All about 1st Carlson Gracie Invitational

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History was made over the July 31st weekend as professor Carlson Gracie Jr held the first-ever Jiu-Jitsu tournament for his Southern California Carlson Gracie students. More than 200 spectators gathered at the school’s headquarters in Temecula to watch as over 100 competitors took to the mats throughout the day.

Carlson Gracie Invitational organizers

Tom Cronin manages Carlson’s headquarters, and worked diligently to help pull the tournament together. He was pleased with the outcome. “People came from as far as Arizona and San Francisco,” he says, “Our academy is only two years old. Last year we went through a move, so we’ve been really focused on growing our school. We’ve enjoyed some stability for a while, and decided now would be a good time to hold our first tournament.”

Carlson Jr. Photos: Personal Archives.

The tournament was a big success. Carlson says the students were so thrilled to be there, they were asking him when the next tournament would be before the day was even over. “Everybody was happy,” he says, “People have been calling me for days saying, ‘Thanks.’ It was a great experience. I definitely want to hold more tournaments.”

Carlson says it was really good to bring all the schools together. “It was the first tournament ever run by just me,” he says, “It was very nice. It’s the start of building up a good team again. We’re training them for the future. One hundred people signed up for this tournament. Next time, more people will come.”

As the day got underway, Tom says nerves were abound. “Since this was our first tournament, there were a lot of potential problems that we navigated through well,” he says, “Carlson missed his connection from Colorado to San Diego the night before and had to use his gi as a pillow on the bench he slept on!”

Tom says fortunately he was able to arrange for a student to pick Carlson up from the airport. He was coming up from Mexico to compete and it was on his way. “Carlson got to the tournament right as it started. It looked like it was meant to be,” he laughs.

Tom says in some ways, the tournament unfolded as it went along. “Everyone was having such a good time,” he says, “That as the tournament was going, guys approached Carlson and said, ‘Hey! I want to fight that guy! Can you create a new bracket?’ And, so they did.”

The tournament was set up so that children went first. There were over 50 signed up to compete. Tom says he made sure they had a bounce house outside to keep them entertained. “As soon as they got their medals, they ran outside into the jumper to play!” He laughs.

The juvenile division went next. Kyler Phillips, a yellow belt, just turned 15. He’s an overachieving athlete who studies Jiu-Jitsu (gi and no gi), wrestling, Judo, and kickboxing. He’s so talented at wrestling, as a Freshman in high school last year, he set a precedent by being the first ever freshman to be on the varsity wrestling team. In Jiu-Jitsu, he’s at the same level. “He wins at every tournament he competes in,” Tom says.

Kyler Phillips gets the choke for the win

At the Carlson Gracie Invitational, Kyler kept that reputation alive. He won his matches and took home two gold medals. “I had a lot of fun at the tournament,” he says, “I had two matches in my division. In my first match I submitted my opponent in about a minute with a bow and arrow choke. In my second match Joao (Assis) told me to score some points. So, I got a take down and scored about 22 points. Then I submitted him by a bow and arrow choke again.” Kyler says the bow and arrow choke is not his signature move, “It’s just something I’ve been practicing and I wanted to do it.”

Kyler says Joao wanted him to have another fight, so he set him up with a 185 lb. green belt. Kyler weighs about 135 lbs. The other student’s coach was worried his student might be too technical for Kyler to handle, but Joao assured him everything would be ok. It was agreed that the two would have a “super fight.”

As the match began, Kyler’s opponent pulled guard. Then Kyler took over. “I grabbed under his pants and flipped him over into turtle position,” Kyler says, “I spun around, got him in seatbelt control, took his back, and rear naked choked him.” Kyler says his school was not surprised, but the other school was clearly shocked.

Kyler says he loves his school and wants to keep training and competing for Carlson Gracie. He hopes to get sponsored one day. “I want to win,” he says, “I want to make Jiu-Jitsu and MMA my life. I want to be a fighter.”

After the juvenile division was complete, the tournament started profiling the white and blue belts. Jeorge Villalobos is an adult white belt with three stripes. Jeorge was a real up-and-comer until he broke his hand last January. He had to put competing on the back burner until he could have surgery on his hand. “I have a plate in my hand now,” he says, “It took forever to get surgery. I got it in June. My first tournament back was the South Bay Open, which I won.”

Jeorge had one competitor in his bracket, at the Carlson Gracie Invitational, so he had to fight him twice. In his first match, he submitted his opponent with an Ezekiel choke. In his second match, he submitted him with an arm bar. That got him the gold medal for his efforts.

Like Kyler, Jeorge has been involved in a number of different disciplines since he was a child. He started boxing at six and kickboxing at 14. “I had a kickboxing coach who said I was a natural,” Jeorge says, “He wanted me to do MMA, but I wasn’t good on the ground. He met Carlson and our whole kickboxing team ended up signing up. I’m still here.”

Jeorge says the Carlson Gracie School is a very friendly, welcoming place. “I like the people at the school because everyone helps you,” he says, “No one’s cocky.” As far as the tournament goes, Jeorge says it was a fun, cool, learning experience. “I’m lucky to have a master like Carlson Gracie. I’m proud to be a part of the team.”

Alexis Dufresne takes first place

Alexis Dufresne is a 19-year-old blue belt. She’s won every tournament she’s competed in including the Pan, CA Nationals, Gracie Nationals and Grappling X, but came in third in the Worlds 2010. She took the Bronze only because she dislocated her shoulder on the mats. She still competed in the final, but says she just couldn’t defend against the choke that submitted her. Alexis is one tough girl. At the Carlson Gracie tournament, not only did she win her division, but she decided to take on the men’s division, too.

Alexis had one match and won it with a triangle. She says she was a little bummed that she only had the one match, so she went to talk to Carlson and asked if she could compete with the guys. Carlson agreed, so she got her match. “I got a takedown,” she says, “But I ended up slipping up and he got me in a choke.”

Alexis says the tournament was a good experience and that she learned a lot. “I would for sure fight the guys again,” she says, “The guy I fought was really nice. He kept bowing to me. He told me I had a good teacher and was really good at Jiu-Jitsu. He was a good sportsman.” Alexis says her overall experience was great and that she would definitely do it again.

Tom Cronin goes in as competitor

Even Tom Cronin got into the mix by winning his division as a blue belt. As is usual for Tom, he talks more about the team than himself. “This event was significant,” he says, “The team has scattered over the last couple of years. Everyone’s doing their own thing. It was really good to bring everyone together. The mood was positive. I’m really encouraged to do this again.” Tom is extremely loyal to Carlson, whom he calls “an amazing guy.” He adds, “If there is anything I can do for him, I’m gonna do it.”

Carlson, who travels back and forth between Chicago and CA, says he enjoyed the day so much; he’s planning on throwing another tournament in October. “I just want to say, ‘Thanks to everyone for all their support. Thanks for the presence of every single person and I hope I see you at the future tournaments.’”

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