The Abu Dhabi Combat Club World Championships (ADCC) took place this weekend in Espoo, Finland, and several of the best grapplers in the region seized the opportunity to shine on the world stage. Often referred to as the Olympics of submission grappling, ADCC is held every two years to crown the world’s greatest no-gi submission grapplers. Athletes earn the ability to compete either by winning a prior event, winning one of several regional qualifiers, or by special invitation. Full results of medal winners can be found at the bottom of this article.
Chief among the competitors were members of the so-called “Danaher Death Squad,” trained by John Danaher out of the Renzo Gracie Academy in New York City. These athletes included Garry Tonon, Gordon Ryan, Tom DeBlass, Jake Shields, Oliver Taza, Ethan Crelinsten, and 16-year-old Nicky Ryan who is the youngest competitor in the tournament’s history. Shields, Taza, and Crelinsten are not New York or New Jersey natives, but stay in the area frequently to train under Danaher. Also featured was former Marcelo Gacria protégé Dillon Danis, who now trains out of Unity Jiu Jitsu and has developed a noted rivalry with Gordon Ryan. In the most impressive performance from the squad, Gordon Ryan took a gold medal in the -88 kg weight class, and a silver in the Absolute, capping off an impressive run through the tournament.
The -88kg finals pitted American BJJ phenom Keenan Cornelius against the older of the Ryan brothers, in a rematch of their submission-only match that Ryan won by heel hook after 80 minutes. This time around, the two combatants worked aggressively for takedowns. Ryan completed a single leg takedown in the first half of the match before points were awarded, and worked to pass aggressively. Cornelius showed great guard retention and eventually the match returned to the feet. Gordon Ryan was more aggressive this time, working a front headlock series repeatedly. When Cornelius went in for a single leg, Ryan secured a head and arm grip, rolled backwards straight into the mounted position, and finished Keenan Cornelius with an arm-in guillotine from full mount.
In the semifinals, Ryan took a decision over the legend Xande Ribeiro in a hard fought match that could have gone either way. Ribeiro was on an impressive run of his own, having submitted his first two opponents by armbar from closed guard, including Rustam Chsiev in the semifinals (he added a third later in the Absolute division). Ryan looked to pass the guard for much of the match but was unsuccessful. He also attempted to take the back or secure an armlock via kimura but was unsuccessful. As neither man scored a takedown in overtime, the victory was awarded to Ryan.
Gordon Ryan was impressive in reaching the semifinals on Day 1 as well. He was paired against rival Danis in perhaps the most anticipated match of the first round. The match was closely contested with Ryan playing guard and Danis working mostly from top. In the first 10 minutes of regulation time, Ryan came close with some attempted leg locks, while Danis mostly avoided attempts to pass or submit, except when he was able to snag head-and-arm control and look for a guillotine. With no score, the match went to a 5-minute overtime. Neither grappler was able to score a takedown, but Ryan came on top of a turtled Dillon Danis when Danis failed on a takedown. Ryan nearly secured back mount points, and likely due to this offensive burst he earned the decision and the victory.
Ryan’s quarterfinal match was against the legendary Romulo Barral, a multiple time BJJ world champion and former ADCC champ. He passed the Brazilian’s guard twice, seemingly with ease, before seizing Barral’s back and securing the rear naked choke for which the “Squad” is known. It may have been his most impressive, and certainly most dominant performance of the night.
Ryan faced Felipe Pena in the finals of the Absolute. Pena had taken silver in the -99 kg division. It was a slow-paced affair to start, with both competitors testing the waters on the feet for the first 9 minutes, as guard pulling is penalized from the start of the match in ADCC finals. Eventually Ryan secured a single leg takedown towards the end of the “no points” portion of the match. Pena initiated a 50/50 leg position but neither man was able to capitalize. Late in the match Ryan initiated a leg lock series, and Pena was able to scramble out and take the back, securing points for the victory, similar to their first meeting in a sub-only match that Pena has won by rear naked choke. In the semifinals, Ryan submitted Mahamed Aly with a heel hook in under two minutes. Aly had defeated Danis in the previous round.
In the quarterfinals of the Absolute, Ryan took on Craig Jones, who was looking to pull another upset. It was not to be, as Ryan worked methodically from top position, passing from half guard directly to mount, and finishing with an “Kata Gatame” arm triangle choke.
In his first match of the Absolute division, Gordon Ryan sat to open guard against +99 kg bronze medalist Roberto “Cyborg” Abreu, after a feeling out process on the feet. He was able to secure an inside “sankaku” on Cyborg’s leg and finish calmly with a cross heel hook.
Garry Tonon reached the semifinals after some entertaining matches on the first day of competition, but in the second day he suffered two close losses. In the semifinals, Tonon was neck and neck with eventual champion JT Torres, initiating many exciting scrambles. However, it was Torres’ aggression in nearly completing takedowns in overtime that persuaded the officials to award him the victory. Tonon fought to the end against Vagner Rocha for 3rd place, but also came up just short. Rocha was awarded 2 takedown points in overtime. Tonon nearly scored a takedown near the end of overtime, and as time expired he had Rocha in the turtle position with one hook in, but was unable to get the second hook to score points.
On Day 1, Tonon was victorious 2-0 over Felipe Cesar, who won the Sao Paulo trials, in his opening match. Tonon did most of the attacking throughout the match, nearly finishing with a flying scissor heel hook to start the match, and a kneebar towards the end. The two points came from a single-leg takedown.
Tonon’s quarterfinal match was a contentions affair against Marcelo “Lapela” Mafra. The referee had to warn Mafra repeatedly about his tactics on the feet. Tonon received two negative points for guard pulls (pulling guard is penalized in ADCC during points time), while Mafra received negative points for repeatedly disengaging. With two negative points apiece the match went to overtime, where the pattern repeated itself. In the end Tonon won by receiving fewer negative points after being the aggressor throughout.
DeBlass won his first match in the 99+ kg division, defeating West Coast Trials winner Casey Hellenberg by decision. DeBlass attacked more during the match with submissions and had near sweep during regulation time. In the quarterfinals he lost by decision in overtime to ADCC 2015 champion Orlando Sanchez. Sanchez held a distinct size advantage, and while no points were scored, DeBlass spend much of the match in bottom turtle position.
Jake Shields was eliminated in the first round of the -99 kg division, where he competed significantly above his normal competition weight. After controlling much of the match against Abdurakhman Bilarov during the first five minutes of the match when no points are awarded, he conceded a sweep and had his guard passed, eventually conceding mount and losing 7-0.
Oliver Taza lost to Mafra in the first round of the -77 kg division. After doing most of the attacking for the first portion of the match, Taza conceded a takedown with about 30 seconds remaining in the match, which gave the victory to Mafra.
Nicky Ryan lost to the much more experienced AJ Agazarm in the opening round of the -66 kg division. Agazarm, who is highly skilled in using the best tactics to exploit a competition rule set, sat to guard before points were awarded, and then used the position to score a sweep during the points portion of the match. For the remainder of the match, neither competitor was able to score, as Ryan attempted submissions from the bottom and Agazarm occationally attempted to pass. Ryan acquitted himself well in defeat, attacking the wrestler with arm drags on the feet and attempting guard passes from top position.
Agazarm, who eventually took second place, went on to defeat Ryan’s occational teammate and Canadian member of the “Death Squad,” Ethan Crelinsten, in the quarterfinals. Crelinsten qualified by winning the East Coast Trials in which he defeated Nicky Ryan in the finals. Crelinsten was impressive in his first round match, winning early over Nicholas Reiner with a reverse triangle choke. Against Agazarm, he was aggressive with his guard attacks from the start, attempting triangles and armlocks. There was no score in regulation so the match went to overtime. Crelinsten applied a deep armbar from a triangle choke in overtime, but when Agazarm escaped he earned points for a takedown. He escaped another deep armbar and kimura towards the end, to maintain his victory.
In a Legends Superfight, the great Renzo Gracie claimed a victory over former MMA rival and fellow ADCC champ Sanae Kikuta, with a negative point in overtime. Kikuta was a replacement for Matt Hughes, who was tragically injured in a truck-train crash in June. Most of match took place on feet, with Gracie making some good TD attempts during regulation. In overtime he went for another shot and Kikuta countered with an arm in guillotine, Gracie rolled through, and Kikuta had a near back take with one hook towards the end, but was unable to get the second hook to score points. Kikuta was given a negative point earlier in overtime and this was enough to give the victory to Gracie.
Of course, the event was packed with legends and huge names in the submission grappling world, and there were several other notable matches. In one of the most memorable performances, the unheralded Australian Craig Jones submitted the great Leandro Lo with a rear naked choke in the first as Lo tried to avoid a sweep/leglock combination and got his back taken with an arm trapped. Jones followed this up by submitting Murilo Santana in the following round with a flying triangle choke. However, Jones fell to Cornelius in his semifinal match.
Gabi Garcia claimed another dominant gold medal, submitting two of her opponents, including with a nasty toe hold in the first round that left her opponent Amanda Santana visibly limping off the mat.
Mackenzie Dern, who along with Garcia is one of the most decorated female Jiu Jitsu competitors, lost in a shocking upset in the first round, to Finland’s Elvira Karppinen. The match was close on score but Karppinen was able to thwart all of Dern’s attacks and score with sweeps to claim the victory in front of a hometown crowd.
Full results are below, including superfights:
Male -66 kg:
First: Rubens “Cobrinha” Charles
Second: AJ Agazarm
Third: Paulo Miyao
Male -77 kg:
First: JT Torres
Second: Lucas Lepri
Third: Vagner Rocha
Male -88 kg:
First: Gordon Ryan
Second: Keenan Cornelius
Third: Xande Ribeiro
Male -99 kg:
First: Yuri Simoes
Second: Felipe Pena
Third: Jackson Souza
Male 99+ kg:
First: Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida
Second: Orlando Sanchez
Third: Roberto “Cyborg” Abreu
First: Felipe Pena
Second: Gordon Ryan
Third: Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida
Female -60 kg:
First: Beatriz Mesquita
Second: Bianca Basilio
Third: Michele Nicolini
Female 60+ kg:
First: Gabi Garcia
Second: Talita “Treta” Nogueira
Third: Jessica Da Silva Oliveira
Andre Galvao def. Claudio Calasans by points to retain the ADCC Superfight Championship
Renzo Gracie def. Sanae Kikuta by points
Chael Sonnen def. Leo Vieira by decision
Writer: Kyle Antonelli (Editor, NewYorkFighting.com)ADCC, BJJ, Flo Grappling, New York Fighting