This past Saturday the IBJJF came to Chicago for the annual Winter Open, which draws competitors from all over the midwest and beyond. One of those competitors was Eddie Wineland, the original WEC Bantamweight Champion and current UFC Bantamweight. It was Wineland's first gi BJJ tournament and he competed as a white belt. He won four matches, his first by submission, to claim the featherweight gold medal.
I caught up with Wineland after his finals victory and asked him why he decided to start training in gi jiu jitsu as opposed to no gi, which is more applicable to MMA.
Obviously, it is no secret that my jiu jitsu isn't the greatest. My no gi is actually really solid, I've just never shown it, never gotten the chance to show it. For whatever reason whenever I get put on my back in the cage it never comes out, if I fight like I do when I'm in the gym my no gi is absolutely stellar. But putting a gi I think is going to help tighten everything up, with in the last month and half with the gi on I've picked up a handful of things here and there I can convert from gi to no gi and I think it is going to make my ground game that much better.
Now it raised several eyebrows that Wineland competed as a white belt, I asked him about the decision to compete as at white belt.
Its ultimately my instructor's decision... yeah I had a good performance but I didn't submit everybody. I've been fighting for almost 10 years but I've had a gi on for a month and a half. If I do no gi it might be a different story, but I submitted my first guy and the last three matches I won on points... I may be competing at blue belt level it is hard to say, I don't know what level is what, I just grab on to something and wait for them to move.
Many accusations of sandbagging, or competing below one's actual level, have been made at Wineland and they intensified after his instructor awarded him a blue belt, just minutes after the interview. If I may interject my own opinion, while Wineland had clearly superior transitions and conditioning to his opponents, he was not running through guys. In the matches where he passed guard he was able to apply excellent pressure, but he didn't pass guard in every match, in fact his second match he won purely on the points from a takedown as he was stuck in the full guard for the whole match. There were clearly positions were he was clear unsure what to do or having difficulty, and others were he felt very confident and in my experience this is normal for an MMA fighter transitioning to gi jiu jitsu. Wineland worked for every single win, including his submission victory. After watching him and speaking to him I think his competing at white belt for first competition was completely justified and that accusations of sandbagging are unfair.
My view of that submission win was sightly obscured, I knew he had won with a gi choke, but I couldn't see what choke, so I asked him what it was:
At first I tried for the, what is called... the paper cutter? Is that what it is called? No! It was the D'arce with his gi, I had his gi pulled around, I don't even know what it is called. I tired the paper cutter, couldn't get him and I just learned this two days ago and I figured I'd give it a shot and it worked.
We then moved into talking about the differences between an MMA match and a gi jiu jitsu match:
Its a whole different world, you've got things you can grab on to where as no gi you can create a scramble. You can create a scramble in the gi but its much, much harder and in the middle of a scramble someone grabs your pant leg or grabs your arm you potentially going to be on your back. Its a whole different world man.
I finished up asking him what was next for him:
I wanted to test my knee today, I'm coming off a sprained ACL. When I weighed in, I normally complain about having to make 135 well now I'm complaining about having to make 154. I still had to cut weight to make 154, I initially had a knee brace on and didn't make weight with the knee brace on and had to pop it off and I made weight. The knee feels good, feels strong so I'm potentially going to contact the UFC and hope for something in the near future.
I'd like to thank Eddie Wineland, who was fantastic about taking time away from his family and teammates to talk to me. And also for being a complete pro with the interview, easily making up for the fact this was my first interview and I was quite nervous.