Regardless of their belt colors, all the competitors who came to play at the 2011 Pan showed they have what it takes to become real champions and world-class athletes in the gentle art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Alexis Dufresne may only be 20 years old, but she doesn’t mess around when it comes to Jiu-Jitsu. This steely blue belt from Carlson Gracie Temecula, is a medium heavyweight who trains in Jiu-Jitsu twice a day, mainly with guys. At the 2011 Pan she won the absolute and came in second in her division. In total, she had ten matches for the day and lost only one – the final in her division against Gracie Barra’s Jessica Richer. “They were all tough matches,” she said.
Dufresne was surprised she won the open, and was happy with her win. “It’s the first time I’ve ever done it,” she said. Dufresne shut down the competition, taking on seven competitors, winning two matches by points and finishing the other five with triangle submissions. “I always go for those,” she said.
Dufresne said she was more relaxed during the absolute than she was for her division. “I didn’t feel any pressure,” she said, “Most of my competitors were bigger than me, but I train mostly with men, so I was used to that. The girls were strong and I couldn’t muscle them down. I had to use more technique.” Dufresne’s experience was so good she said she’s going to do the open all the time now. “It just felt like training to me,” she said.
Blue belt Jessica Richer of Gracie Barra Long Island has much experience fighting Alexis Dufresne, but has not always seen the upside of the matches. At the Pan, Richer won gold in her medium heavy division, beating Dufresne out in the finals, but only to then lose to her in the open, where she pulled third place. After the divisional finals win against Dufresne, Richer said, “This was a rematch. She beat me at the No-Gi Worlds and knocked me out of my first match in my weight last year at the Pan, so this win was particularly meaningful to me.”
Richer had a tough start to the year. She lost at the Vegas Abu Dhabi Pro Trials in the finals by one advantage point and then lost again in New Jersey. “I was up two points with ten seconds left on the clock when my opponent reversed on me and passed my guard. It was heartbreaking.” Now she says she’s looking forward to bigger and better things, like coming back for the Worlds in June and fighting in her first MMA fight in Ohio in May. As for the Pan, Richer came out from New York by herself and had an excellent experience. “My GB family has taken very good care of me,” she said, “I had a blast.”
In the Senior 1 blue belt heavy division, it was Jason Hughes of Ribeiro JJ who took gold after four matches. This year was a comeback year for Hughes after he was knocked out of competition by a referee’s decision in his first match at last year’s Pan. This year, Hughes had no points scored against him and he dominated his matches. In his final match, he beat his opponent with a choke, but Hughes laughed, “It was more of a ‘smother choke.’ I was going for an Ezekiel!”
Hughes rallied and fought hard through his division. What made his wins all the more impressive is that he fought them all with a broken hand. “It hurt like crazy,” he said, “I only used my first two fingers to grip. I broke it in training.” Hughes said he’s going to wait to have it casted. “I go to Cancun with my family next week. I don’t want to have a ‘cast tan,’ he laughed, “So I will get it casted when I get back.” As for his experience at the 2011 Pan, Hughes said it was great. “IBJJF tournaments are always organized, but this one felt particularly smooth.”
In the Senior 3 blue belt heavy division, Gay Cobham of Brooklyn BJJ won both his division and the absolute this year, but this was no surprise for Cobham, who won both his division and the open class last year at the 2010 Pan and both again at the No-Gi Pan in 2009 and 2010.
Cobham is 49 years young and has been doing Jiu-Jitsu since March 2008, under Professor Brian Glick, who trains under John Danaher. This celebrated yet humble blue belt has no plans to stop training in Jiu-Jitsu anytime soon. He has a true passion for the sport and competes as much as he can. As for the 2011 Pan, he said he had a great time. “As always, it was a great experience and an honor to be here.”