On June 12th, 2010, the North American Grappling Association (NAGA) ventured down to Hampton Roads to hold their first annual Virginia Beach Grappling Championship. Despite the title, most teams came from the greater Hampton Roads area, including but not limited to Norfolk, Chesapeake, Yorktown, and Hampton.
With over 600 competitors from around the state in attendance, NAGA President Kipp Kollar was very pleased with the turnout. It was "pretty good for a first time event," he said, "so we're really happy." But was it good enough to return next year? "Absolutely" said Kipp. "We will be doing this every year at the end of June."
Representatives from two of the area's better-known Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) schools, Hybrid Training Center and Linxx Academy of Martial Arts, were in attendance as well. Owner and head coach of Hybrid Training Center, Buck Grant, was enthusiastic about the event and his team's success. "Our Jiu-Jitsu program is relatively new compared to the programs in the area, but we've grown really fast. This is our first time getting out here and competing as a whole group and everybody did well. I'm super happy for them."
Grant has coached fighters such as UFC veteran Brandon Vera and The Ultimate Fighter alumnus Dorian Price. One well-known fighter who is still on the Hybrid roster is Strikeforce light-heavyweight Antwain Britt. Don't let the short list fool you, though. "[Hybrid] has the next generation of guys no one knows about yet that we're trying to breed," said Buck.
In addition to professional fighter Jeff Peterson competing, a few members of the Hybrid staff also took home medals. CrossFit and Kids Martial Arts instructor Matthew Schwaner placed first for blue belt Gi at 140 to 149.9 lbs. And, according to him, as a coach, "this has been a good experience, because I still get more from coaching than I do from competing." As part of his coaching philosophy, he perceives something special about "building something and then watching it fly. I'm a better aircraft mechanic than a pilot, I guess."
Other Hybrid participants included Scott Horne, the kids' BJJ coach, and Andrew Byler Clark. Horne placed second for blue belt Gi in the Masters division at 160 to 169.9 lbs., but winning isn't what mattered most to him. "What's more important is my kids did really good," he said. Clark was able to take home gold in blue belt Gi at 150-159.9 lbs. But he didn't take all the credit for the win. "I owe 50 percent of everything I have to my training partners. It’s how we train every day. 50 percent for you, 50 percent for your partner," said Clark.
Team spirit was high all around from every school present. Even though everyone came to win, there were some who came here to work out some ring rust before getting back into MMA. Khristopher Gonzalez Santos was one of those people. Santos trains out of Linxx Academy and he currently holds a 6-0 Amateur MMA record, with five wins coming by way of submission. He took home first place for Advanced no-Gi at 150 to 159.9 lbs.
Santos also previously held the World Kickboxing Association's Amateur MMA Lightweight title, the Global Combat Alliance Amateur Lightweight title, and the Total Cage Combat Lightweight Title, all simultaneously. Due to his commitments with the United States Navy, he was forced to give them up. Now that he has returned, he's taking it easy as he re-enters the world of MMA. In addition to brushing off the ring rust, Santos also had other reasons for being here. "I want to be a versatile guy. That’s why I single everything out. Right now I am doing a [grappling] tournament. Next week I am going to be at a [Muay] Thai tournament," he says.
Future prospect Patrick Trinidad was also representing Linxx Academy. He placed first in intermediate no-Gi and blue belt Gi at 139.9 lbs. and below. Trinidad is finishing high school and is eager to take his fighting to the next level. His goal is to "kick it up in training" in BJJ and Muay Thai and he sees MMA as a "possibility" down the road.
This was also Trinidad's second time participating in an NAGA event. How did this one compare to the last? He thought it was “pretty good. It runs pretty smooth. I like how everything piles up into one fight instead of everybody running around.”
Black belt BJJ instructor Nestor Bayot of Linxx Academy was just as proud as any other coach there. "The guys fought hard, they did awesome," said Nestor. "There’s always some tough losses, but there’s a lot of great competitors. Win or lose, I’m very happy with the way they fought," he added.
Linxx Academy is the current home of WEC featherweight Mackens Semerzier. Bayot commented, "[Semerzier's] huge win in his first WEC [fight] was great. Tough second fight, but, from what I saw in that second fight, I can see him improving on and winning.”
Bayot was also equally optimistic about Khristopher's progress. “Before he left for [military-related obligations], I saw huge things. Now he’s come back and getting that rust off and he’s getting back to that form again. The cool thing about him is he’s decided to take it slow."
With MMA and grappling so equally intertwined, it is no wonder that NAGA also runs an amateur MMA promotion. But how far is NAGA willing to integrate both ventures? "As we get bigger and we have a facility that’s nice like this we are able to run the MMA and the grappling in the same weekend. So that’s definitely a possibility in the future," remarked Kipp Kollar on the topic.
Grant feels “Jiu-Jitsu is such an integral part of Mixed Martial Arts. [Grappling] Tournaments are a great way for MMA fighters to stay active and compete in-between events. Us getting out here and putting it on the line in this realm is extremely important. Everyone knows we’re for MMA, but hopefully they know we’re for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as well so they know we’re not just an MMA school—we’re a one-stop shop. We do everything well.”
Bayot said on training in both that “it’s a given. You have to do both. If you want to do MMA, then you have to be training in Jiu-Jitsu, just like if you do MMA you have to be training in [Muay] Thai [kick]boxing. You’ve got to. With us, there is no separating one or the other.”