Saturday evening I left for Seoul to compete in the East Asian Sambo Championships. My first Sambo experience as well as my first time traveling and competing with my Daegu MMA teammates was a wild one. I'll give you the tournament highlights and fill in the blanks later. Just getting to the tournament to weigh in was as eventful as any single day I've had since I've been here.
There was a total of 12 fighters from Daegu MMA competing in all; five guys and one girl from our club (the main Daegu MMA site) and a few from the three other satellite clubs. On arrival at the tournament one of my teammates told me that I should let the weigh in official know that I was going to weigh in for Sport Sambo and Combat Sambo at the same time. This was news to me as I didn`t know I was competing in Combat Sambo and I knew none of the other guys from my gym were. Combat Sambo is pretty much MMA. It allows full contact striking as well as takedowns and submissions. You wear headgear, shinpads and 4 oz. MMA gloves. You can win by knocking your opponent out, Submitting him or winning by points earned on takedowns and by gaining dominant position. I wasn`t particularly prepared for this. I had spent the last 2 weeks working mostly on takedowns and, thinking that I was only competing in sport Sambo. I hadn't done any standing sparring in at least that long. At the same time, I didn't want to miss an opportunity to test my skill sin a live situation. I was already registered, weighed in and paid for so I figured, what the heck, let's giv'er.
The Sport Sambo tournament was first and Hyon Gul and I were in the same weight class. Luckily for us we were on opposite sides of the draw. Here's how the tournament went for me.
Match #1: I ran up against a pretty solid wrestler right off the bat. We had a few good scrambles before I was able to take him down with a double. Once on the ground I realized that his groundskills were pretty basic. I passed to full mount quickly, he rolled to try and escape and I caught him with an armbar over the top. It was nice to get the tournament started with a submission "W". At some point in this match I got headbutted really hard. I actually spit out a piece of my lip the size of my index fingernail and three times as thick. The inside of my mouth looks like somebody put a wire brush in my mouth and then hit me in the face with a brick.
MFight (a Korean MMA website and magazine) was at the tournament taking pictures. They snagged this one of my armbar in the first round. The guy in the sport coat is Jae Hoon, the owner and head coach at Daegu MMA. Bo Kue is the guy on the far right.
Match #2: This match was against a guy with a solid gi stand up game, he was either a Sambo player or a Judoka. I was able to chip away and get a few takedowns here and there. I threatened with a few solid submission attempts that earned me advantage points but wasn't able to finish. At one point I locked up a calf lock. I heard the referee say something and I let go, thinking that the calf lock might be an illegal technique (It's tough to understand the rules fully when you don't speak the language). It turns out that he was simply awarding me an advantage point for a strong submission attempt. I was well ahead on points near the end of the match when he threw me to my back for 4 points. That made the score 6-4 for me; much closer than I feel the fight actually was. I threw him to his back right at the buzzer for some insurance points, even though the score clock still read 6-4.
Match #3: This was probably the easiest match of the day for me. I was able to take him down repeatedly and pass guard to earn position points. I won by technical superiority (score 12-0) at about the two and a half minute mark.
While I had been fighting my way through my side of the draw Hyon Gul had been absolutely dominating his side. In his first three matches he had won with three flying armbars for a TOTAL match time of under 40 seconds. That put us in the final against each other in a major clash of styles; his fast and dynamic submission vs. my game of takedowns and control.
Match #4: I was able to score several takedowns throughout the match. Every time I took him down it was a mad scramble to avoid his submission attempts that came rapid fire, one after the other. I was so worried about the submissions that Hyon Gul was able to score some sweeps and land in dominant positions to earn points. This is pretty much how the match went. Takedown, submission attempt, mad scramble, sweep, mad scramble, stand up, repeat. With 20 seconds left on the clock I scored a 1 point takedown for the lead and was immediately swept into side mount where Hyon Gul earned 4 points. Final score 13-10 for Hyon Gul. I was happy to not get submitted but not happy with the result. There were some definite tactical errors that I made more than once during the match that might have made a difference. Then again, that's why Hyon Gul is the National Jiu Jitsu Champ.
Here`s a pic that captures our match pretty well; me taking Hyon Gul down and him pivoting for an armbar before we even hit the mat.
Un Sik won his weight class as did Yeung Sai who was throwing people like wet noodles. Bo Kue placed 3rd and some of the guys from the other Daegu MMA clubs medalled as well. Daegu won the team title. Not bad considering we were one of the only three non Sambo clubs in attendance. Un Sik spent a good part of his day talking to reporters, signing autographs and posing for pictures with people. It turns out he only has about 3 months of mandatory army service left and people are pretty excited for his return to MMA.
Un Sik after submitting the Korean Sambo champ in the final.
After the Sport Sambo tournament wrapped up there was a short break to weigh in the new competitors arriving for the Combat Sambo tournament. I used this time to take a much needed nap. After my nap I felt pretty good. I got my hands taped up, warmed up and watched the first few matches of the tournament. There were a few guys who were in the Sport Sambo tournament but most of the competitors were there just for Combat Sambo. In the first few fights I had seen a lot of fighters engage in toe to toe "I'll punch you, then you punch me" battles that seemed like pretty poor strategy. My plan was to engage on the feet but not get into any slug-fests. Having not trained my standup much lately I figured the key would definitely be the ground game.
Match #1: This wasn't a match at all since the guy I was supposed to fight was off searching for his arm after getting armbarred by Hyon Kul in Sport Sambo. I think the arm is on Hyon Kul's trophy case with a bunch of other ones. I took the medical forfeit rather gladly since I had already had 4 matches on the day and many of my opponents were coming in fresh for Combat Sambo.
Match #2: This match went as well as I could have hoped. I controlled the standup, landing the better combinations and using my jab to maintain distance. I used the striking to set up some takedowns and won on points by a score of 12-0.
Match #3: Despite the final score, this was definitely the toughest of my Combat Sambo fights. My opponent was the Japanese Combat Champion. He tagged me a lot on the feet. I looked and felt a little slow. I wasn't moving my feet at all and ate some decent shots. For everyone who has ever wanted to see me get punched in the face repeatedly, just fast forward to the 2:26 mark of the 3rd video to have your wishes fulfilled. I was able to score points on takedowns and some guard passes, but even on the ground he was much more dangerous than my other opponents. Anytime I was behind him he threatened with kimuras and knee bars and was fairly active from the bottom looking for knee bars, ankle locks and triangles. I eventually won the match 12-0 on points.
Match #4: This match was a little slow. The guy that I fought squeaked his way into the championship match with a last second arm-bar victory after getting dominated for most of his semi-final. I took him down early for a decent lead and then kept the rest of the fight mostly on the feet to avoid his submission attempts. Towards the last two minutes of the match it became clear that he couldn't get anything going so he started swinging for the fences, trying to knock me out. The last minute was pretty much me throwing jabs and avoiding haymakers. A late takedown sealed the deal and the championship. Final score 8-0.
It was a tough, tough day. I can't remember having 7 matches in one day for years. By the end of the day I had bled from every hole in my head, including a new few ones courtesy of my opponents. My entire body aches everywhere but it was worth every ounce of discomfort. I can't ever remember getting much satisfaction out of doing something that didn't require gritting your teeth and doing something hat was difficult. This was one of those very satisfying days.