So last weekend I competed in my first world championships since 2014. For anyone just tuning in late, I suffered a serious knee injury early 2015 requiring knee reconstruction surgery. Which kept me off the mats for almost two years. But last weekend I made my return to top level competition. And it proved to be a lot more mentally challenging than I first presumed when I decided to return early. Was it the right thing to do?
My Physiotherapist will tell you no! But I've never been good at taking orders. A knee reconstruction takes around 18 months to completely recover from. In my case they took part of my hamstring to replace the ruptured ACL, which takes 18 months to completely solidify. Until then it's soft and can be re-ruptured if not careful. Leaving the knee unstable. The leg generally takes around 12 months to build back its strength.
I had my surgery done in February. Approximately 9 months before the world championships on the weekend. So it was a very risky decision for me to make. But for me entering this competition wasn't about "winning" the comp as what it was to compete again. I'm definitely not saying I didn't want to win. As I did everything in my power to win! and I prepared as well as I could in the given circumstance, but it definitely was a challenge.
First being fitness, competing against the best guys in the world you not only need to be a good technician, but a good athlete. Otherwise someone fit will take you into deep waters and eventually over come you with superior conditioning. Having only a month of training in Australia to get fit was a challenge. I was limited with top level training partners. And the few I had were rarely available due to their own commitments. This made it very frustrating for me. As I know at this level you really need a good 10 week camp with world class training partners.
Having 4 weeks with a roll here and there made me rely a lot more on outside training for conditioning. Sprints and weight training ect. This helped a lot. I would train jiu jitsu in the morning. Then do some sort of conditioning in the afternoon. This isn't including the knee rehab I do everyday which takes around an hour to complete. And this was basically my physical prep for the comp. this accompanied with a great diet given to me by my nutritionist seen me go from a thick 94kgs to 85.5 in 6 weeks.
I had looked at my bracket and knew I had a tough draw. Having Bellator MMA fighter Mathew Secor first round. Then if I won I'd have a fresh Matheus Diniz second round, I knew him having a bye first round would mean I'd fight him fresh and ready. Matheus was the hardest match up for me and the one I was worried about the most! I spent the weeks before studying his game and came up with what I believe was the winning strategy against him. Having my knee still recovering meant a few things. One, I had to be extremely cautious of anyone attacking it, but I'm also limited to certain things. For example, at this stage I can't shoot single or double legs, basically anything where it's you're driving pressure through the knees while bent or any high impacts with the floor. I also can only play guard on one side and pass on one side!
Avoiding any sort of control of my bad knee from my opponent is a must! If at any stage it was grabbed or attacked I had to be ready to swallow my ego and just tap. This was my mind set going in! And as you can tell it's obviously a stressful one! So first match comes up! Mathew and myself get called to the mat 40 minutes before we were rostered to fight, which meant neither of us got to warm up.
We got there ready to check our names off, then go get warmed up, but instead they led us straight to the mat and we started. The match was a good one for me. I feel I matched up well against Matt and I controlled the match positionally and the score eventuates to 25-2.
After a 2 year break from competition I was very happy to compete so well in my first match, but my second match was the one I was most worried about. I felt if I could win this one the next two I would also win. Presumably of course. Matheus and I enter the mat and we lock horns. First thing I noticed, which I expected is he is strong and forces a high pace. This is exactly the opposite of what I wanted. My goal in this match was to try and slow it down. I knew I didn't have the conditioning to match him for ten minutes at his pace, so I wanted to slow it down and calm the bull so to speak.
But this didn't quite go to plan. He kept pushing the pace as I kept trying to show it down. Which made him the aggressor on the feet. There was one thing I noticed from studying his previous fights. Was that he likes to grab his opponents wrist with his right hand. This would make him susceptible to one of my favourite arm drags I do. About 5 minutes into the match I saw the opportunity and took it! And it worked. Unfortunately we landed outside the mat and I didn't get the points for it. But this put me in the lead by an advantage.
This was probably a bad move because if anything putting him behind on the score board made him push the pace even more. He then pulled guard and immediately attacked my injured leg for a sweep forcing me to jump up and run out of bounds, which resulted in him being given an advantage. This has us tied on the scoreboard, but I was getting more tired and he was pushing the pace even more.
In my mind I was still confident I would take it. I felt if it stayed on the feet for another minute and a half I would go for one more take down and win on points. I just didn't want to shoot it too early as I New if he was down he would go harder and I wouldn't be able to match him. We get down to the one minute mark and I start preparing for my takedown and just as I do he shot a beautiful duck-under and ended up with a tight gable grip around my back. In my mind I was like, "fuck". Hahaha.
I didn't have much left in me to defend the takedown. My body was almost out of energy. So I lent my weight forward to avoid any supplex type throws. But he was well experienced as it turns out in that position and he jumped onto my back like a fat kid onto cake. I quickly tried to shake him off while holding his second hook off. But I soon realised he had already sunk a one armed rear naked in under my neck.
At this stage it was tight, but I could just breath. I thought to myself if I defend this with my free hand. He will know I'm in trouble and squeeze tighter. So I used my free hand to wipe some sweat out of my eyes. And it turned out he knew how tight it was anyway and switched it to a full rear naked choke.
So here I am, 30 Seconds left on the clock, scores tied, blood and oxygen not getting to my brain anymore. So I tap!
If I was going to lose to anyone I'm glad it was him. Because he is an absolute animal on the mats and a gentleman everywhere else. So complete props to Matheus on his victory.
And that was the end of my return competition. Was it too early? Well maybe! But I didn't get hurt! I had a lot of fun. And I relit a fire for competition that I haven't had since my first year at blackbelt. All in all I consider this a victory for me.
Now as I'm writing this on my flight to Japan to meet up with Jiu Jitsu wizard Nic Gregoriades. To film our new DVD instructional and sequel to beyond Technique! And also shoot the documentary The Soul of jiu jitsu. Then I'll return home to prepare for my next big tournament. Which will take way in Norway! Where I'll be leading the Australian team against the Vikings.. the Vikings are in the lead 2 wins to 1.. but the best of Australia has yet to fight. We are going to go take the whole competition. This will take place in the first week of February in the Copa Podio!
I want to thank you guys for reading this and following my adventure. And a huge shout out to Braus fight wear for making this all possible and giving me the best gear available on the market today.