puzzled, because I know nobody here actually knows me but John, Aziz and my wife – and it wasn’t any of their voices.
He tries to roll me off but I hang on and try to stretch him out. He got on top of my right leg and tried to escape but I saw it coming and countered by pushing my left leg over and taking mount. At this point I start looking for the tap. He defends the first ezequiel but the second one gets him.
Result: Win via submission (ezequiel choke). I counted 12 points for myself, possibly 14 or 15 as my first mount was also a guard pass. It’s possible I didn’t get points for the second mount, though, as if I remember, the transition was mount - back - mount.
After the match I was first congratulated by one of the other guys in the division, Matt (who would be in the finals next with me). I found out he was the guy pulling for me! What happened was: he looked around and saw there was nobody in my corner while everyone who was yelling was giving Paul instructions. He asked if anyone knew me, nobody did so he goes “OK, I’ll go for him!”
I was so amazed by that; he definitely went above and beyond and I really appreciate it, and plus his instructions actually did help to relax me during the match. He was really cool to me and we talked for a little while. We wished each other good luck for the next match.
MATCH 3: Male Blue Belt Lightweight Finals, v. Matt (I know how to pronounce his last name but for fear of butchering it, will not attempt to spell it), from Dominance Mixed Martial Arts Academy, in Melbourne.
This one was almost completely unlike the first two matches. We were standing for what felt like half the match. We were each trying to get sleeve grips and he was trying to pull me around to his side, and didn’t want to shoot in.
It was kind of weird as he was using his head to try to unbalance me, but I managed to stay on my feet. After some effort I manage to get myself on top of his shoulders and try to sprawl him down. He stays on his feet, bent double. I’m trying to grab his belt and pants to push him over, when he rushes forward and goes for the takedown. I was hopping around for about 10 seconds but he gets me down for 2 points.
Immediately he starts setting up a kneeride but I saw it coming and blocked his knee with my elbow. I roll away from him onto my knees, trying to get him to go for my back. He does and I roll him off me. We scramble and he gets me in hook guard.
I hear a voice telling us we have one minute left. I’m not sure how I distract him but it seems I do (I think I was faking a choke but I just do not remember) – I manage to push his knees down with my hands and jump to mount. He knows he has to do something so he’s really going for the reversal but I block it and get the points.
I’m also working hard for an ezequiel but he blocks my first few attempts. I actually was almost about to get it when time is called.
Result: Win via points – Me: 4, Matt: 2.
That’s the first time I’ve ever won on points – I do not think in terms of points and much prefer to work for taps, using position as a means to open up the submission. Honestly I wanted to win with the choke but that’s how it goes. Matt got up and we shared a good, brotherly hug.
During the prize presentations I was checking out what each winner received. Second place got a backpack and first place got a goodie bag. At first I was actually bummed because the backpack looked really cool. Then I looked inside MY bag and found out that all first place winners received coupons for a free pair of shoes(!) from Globe – AND a FREE GI from Virtus (I’ve already given the gi a test-drive and it feels pretty nice)!
Some other highlights of the day:
*There were enough brown belts this year to have 2 separate divisions (both won by Dave Hart).
*There was even a black belt competition this year (last year there was only 1 black belt exhibition match), won by Cameron Rowe (who was also really cool to me).
*Steve Perceval (who I believe is the only official UFC-certified referee in Australia) received his black belt from John.
*Dave Hart received his black belt from John. I can literally not wait to come back next year and watch THAT division.
The event was very well run, very smooth. Last year there were 220 competitors while this year there were 270 – and it was actually smoother than last year. They really had their game together and it was a very awesome time. And it wasn’t all about the tournament. Sunday morning saw Rigan give seminars at Dominance, where I saw him teach some really cool stuff from his “secret stash” and met some great people from New Zealand (Dom, Sarah and Geoff – if you’re reading, hi!).
Thanks to John Will, Melissa Will and their team, to Rigan Machado and to everyone, especially the sponsors who donated such fantastic prizes, who worked to make this tournament what it was. This is NOT a normal competition. To me, and I say this as an almost total outsider, in many ways it’s more like a big family reunion, with the attitude and the atmosphere. I am so glad I even made it here.
Thanks Matt, for showing such coolness and kindness. You’re a real credit to your gym and this sport. Cheers mate.
I want to give a special shout to Aziz. I know what it feels like to get on a plane, go to a faraway place where nobody knows you and compete, with no home support, in a huge room with hundreds of people watching, that you know are not in your corner because they have no idea who you are. It can be really scary and to take that step usually requires either clinical obsession (me) or serious, serious guts (Aziz).
Special thanks also to my wife, who was always right there with me. She was always ready with a bottle of water or a banana or extra tape, whatever I needed. She made the day a lot more special just by being there. She also SMS’ed our parents for me – thanks, baby!
Finally, who else should be thanked, but The Ultimate Sports Psychologist, who deserves all glory and praise for my performance.
Winning the Machado Nationals has been something I’ve really, really wanted for a year. As soon as the last one ended I had made up my mind that I was going to come back. I can’t describe how this feels, really, to have won a competition bearing the names of two guys I respect so much. It’s a great feeling – and all I can think about is coming back here next year.