Welp, after an insane weekend with many upsets and some amazing rolling, I feel that it my duty to share some insight on what can be gained from watching a weekend of competition with the worlds best grapplers (in nogi). So what did we learn?
Any day can be your day.
Most people had hardly even heard of Craig Jones, and unless you’d seen Kit Dales instructional or perhaps watched all of the EBIs (he barely lost to Vagner Rocha in the semis), it’s not likely you would have. Nonetheless, this is a man who largely plays the saddle or inside sankaku position (almost identical to the DDS guys-I’d show you a specific breakdown but with Flo’s insistence on not sharing footage with me I can’t ). Below are some of his own tutorials. Jones was relentless with his leg lock attacks even looking like he tweaked Lo’s knee at one point on an inside heel hook. He rolled like he had nothing to lose and his leg attacks created enough of a scramble at one point to take Lo’s back and finish with a RNC. Keeping up his momentum he flying triangled the still great Murilo Santana in his next round.
The second day of ADCC did not go as planned however, as I anticipated. Keenan and Craig have rolled before (in training) and seasoned competitors often evolve fast learning their opponents game. Keenan succinctly beat him the next day (by 14 points!). So then, how did Craig beat Lo? Afterall, Lo has beat Keenan a number of times with Keenan defeating him only once. Well, I’m guessing Lo was assuming it was an easy early round and was not expecting a formidable foe, and also, styles make all the difference in the world.
The same can be said of AJ Agazarm. Though I’m not a fan of his self promoting attitude, I’ve done breakdowns on his game before due to his wrestling background. I can honestly say I never expected AJ to ever be competitive with the top 1 perfect, but this tournament he showed he could taking second in the most prestigious nogi tournament in the world.
Gi and nogi aren’t even the same sports anymore-
As evidenced by the fact that we’re seeing a huge separation of between those who excel at both now. Lucas Lepri is no doubt one of the best lightweights in the world and in the gi it seems no one can even score on him, but lost this year to JT torres in the finals. It might be that it’s hard as hell to knee cut without grips, a position which Lucas specializes in. In fact, the hyper specialization of lapel usage in gi and the unique gripping strategies deepens the divide. The best players in gi maximize its usage. In nogi on the other hand, the leg game is obviously dominating. The IBJJF nogi championships without their allowance of heel hooks are basically the minor leagues of nogi- eliminating the usage of the strongest submissions. Which brings me to my next point.
You must be a complete grappler and athlete to excel now.
To be the best now, you have to be able to do it all. If Gordon Ryan has taught us anything, it’s that it’s not only about technique, this kid is a serious athlete who has a strong leg lock setups, triangles, kimura traps, and in the last year or so, even passing. If you don’t have a conceptual understanding of leg locks (which you can read about here), you’re always vulnerable. Passing standing against a strong leg locker is basically insanity, but it maximizes mobility in the gi. Nevertheless, athletes stick to their game and don’t change their strategy, hence the multiple heel hook finishes from Gordon this year. The ONLY person to survive most of these attacks was Felipe Pena, and it’s because he specializes in a game of leg entanglements. My only fear is that leg lock positioning will become the equivalent of the berimbolo in gi, making matches redundant and boring.
You must also be a serious athlete to win. Sure, Gordon’s technique is great, but he’s also a serious athlete as seen in his promotional videos. What makes him different? Is it his genetic window? His workout? Who knows. But one things for sure:
Gordon Ryan, JT Torres, AJ Agazarm, Keenan Cornelius, and a few other Americans showed that while the sport originated in Brazil, Americans are beginning to dominate the world of NoGi.
So, all in all, believe in yourself, work those leg locks, lift heavy, drink some juice, and buy some shit that’s red, white, and blue.