OK, due to time constraints, a lot of work getting erased, and a horrific schedule lately, let's cut to the chase. See my last review (Yoshida/Gracie) for a general explanation of Abu Dhabi.
Renzo Gracie vs. Frank Trigg
(1998 Semifinals, 76 kg.)
Everything looks good to start, other than the onscreen graphic misspelling (!) both guys' names. Both guys are big names in the MMA world: Trigg has over 30 matches to his credit, including wins over Fabiano Iha and Jean Jacques Machado; and Renzo is top ten in anyone's list. I'm digging this match's lighting-it's a little darker than the 2000 tournament. Maybe it sounds like minutiae but it sets a more appropriate mood than the "shopping mall" too-bright lighting. Oh, and Trigg looks infinitely cooler with his head shaved bald here than he does with his curly mop of hair on the cover of November 2000's Grappling magazine. I'm all the more excited because this match was apparently controversial enough to be used as reason to not respect Abu Dhabi in arguments online. Interestingly, Trigg is clearly the larger of the two, yet we tend to rank Renzo a middleweight (in the 200 pound range) and Trigg a lightweight (around 170).
We clinch to start, and Renzo jumps to guard. From closed guard, he almost isolates Triggs' arm but no dice…. and five minutes pass. With no change. Trigg is nowhere near passing Gracie's guard, and is limited to pulling his forearms around Gracie's face and throat. He tries leaning into Renzo to try and stack him, but gets nowhere fast. Trigg splits Renzo's guard and, inexplicably, stands there. Renzo calmly sits up, wraps his arms around Triggs' legs, and lunges forward. Trigg goes to the mat, and that's a takedown, folks. Two-zip, Gracie. Trigg stiff-arms Gracie's head, and frees a leg to retain his footing, then sprawls out of a single-leg attempt. Renzo falls back to guard, and we run out the clock there. Renzo's arm is raised, Trigg looks shocked, whatever. Not a terribly exciting match, as Renzo's takedown was the result of a silly mistake by Trigg, and everything else was a stalemate in the guard.
I don't see the controversy, but I don't see this match belonging on a "best of" compilation either. We basically had one Trigg mistake being capitalized on by Gracie, for a weak takedown, which ended up leading to nothing, and nothing much else of note. In the Grappling magazine interview, Trigg claims: "There were several scrambles where I would pass (Renzo's) guard and then hold him down for something like a minute - just nowhere near being questionable-and then at the end of the match they said it was 2-0 in favor of him." File this under "WTF?"
Ricco Rodriguez vs. Hayato "Mach" Sakurai
(Absolute division, 2000)
Damn, Mach has a pair of BIG ones, entering the Absolute division at 170. Rodriguez has an 80 pound weight advantage and stalks Mach around the mat. Mach repeatedly ducks away from each clinch attempt, and who can blame him? Ricco has a leg brace, which might explain his lumbering lunges in this weird match. I'm remembering hearing about Andre the Giant vs. Chuck Wepner as I watch "Ricco Kong" slowly pace around to try to cut the ring off. Watching the Lilliputian Mach, with his auburn-dyed hair flopping up and down as he darts away from the white T-shirt wearing Ricco's grasp, recalls a jackrabbit evading a polar bear. Eight minutes in, the chase ends as Ricco backs Sakurai in to the corner of the mat. At the edge, Sakurai steps out but the ref ignores it and and Rodriguez gets a takedown. We fall out of bounds and restart in the middle of the mat, where Sakurai begins to roll for an ankle. Rodriguez shoves his arms away and lands in side mount. Mach repositions guard, and is able to slip out to stand again and use his quickness. But Ricco immediately shoots at him and is able to drive Mach out of bounds. Finally, Rodriguez is looking confident. Back to the middle of the mat, Sakurai tries to dive at Rodriguez for a single leg takedown, but Rodriguez shrugs him off and Sakurai falls to his back. Overconfident, Ricco tries to step over Sakurai's legs and take full mount-big mistake. It's never that easy, guys. Sakurai kicks both feet up to isolate Ricco's leg and as Ricco is still standing, Sakurai rolls him into a beautiful heel hook! Crowd goes bananas as Ricco is rolled to the mat, tapping with only a few seconds left.
I'm speechless. Despite a general lack of action, this match really should be seen.
Joao Roque vs. Royler Gracie
(1999 under 65 kg quarterfinals)
This match was voted the best match of the 1999 tournament, and the technique is every bit as good as you'd expect.
Roque sprawls to avoid a Gracie shot, deftly avoids the elevator sweep attempt that Gracie used to beat Yoshida, and works into full mount. (Recall there's no scoring in the first five minutes. Still, a great start for Joao.) Royler bridges and ends up in Joao's guard. A funny moment happens as Royler fidgets with his elbow pad before Roque pulls it off for him-you can see Royler try to hang on to it for a second. Royler rocks back for that ankle lock he likes so much, and Roque rolls desperately to escape. On a second attempt, Royler ends up in a squatting position with Roque's foot under his arm-- something akin to a Boston Crab, but Roque slips away. The ref signals the five minute mark-damn, this is good stuff.
Gracie continues to dominate from the top position, advancing to half guard. Roque repositions and goes for a triangle choke but only gets the hold for a fraction of a second before Gracie escapes. Continuing his aggressive work from the bottom, Roque tries isolating an arm (I really wanted to have the words of "aggressive" and "Roque" in the same sentence. Are you reading, Lee?) but Royler slips away and tries to take his back. The two fall out of bounds.
On the restart at center mat, Royler comes oh-so-close to passing but can't quite do it. Roque and Royler's arms and legs pull around gracefully for openings until the end of regulation. Royler is just slightly more the aggressor. Royler falls guard as Roque catches him in a sprawl, and yet nearly catches Roque in a guillotine choke. They disengage, and Gracie ends up on top again. A beautiful ankle lock attempt by Gracie is stifled, and Roque spins out to isolate Gracie's leg. Joao sits out with Gracie's leg grapevined as time expires.
The winner is announced as Royler Gracie. Feh. Gracie was judged winner of the match on the basis of being a bit more aggressive but I think we deserved as many overtimes as these guys could take till we got at least a clear point scored. Still, this was a great match, with all perhaps even more technical wizardry than Yoshida/Gracie, if not the frantic pace.
Next month: Part two, including Tito Ortiz vs. Rumina Sato, Kaoru Uno vs. Jean Jacques Machado, and lots more.