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Las Vegas Open notables

In the various adult belt and weight divisions, the competitors really stepped it up on a hot, Las Vegas day and showed their stuff on the mats. Some competitors really stood out for their stellar performances, and the following represented the gentle art in its most beautiful forms:

Brown belts:

Heavyweight Chris Engle of Cascao Jiu-Jitsu in Las Vegas won his final against Brian Kim of Rickson Gracie with a head-and-arm choke in about 1 ½ minutes. Chris, who’s been a brown belt for a little over a year, says he really feels like he’s finally coming into his own now. “I’m ready for anything,” he says, “I love my team. They’re like a family. I work hard in training every day.”

David Reed / Photos: Jerry Roberts

Medium heavyweight David Reed of Fabio Santos in San Diego, California, won his first match with a triangle in 30 seconds and then won the final against Justin McDermott of Checkmat BJJ with an armbar in about 2 ½ minutes. “I have 14 wins in the last 17 matches,” he gushes, “ All submissions!” After waiting so long to eat all day,” he says, “I need a buffet immediately!” Reed, 24, loves the armbar and is always looking for it in all his matches. He loves Jiu-Jitsu and says, “Jiu-Jitsu saved my life. In this world of temptation, it gave me something to be anchored to.”

Lightweight Matthew Hache of Renzo Gracie came all the way from Ottawa, Canada, for the Las Vegas Open with his beloved instructor, Pat Cooligan. The 27-year-old had two matches in his division. He won the first by choke from mount. “I won it Roger-style,” he says. Matthew’s final was a battle against Mathew Darcy of AKA. “He got me in a kneebar and I defended, I got him in an arm triangle and he defended,” he says, “I was finally able to take his back and submit him.” Matthew says he and his teammates loved their time in Las Vegas and offered some words of advice to other Jiu-Jitsu practitioners, “There needs to be more people here next year. Las Vegas is right next to California. There’s no excuse not to be here!”

In the featherweight division, Israel Ceron from Ralph Gracie San Francisco defeated Ryan Heilman of Nova Uniao in the final. His first two matches he submitted his opponents with by armbar in under a minute, but the final was a tough match that went the distance. “It was hard,” Israel says, “Ryan’s flexible and technical. I had to use more force to stabilize my positions.” Israel, who’s been a brown belt for two years, was able to pass Ryan’s guard, and he won via points. “It feels good to win gold,” the 30-year-old says, “All my hard work paid off.”

Purple belts:

Brian Morizi / Photo: Jerry Roberts

Brian Morizi of Atos won the Las Vegas Open middleweight division. He had four matches on the day, winning his first and third by points and his second with an omoplata. In the final, against Jeff Boudreaux of Roberto Travern, he won by one advantage point. “No one scored any points or advantages against me today,” Brian says proudly, “It’s been a good year. I’ve been competing a lot. I just started training with Andre Galvao and he’s been helping me a lot.”

In the featherweight division it was Davin Maxwell of Cassio Werneck Sacramento, California, who shut down all his opponents. He had three matches, winning his first with a bow-and-arrow choke, his second by an advantage, and his final with an Ezekiel (forearm) choke from the back. “I’ve been training since I was eight years old,” Davin says, “I’m 23 now. When I was a kid I competed against Kron Gracie and won.” Davin had a great time in Las Vegas and was thrilled with his gold medal. “It’s been a wonderful experience. Now I’m going to go eat and gain back my weight!”

Jonathan Van Buren / Photo: Jerry Roberts

Jonathan Van Buren of Nova Uniao in Phoenix, Arizona, beat Ty Yung of Gracie Humaita with a submission at light featherweight. Jonathan had three matches for the day. He won his first two via points. “It feels really great to win gold,” he says, “All my hard work paid off.” Jonathan competes as much as he can. He’s been training in Jiu-Jitsu for three years and his favorite move is the omoplata. “I go for it all the time,” he says, “I’m always looking for the arm.” Jonathan has won gold a few times at Gustavo Dantas’s Arizona tournaments and took silver at the 2011 Worlds as a blue belt. “I got my purple belt a week later,” he says. This was Jonthan’s second tournament as a purple belt and he went home a gold medal winner.

Davin Maxwell atop the featherweight podium / Photo: Jerry Roberts

Blue belts:

In the middleweight division, Joel Hadden of Renzo Gracie Ottawa, Canada, won his final match with an armbar in under two minutes. By this time he was on a roll, winning his first match by kimura in one minute and his third with a triangle in under two minutes. His second match was his reality check: “It was my hardest match,” Joel says, “I was hunting for one attack the whole time and got the ref’s decision. I got a talking to from Pat (Cooligan), who told me to go back to the basics. I listened.” Joel earned his gold medal that day, saying, “That’s what happens when you listen to your coach.” He additionally came up with a new motto he learned from Pat while in Las Vegas, “I don’t have a favorite move anymore,” he laughs, “I take what my opponent gives me!” Smart thinking for a 21-year-old.

Andrew, 22, from Gracie Barra Fullerton, California, won all five of his matches at featherweight, even though he came into the tournament with a badly injured shoulder. He won his first match by points and his next four via armbar. His opponent in the final was Tae Um from Gracie Barra Corona. “I fought him before and beat him by points,” Andrew says, “He’s a really tough opponent.” Andrew was able to get to full mount, where, lo and behold, he went for the arm again. “I finished with my favorite submission: the armbar,” he laughs. This was Andrew’s first time competing in the Las Vegas Open. “I’ve never competed outside of California and now with this experience, it will not be my last,” he says, “I will definitely be competing next year, so watch out!”

In the women’s middle weight division, Taylor Leonardi, 18, fought for her team, Ricardo Cavalcanti’s Carlson Gracie Las Vegas. Taylor’s been a blue belt for two years. She loves the De La Riva guard and likes to work her sweeps from there. “I’m very flexible and it’s easy for me to work the moves,” she says, “People tell me it’s hard to pass my guard.” Taylor fought Victoria Trueb from Renato Travern in the finals and it was a major rematch for her. “She won both the Pan and Worlds this year,” she says, “I fought her at the Pan and lost. She’s a very good, strong competitor.” This time, things worked to Taylor’s advantage. “I worked my De La Riva on her, got her off balance, and then shot my legs up for a triangle,” she says, “I had it locked in tight and could feel she was about to tap. I pulled down harder on her head and finally she tapped. The match lasted 30 seconds.” Taylor was very happy with her performance. “The moment when you get your hand raised on the mats is the most accomplished feeling to me.”

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