This past weekend in New York City, there were 13 athletes who punched their tickets to Abu Dhabi, winning their respective categories at the World Pro Trials. Five of those tickets were given to the winners in the five different weight classes in the brown/black belt categories. In this championship, there was no shortage of big names, intriguing matchups and surprising upsets.
So let’s get started with the recap. . .
In the 143-pound category, yours truly, Gianni Grippo, was able to punch my first-ever ticket in the main event in Abu Dhabi in 2013. To get there, I was pitted against reigning brown belt World champion Matthew Maldonado, and the Alliance star gave me everything he had. At the end of the six-minute back-and-forth affair, I came away with one more sweep than my opponent to score a 4-2 victory and guarantee my place at the World Pro Championship in April 2013.
In the 163-pound category, Augusto “Tanquinho” Mendes came back to qualify for the event that made him famous. At the 2011 World Pro, “Tanquinho” had his career moment, defeating Rafael Mendes via judges’ decision to claim the 143-pound title. Now, looking ahead to 2013, Mendes made his way back to the main event in impressive fashion by submitting Renan Borges with an armbar early into their match. “Tanquinho” is the last fighter to beat Rafael Mendes; could he possibly do it again in 2013 at the same event where he beat him in 2011?
At the 182-pound category, the jiu-jitsu fans were witness to something that’s becoming more and more common as the weeks and months go by. That is, seeing DJ Jackson dominate black belts at the highest level. Jackson secured his spot in the Middle East by winning three bouts, including a battle against Rafael Barbosa, with whom he seems to be developing a back-and-forth rivalry. Everyone always knew Jackson was a real talent and would become a threat at black belt, but no one thought it would be this soon. And yet, even after this milestone, there was still more to come for the rookie black belt later in the day.
Just like his teammate, DJ Jackson, no one doubted the talent of brown belt Keenan Cornelius. The double grand-slam champion has had an amazing run in 2012, and it carried on into Saturday’s Trials in New York. Cornelius cruised his way to the finals, where he would encounter Gracie Barra black belt Roberto “Tussa” Alencar. In the finale, Cornelius always appeared to be in control and dictating where the match took place, much to the shock of the former black belt Worlds finalist. With a minute left, and down by two advantage points, “Tussa” was able to rally and even up the score, but to no avail. In the end, the referees agreed to give Cornelius the win and the ticket to the U.A.E.
In the heaviest weight category, Roberto “Cyborg” Abreu was the heavy favorite, and he showed why. The veteran black belt cruised to a division title and a ticket to Abu Dhabi, winning all of his matches handily, including his final versus Kenneth Brown of Team Lloyd Irvin.
Coming towards the end of the day, the tournament held some thrilling absolute division match-ups. In the light absolute final, Augusto “Tanquinho” Mendes squared off with Francisco “Sinistro” Iturralde, and the two competitors had a back-and-forth battle. Trading sweeps and advantage points throughout the match, neither one could gain much of a lead. But at the end of the six minutes, “Tanquinho” held a slim two advantage-point margin to help claim his $1,500 cash prize.
In the heavy absolute, the crowd was witness to the collision of different generations. In the semifinals, Keenan Cornelius battled Cyborg, and in a close and controversial affair, Cyborg came away with the 2-0 victory and a spot in the finals. In that final, Cyborg would face another young Lloyd Irvin star in DJ Jackson. This time, though, the veteran black belt’s luck would run out as Jackson, with his aggressive guard-passing game, would win the match by a single advantage point, giving him double gold for the day.
So there you have your athletes heading to the World Pro Championships in Abu Dhabi in 2013! Who in this group has the best chance to win their weight class at the main event? Comment below and let you voice be heard! Osss!
Photo: Gianni Grippo (white gi) punched his ticket to Abu Dhabi (Mike Calimbas/Gracie Mag)