The women take to the mats in Las Vegas

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When Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu 2011 world champion Gilbert “Durinho” Burns showed up at the Las Vegas International Open, the fans and competitors crowded around him for hand shakes and pictures. But Durinho, who won his first professional MMA match in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago, wasn’t at the event for himself. He was there for his girlfriend, brown belt Bruna Nascimento.

Bruna and Durinho / Photo: Deb Blyth

Light featherweight Bruna took gold in both the open class and her weight group, but Durinho joked, “No one showed up for her division or the open. She won double gold without having to fight!” So, it was a successful, no sweat day in hot Las Vegas for Bruna.

It was a completely different experience for the women in the blue belt women’s division. In the open class, Karna Nelson and Erin Herle of Alliance Cobrinha closed out their division, with Karna taking gold, and Erin, silver.

Karna, whose favorite Jiu-Jitsu move is the triangle from guard, had two matches before closing out the bracket with Erin. She was looking for the triangle in her first two matches but the opportunity to use it didn’t present itself. So she won her first and second matches by points. “I’ve never done the open class before,” Karna says, “I’m definitely going to try it all the time now. I didn’t know what to expect.” Karna says it was “awesome” to close out the division with Erin. “We train with guys who are bigger and stronger than us, so this was kind of like that,” she says.

Karna, who is 25 years old and has been a blue belt for 2 ½ years, also took gold in her lightweight division. She had three matches. She won two of them by points and the final by rear-naked choke. “It’s been a really fun experience,” she says, “This was my first time at this event. Actually, it’s my first time in Las Vegas. I want to thank Fabio Passos and Cobrinha for their help with my training. They are the best!”

When asked if she’s ready for her purple belt, Karna gets a big smile on her face and laughs, “I don’t know!” she says, “We’ll see what Cobrinha says when I get back to L.A.”

Photo: Jerry Roberts

Karna’s Alliance Cobrinha teammate Erin Herle was also all smiles at the Las Vegas International Open. She picked up a gold medal in her featherweight division after winning three matches; the first in 30 seconds with a triangle armbar and the second on points.

The final was against Mylene Manolo of Cascao JJ, and Erin beat her on points. “That was my hardest match,” Erin says, “She’s really tough. I got a foot in the mouth and I think I kneed her in the face! It was gnarly.”

This was Erin’s second time at the Las Vegas International Open. She won as a white belt last year and received her blue belt on the podium. Erin, who is 21 years old, loves the spider guard and used it a lot at this event. “I played it in every match,” she says, “I love this tournament! I have good luck here.”

One lucky thing might have been the gi she was wearing. Erin says she wanted to wear a gi at the tournament that fit her really well, so she asked to borrow one from a black belt at her school. “I’m wearing Bruno Malfacine’s gi,” she says proudly, “A black belt from my school let me wear it. It’s a kid’s gi. It’s great!”

Erin says her Jiu-Jitsu has definitely improved over the last year under Cobrinha’s tutelage. “I try to train five times a week. I drive 40 minutes each way to get to Cobrinha’s school. Thank you to Cobrinha and my training partners for putting up with my excuses and constant talking!”

In the absolute, Erin took a silver medal. She had three matches in the open before closing out the bracket with her teammate Karna Nelson. She won her first two matches by points and her third with a triangle before closing out with Karna and earning her silver. “I’ve never finished with a triangle before,” an excited Erin says, “I finally did it! It was a great experience.”

This was Erin’s first time competing at featherweight. She normally fights at light, but she’s decided to stay at feather from here on out. As for the open, this was her second time competing in one and she was happy for the wins she got. “The last time I did the open class I lost in my first match,” she says, “I feel vindicated now. I’m ruling the world!”

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