What the Pan has that the others don’t

Share it

At the Jiu-Jitsu theme park, unmanned monorail Braga Neto runs rampant through the absolute, on a weekend of reverence to Helio and Carlson Gracie – and enough adrenaline to raise the hair of even the most hardened roller-coaster fans. This article was originally published in GRACIEMAG.

For one who’s always in California, the feeling is familiar, but always magic. First, the tension of getting through the line. Next, the search for a good vantage point, to get comfy. And lastly, freedom, hollering and arms raised.

It was a sentiment felt by a good portion of those to participate in the great Jiu-Jitsu fest that played out in the CSU Dominguez Hills gymnasium, in the city of Carson, greater Los Angeles, 2,430 athletes signed up and 1,500 fans, teachers, curious onlookers alike who packed the stands (five dollars to get in, cheap if compared to admission to old Walt’s park, two hours away).

What stood out at the event was the splendid mood, with spectators appreciating or analyzing Jiu-Jitsu (“The studying never ends,” Rickson Gracie would admit, at the edge of the fight areas), and so many others carrying out a breadth of dealings to do with the sport. Nevertheless, few that weekend were as overcome with joy as Antônio Braga Neto, 21, and Raissa Paiva, 1 and a half.

Lucas Leite beats Kron Gracie at the Pan 2009. Photo: Alicia Anthony.

He, absolute and super heavyweight champion. She, intrepid adventurer who, that Sunday morning, broke her mother’s grip, slipped past the fencing and dashed across the mats reveling in freedom, in search of father Paiva who was warming up to debut against Rodrigo Comprido, in the super heavyweight black belt master division. At the biggest Jiu-Jitsu championship of all times, no one was left out.

Sniffling

The trajectory of Braga Neto (Gordo JJ), from the warm-up line to his ultimate glory, was not exactly a walk in the park. There were tense moments, like the nine long minutes he panted over the powerful guard of Rômulo Barral, trying to break the Gracie Barra star’s grip – his right hand practically “sewn” to Neto’s sleeve, the sole of his foot firmly planted in his bicep, looking for a sweep that never came.

“Check out Barral’s grip! How doesn’t he get tired?” a black belt referee said in awe during the first absolute semifinal, held the afternoon of Saturday, March 28.

Like a locomotive, Neto kept pushing for the pass, wheezing and getting irritated all at once. “Folks were shouting that I’d gassed. I had a cold, sheesh! That’s why I was breathing through my mouth,” the winner would say, sniffling the whole time.

Braga Neto against Rominho Barral. Photos: Ronald De Villa.

Rômulo kicked off the match landing a sweep right away, which could have given him an advantage. Neto defended well, not letting him conclude a single-leg. Nearly nine minutes later, the Roberto Gordo student forced through a more convincing sweep and took the win, by referee’s decision.

“I had run out of strength, I couldn’t sweep while Neto blitzkrieged me at the end and prevailed. Not a lot happened, but it was enough to impress the referee, he deserved it. It was 51% to 49% in his favor,” Rômulo commented, finally recovered from a shoulder injury, but with bursitis of the knee that kept him out of training a few weeks. “About my grip, I’ve had years of climbing the rope at the gym and doing pull-ups using my gi, there’s no mystery to it,” he smiled.

At the other end of the bracket, Rubens Charles “Cobrinha” Maciel enchanted the gymnasium by submitting Abmar Barbosa (Drysdale JJ) and sweeping Rafael Lovato Jr. However, in the semifinal against Pernambuco’s Otávio Sousa, he seemed to have forgotten every grandparent’s words of caution at the amusement park: “Hold on tight!”

On getting his hand slapped to relinquish a grip he had on the opening of the pant leg, pointed out by referee Augusto Tanquinho, the Paulista thought timeout had been called, became distracted and cleared the way for Otávio to get in a sweep, rallying back in the final seconds. With a place in the final, the Zé Radiola student, who had been a standout at last year’s Pan, proved his idea of getting stronger, and moving up from middleweight to medium heavyweight, may have been the right choice.

The Pan 2009 was the stage where many blue belts were consecrated, like Francisco Iturralde (Alliance), Nicolas Castellano (Soca), Gianni Grippo (Renzo), Jason Young (Chrispim) and the girls Christine McDonagh (GB), Nichole Decker (Wander) and Kay Stephenson (Renzo). And the lad in the photo, Benny Dariush (Ralph Gracie).

Golden opportunity

Alliance’s commander-in-chief while Romero Jacaré recovers from illness in Atlanta, Fabio Gurgel hissed about the refereeing for Cobrinha’s defeat, but a short while later, recomposed, he returned to the sunny semblance he maintained over the three days of the Pan 2009. Along with brothers Rickson and Royler Gracie, he was one of the champions of importunity at the event.

“Cobrinha messed up, losing a fight he had in the bag in the final moments,” smiled Gurgel, another who was as amused as a little kid, despite not bringing along his gi this year. “He wasted a golden opportunity to win the absolute. Of course he’ll have other chances, but with an absolute bracket like that one, in which I invested all my saliva and skill when it was being put together, I really doubt it.”

The old fox was referring to the always instructive moment of writing up the brackets for the black belt open weight category, this year elaborated in the GRACIEMAG.com booth, at a remote corner of the gymnasium. Twenty-five minutes proved to be a greater lesson in argument, rhetoric, persuasion and good humor than a year of journalism in college. Props to professors Gurgel, Royler Gracie, Léo Vieira, Saulo and Xande Ribeiro; and to the scholarly Bráulio Estima and Roberto Cyborg, the promising freshmen.

I made some mistakes that are going to help me to become a better fighter. When I got to the back and couldn’t finish, that broke my spirit” Kron Gracie

Despite the brackets having grouped Rômulo, Cyborg, Braga Neto and other “heavyweights” on the same side, it didn’t diminish the achievement (or the joy) of finalist Otávio Sousa. In the match deciding the absolute, held Sunday, he put on a convincing performance against Braga Neto and his strategy of “keeping my weight on the front knee and going for the pass,” as the champion himself would recap. Thus, after seven minutes of battle, the logical thing happened as the no-gi absolute world champion of 2008 finally overcame his rival’s defenses, conquering freedom of movement and passing guard, bringing the score to 3 – nil, at nine minutes. Sousa walked away with a smile and silver in the absolute: “My grips wore out,” Sousa would confess. Nevertheless, he made a show of force in taking gold at medium-heavyweight.

Days later, Braga Neto spoke over Nextel, between one packed seminar and another in San Francisco, of what was going through his head: “I’ll tell you. There are 60 days left till the Worlds. That’s not much time, but I’ve been training every day for the last five years. In 2008 Xande Ribeiro took me out like it was nothing, but I want to improve. I’m 21, my dream is to become a legend of the sport.”

Rickson: “It doesn’t make sense to be sad”

Were it not enough that having a powerful grip had proven so decisive, most evident in this year’s finals (a trend, akin to what occurred a while back in judo?), “holding on tight” was the motto of the Pan 2009. Sunday afternoon, one had to suppress all emotion, when the buzz of a fly or, more precisely, the babble of a baby could be heard, during the minute of silence honoring Helio Gracie. Over a microphone, Rickson gave thanks and made a speech: “It doesn’t make sense to be sad, what more could you want from life but to make it to 95 after fulfilling all your dreams, leaving behind a legacy like that? Let’s all carry on waving the banner he passed on to us.”

Hang on strong was also the message Marcio Feitosa sent to rival academies while Gracie Barra walked all over them, on team points. The same warning an excited Carlson Gracie Jr exclaimed, after watching a revamped Carlson Team again win the team championship. “It’s the new bunch of kids, a harvest of white belts that’s got just what it takes to bear fruit. The kids came to prove a Jiu-Jitsu championship ain’t Disneyland, even with the park so close by,” he said, as Ricardo Cavalcanti and Rey Diogo beamed at him, paraphrasing the motto of the academy of his father, who passed away in 2006.

A number of rookies made appearances for the public and the first time in the Pan. That was the case with purple belt Hillary Williams, here in a photo by Mike Pesh.

GRACIEMAG.com’s coverage of the event also held on tight to readers’ attention, thanks to the revolutionary Twitter tool, allowing spectators in Brazil and the world over to keep up with the action at the Pan 2009 in real time. Among those reading along, there was Mrs. Miriam, who found out about her son Braga Neto’s conquest as soon as it occurred Sunday night.

Whether or not you were there, virtually or in person, click here to return to the Pan whenever you want.

Results by academy


Adulto /Adult:
1- Gracie Barra
2- Gracie Humaita
3- Alliance

Master & Senior:
1- Gracie Humaita
2- Carlson Gracie Team
3- Gracie Barra

Feminino / Female:
1- Gracie Barra
2- Gracie Humaita
3- Westside BJJ

Juvenil / Juvenile:
1- Gracie Humaitá
2- Team Mica
3- Península BJJ

Iniciante / Novice:
1- Carlson Gracie Team
2- Gracie Barra
3- Gigante BJJ

Ler matéria completa Read more

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *