Crazy 88 Mixed Martial Arts traveled this year with seven competitors to the 2016 IBJJF World Championships. Each competitor faced a different set of personal development hurdles that they set out for themselves to overcome. Some of those challenges were met with success, while others remain goals to reach in the coming year.
The ultimate goal for a competitor is to claim a world title—showing that the individual played the game better than everyone else on that particular day. But for many who enter the tournament, beating a personal record or making a stride towards a victory is a success even without returning home with the gold. Three of Crazy 88 competitors came home with bronze world medals. In the next year, the team hopes that each competitor can fill in the gaps to make a jump up to the next level in their performance.
Here’s a recap of the team:
On Thursday – Day 1, blue belt Byung Ju Lee and purple belt Chris Tran were the first on the schedule. Byung’s development as a competitor has progressed faster than most. He wrestled and did some judo in high school. Regardless, the 25 year old puts countless hours into his development through weight lifting, drilling, studying videos, and asking questions after practice. He had a successful season thus far, winning double gold at the IBJJF New York Pro in December, gold at the Atlanta and New York Opens in the spring, and taking silver at the 2016 IBJJF Pan Jiu Jitsu Championships. Byung knew he would likely face the Pans gold medalist again at Worlds and his work focused on tightening up his game before going into a rematch.
Byung set the tone by dominating multiple opponents in the early matches of the men’s Light Weight division which started at 9:00am. In one of the largest divisions at the tournament, he won his first three matches on points by executing his game plan with precision. In his forth match, Byung faced the IBJJF No Gi Pan Jiu Jitsu champion whom he lost to earlier in the year. He narrowly beat his opponent by one advantage with an omoplata attempt and no score on the board. It was a big win for him that kept him on his winning momentum.
In his fifth match for the Quarterfinals, Byung almost got foot-locked but managed to pull off a sweep and back-take to win 6-0. His desire to win prevailed and he advanced onto the Semifinals. Byung was up against the 2016 IBJJF Pan Jiu Jitsu gold medal champion whom he lost to in the finals in March. Both guys double guard pulled and his opponent came up for the initial advantage. There was no other score throughout the battle. His opponent desperately tried pass Byung’s guard but failed. Ultimately, Byung lost the match and brought home a Bronze Medal from the 2016 IBJJF World Championships.
Byung retells his match from Pans saying that he almost couldn’t move his opponent and was stuck in one position. He lost in the Finals at Pans by one advantage. After his Worlds match, Byung said he felt a vast improvement where he was able to move the guy around more and he had more sweep and off-balancing attempts than before. His opponent tried new guard passes to get around Byung’s lasso, but his guard retention was far more advanced than his opponent’s passing. While he couldn’t pull off the win, Byung had made advances in his offensive game and he sees this match as an overall win for his development.
Later that afternoon, Chris stepped on to the mats to compete in the Rooster Weight purple belt division. By luck of the draw, he was seeded to face off with the 2016 IBJJF Pan Jiu Jitsu gold medal champion in his division second round. The first few matches would be some of the best that day. Chris beat his first opponent via rear naked choke in an amazing display of inch by inch demolition through pressure passing. Chris got to the back and finished his opponent in one fell swoop. He would advance to the Quarterfinals round and face the competitor and gold medal champion he lost to earlier this year.
Over the past two months, Chris too had laid the ground work for a rematch and how he would face the Pan champion a second time. Chris began the match by executing his new strategy and had several passing attempts. His opponent had also evolved and instead of playing his previous guard game, he came up for a single leg. Similar to Byung, Chris had fixed many of his errors from the Pan Championships and he wrestled this match better than he had two months ago. New challenges emerged for his development, however, and he will be back at work on his overall game for the next year. While Chris was disappointed that he did not medal this year, his Jiu Jitsu performance has been at the top in his bracket throughout the year.
On Friday – Day 2, purple belt Vannessa Griffin and blue belts Kayla Dehm and Amanda Riggs would try their chances. The three girls competed almost simultaneously. Vannessa had one of the most difficult line-up of matches from start to finish where she was set to face some of the best female Light Weight purple belts in the world one after another. Going into the tournament, she had to mentally prepare to fight tough competitors and overcome their unique games. She also faced a tough weight cut and was in the gym sweating it out the morning before she fought. In her bracket, Vannessa faced the 2016 Pan Jiu Jitsu gold medal champion in the first round. Her opponent was a heavy favorite to win the overall World Championship. Vannessa doesn’t shake easily but a bit of nerves set in and she was almost flying mounted in the first 30 seconds. Her will to fight helped her escape a bad position and recover guard. Her opponent was on the attack trying to pass but Vannessa was able to lock up a reverse triangle. She admitted that she hadn’t been able to finish the reverse triangle in practice, but she slowly tightened the choke and made her opponent tap. A girl who usually displays a stoic demeanor, Vannessa was overcome with smiles at the early defeat overcoming her own fears and doubts.
Vannessa was prepared for a rematch in the second round with the 2016 Pan Jiu Jitsu silver medalist and the girl she lost to in March. As things would play out, the Pan silver medalist also lost in the first round. In her second match, Vannessa was early to the offensive and pulled her opponent into closed guard and attempted a cross collar choke for an advantage and the first score. Little did she know that the advantage would be the winning score advancing her to the Semifinals. Vannessa and her opponent went sweep for sweep in a close match until the end but she was able to come away with the win. Feeling more confident, Vannessa made a small error which cost her the win in the third match. She took home the Bronze Medal at the 2016 IBJJF World Championships at her first as a purple belt and has her eyes set on gold for next year. Later that day, Vannessa entered the open division for a taste of other top purple belt contenders. In her first match, she beat her opponent 11-0 with a sweep and three guard passes. She lost in the Quarterfinals in roughly the same fashion to the double gold 2016 IBJJF World Champion and double gold Pan Jiu Jitsu Champion. Overall, her will to win helped her prevail in the early rounds. She had a chance to fight other top purple belts making it a positive experience for her development.
Consecutively, Kayla would come out going hard in the women’s blue belt Heavy Weight division. She had dropped weight classes easily from super heavy and was excited to make her debut. In her first match, her opponent tried her chances playing lapel guard aiming to set up worm guard. The match was back and forth, and admittedly Kayla wasn’t sure what to do with the lapel feed. Nevertheless, she was able to come away with the victory winning on points. Chris was on the sidelines helping to keep Kayla one step ahead and in control. In Kayla’s second match, she got to her guard first and fended off her opponents multiple passing attempts. The IBJJF screen went out and the match was paused with a minute left. Kayla was starting to feel the pressure as she was down by six advantages. In classic Big Sal fashion, Kayla got to deep half and pulled off a sweep by holding her opponent’s lapel. She scored two points for the win which advanced her into the Semifinals round. She let out a burst of emotion on the mats after the buzzer rang. She knew she had made it to the medal round. While Kayla lost her third match to a more seasoned opponent, she came away with a Bronze Medal making her the second female from the Baltimore area to ever medal at the IBJJF World Championships. It was a fine showing with room for improvement for her first world championships as a blue belt being promoted less than a year ago.
At nearly the same time, Amanda entered the Feather Weight blue belt division, the second largest female division at the tournament at the 2016 IBJJF World Championships and she would need six wins to come out on top. In her first match, she played her dominant guard position but came out a bit slow and sluggish. She was able to win by points with several sweeps. For her to continue, her coaches advised Amanda to settle in and relax. By her second match, she was warmed up and shook off the nerves. Amanda reacted quickly and came up off the double guard pull to work her top game with several standing guard breaks, grip breaks, and ultimately won on points for a guard pass and sweep from the 50/50 position.
Amanda’s confidence was growing. She came out swinging in her third match breaking spider grips and passing her opponent’s guard with ease. She submitted her opponent via kimura, one of her favorite submissions, and she advanced to the Quarterfinals. Amanda too would face the 2016 Pan Jiu Jitsu gold medal champion in the next round, the girl she also lost to earlier in the year at Pans. While Amanda had made improvements to her game since that tournament, her opponent knew to avoid Amanda’s guard and took her down off the break. Amanda played one of her less familiar guards running into trouble and ultimately losing in the Quarterfinals. She won more matches than she lost and made it further in the tournament compared to the previous year. She had small wins in each of her matches but was disappointed that she was unable to make her goal of medaling this year. She too has set her sights on small and large improvements into order to finish on the podium next year.
On Saturday – Day 3, Tye Ryan Murphy and Big Sal Washington would try their chances in the brown belt divisions. Tye was up first in the Medium-Heavy Weight class but injured his knee finishing an early takedown in the first round. This season, he won gold in the absolute at the IBJJF Atlanta Open, silver closing out with his teammate at the Abu Dhabi New York Pro, and medaling at the New York Spring Open. However, he has suffered several injuries in tournaments preventing him from reaching his competition goals this year. Tye’s first order of business for the new season is recovery.
Last up was Big Sal, who has brought home some of the most world medals of any competitor at Crazy 88. Big Sal felt great going into the tournament with an increased push from his coaches and additional strengthening sessions. This year, he entered the Ultra-Heavy Weight division for his first year at brown belt. He felt confident and in control. In classic Big Sal fashion, he got to his signature half-guard position in the first match and was able to secure the winning sweep. In his second match, Big Sal passed his opponent twice and he finished with a surprise wrist lock to advance him to the Quarterfinals. Big Sal lost the third match but felt this year was a positive learning experience and a good introduction to brown-belt level submissions. He plans to consistently train hard in the off season and fix the errors he encountered at the World Championships. While he was the last to go from the group of competitors this year, other teammates depended on his mat-side support to round up the team’s run at the 2016 IBJJF World Championships.
For each of the competitors, they set incremental as well as colossal goals. Some challenges were overcome while others we not quiet reached. Like every year, the team will continue to strive to reach the next level and we hope to have more competitors join us in 2017