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Polaris Professional Jiu Jitsu Invitational Preview

Freshen up your knowledge of sixteen of the best Brazilian jiu jitsu players from around the world taking place in eight PPV matches this Saturday in Cardiff, Wales. Ben Thapa provides his stylistic analysis and predictions for each match.

Wales is more than just the home of Gareth and the other Bales. There's also a rather nice Brazilian jiu jitsu invitational going on in Cardiff this Saturday. The event is the Polaris Professional Jiu Jitsu Invitational and it features eight surprisingly good matches with a start time of 6:30PM UTC, 1:30PM EST, 10:30AM PST.

Again, that's this Saturday at 1:30 PM EST (the event may run between 2 and 3 hours, depending on how many fast finishes occur).

The price of the PPV stream is 15 Euro or 17.78 US Dollars*.

We at Bloody Elbow like the looks of this event and are putting up a preview of this card, a live discussion post and eventually, a results post. Herein, I will analyze the match-making and make predictions - which I hope will be shown up by indignant athletes looking to outdo themselves and their opponents to the delight of us onlookers.

From an outside perspective, it looks very much that the matches were made with a dual intent of 1) putting together entertaining matches and 2) seeing how the stars of submission grappling scenes outside the hotbeds of Brazil and the continental US can do against some of the best from within the same hotspots.

The keen observer of the BJJ scene should already know the answer to the general question of Aim #2 is "pretty well". We've already seen most of the grapplers on this card win medals, prizes and tournaments for years before they achieved their black belts and many more since. Every single person on this card has traveled tens of thousands of miles for years and years to win tournaments and fights against the best in the world - and all have become elite athletes and also succeeded at making a living doing this. They are indeed professionals and the tournament organizers have done right by them.

Without further ado, the card:

Keenan Cornelius vs. Abraham Marte (in the gi)

Marcin Held vs. Garry Tonon (no gi)

Pablo Popovitch vs. Eduardo "Teta" Rios (no gi)

Mike Fowler vs. Eduardo Telles (gi)

A.J. Agazarm vs. Oliver Geddes (no gi)

Kit Dale vs. Victor Silverio (gi)

Angelica Galvao vs. Michelle Nicolini (gi)

Max Campos vs. Darragh O'Conaill (gi)

The rules are fairly straight-forwards and look a lot like that of Metamoris or Copa Podio. All matches start on the feet. 15 minute matches with no points. A match without a submission finish is declared a draw. Some small level of slamming is allowed and big throws are allowed. Spine cranks are banned (can openers, full nelsons, crucifix, twister etc.). No heelhooks in the gi.


Keenan Cornelius vs. Abraham Marte (in the gi)

Cornelius is the long, lanky archetype of BJJ personified. His incredible flexibility, massive cardio endurance, extreme dislike of losing and rapid improvement/rise to the top ranks of the BJJ elite has caught considerable amounts of attention for years now. His early talent with the de la Riva guard and reverse de la Riva guard on the competition scene has blossomed into a full spectrum and vicious guard that few get past and a burgeoning top game to match. This phenom is blessed with a sardonic sense of humor and a sharp sense for weaknesses in the meta-game he can exploit. He can be out-muscled or out-pointed by an opponent with better wrestling.

Marte actually caught my eye as a prospect back in 2008 or 2009 when I saw him compete as a purple belt in a no gi tourney in New York. I can't remember if it was the New York Open or the No Gi Pan Ams, which used to be there. Anyways, my impression of him consisted of seeing this huge Andre Arlovski-looking dude using his length and strength to whup his opponents. That impression has held up even as he moved up the ranks to brown and black belt. He's become a strong competitor and regularly places in the top 5 or 6 in each world-level tournament he enters. This is made all the more incredible by Marte maintaining his home gym in the Dominican Republic - which is not a hotbed of competitors outside of sprinting, boxing or baseball - for most of that period. He's traveled extensively and the results have shown a work ethic to nearly match that of Cornelius. Marte's possible exploitable flaw lies in his not-stellar ability to deal with the agile opponents. He can be enticed into scrambles where he doesn't have the advantage and doesn't have the fastest reactions to avoid traps sometimes.

These two had a match last year at the No Gi Worlds, in the semi-finals of the Absolute. Keenan won by two advantages in a match that was tied at 2 points each. Video of that match is not readily forthcoming, but it shows that the two are evenly matched.

Prediction: Keenan pulls guard early, then sweeps to keep Marte off of him, the two shift around for a long while in Marte's guard and then Keenan magicks his way to the back for a collar choke around the 14 minute mark.

EDIT: Marte has pulled out and it is Dean Lister stepping in vs. Cornelius in a no gi match. The two are occasional training partners, but will grapple at full speed for the PPV card.

They last matched up in a public no gi battle at ADCC 2013 in the Absolute third place match. (Video from BJJ Scout here: Honestly, that match was kind of terrible because Lister gassed out thorougly and hunkered down against a Cornelius onslaught for most of the match. I expect more of the same to happen because Dean Lister doesn't change much in terms of strategy or approach to anything ever.

New Prediction: Cornelius does as much as humanly possible to demonstrate that Dean Lister isn't as good as he is at grappling, but won't actually submit Dean with anything because Dean has that critical amount of a strength advantage and defends too much to expose anything for the getting. Wish we could get a Braulio or Victor Estima step-in here (or even Roger Gracie), considering that their home academies are somewhat close to Cardiff.

Marcin Held vs. Garry Tonon (no gi)

Held is a leglocks man and made a considerable success of himself doing so in Bellator. He's coming off a decision win against Patricky Freire in the September lightweight tourney final, where he displayed a much better takedown and top game than before, as befitting his new black belt. Held loves going into scrambles and coming out with a leg to twist and turn. The Polish phenom is one of the most entertaining fighters out there for his joyful abandon and rapid improvement in what was once a bleak land for combat sports.

Garry Tonon is a honey badger mixed with a very, very smart grappler and given the visual appeal of a flashier Lawrence from Office Space. He has cardio to spare in every match, superb defense for almost every choke or hold possible and instigates scrambles to gain small advantages that he uses to crack open defenses. It's a lot like a gnarlier version of Keenan's game - except that Keenan can do it in and out of the gi, while Garry excels without the gi.

Prediction: Garry will be rocking a sweet rashguard, Held will finally be roughly the same size as his opponent and we'll see six minutes of bursts of scrambling mixed with breath-catching moments and leg un-weavings before Garry gets a guillotine on Held.

Pablo Popovitch vs. Eduardo "Teta" Rios (no gi)

Dean Lister is out and Teta Rios stepped in on short notice. Rios is pretty good - which is an understatement - and has been ripping up the European scene for a few years now. Rios will play just about any type of game he can and has had success doing so. He has an eye for snapping things up, which is a boon in a submission only match. However, his opponent is Pablo Popovitch.

Popovitch is perhaps most known as the Man who Lost to Marcelo Garcia in the Finals of ADCC a Bunch of Times. He's extremely good at submission grappling though. His game is almost always visually the same: punishingly tough top game, very little extraneous movement that isn't pass related, love of armbars and chokes and massive flirting with stalling calls when they exist. Pablo doesn't leave limbs out to be snapped up or necks to be seized upon. He is so good at this that basically only one person in his weight class ever figured him out reliably - Marcelo Garcia, the cherubic demon of grappling.

Prediction: After five minutes of kinda bad wrestling from both, Pablo will slowly flatten out, pass the guard fast and crush Rios into a north/south choke. It won't be terribly entertaining, but it will actually be better for the watching than the inert Lister playing guard versus the risk-averse Popovitch. Pablo should take more risks in this match and be the better for us onlookers.

Mike Fowler vs. Eduardo Telles (gi)

Telles is the oddest BJJ player I have ever watched. When he's uninjured and has had time to prepare his endurance, there is only one comparison I can make in the combat sports world: Georgii Zantaraia, the cartwheelin' judo player. Both of them revel in being unorthodox, in taking positions normally advantageous for the opponent, baiting the opponent and then reversing it lightning-fast for a win. Telles is known for his work from the turtle, but it's a disservice to him to restrict the appreciation of his oddity/wonderfulness solely to that position. His 2011 match against Ian McPherson is my favorite non-famous and wildly entertaining BJJ match ever. Telles loves chaos and usually does very well when an opponent agrees to enter into it. On the flip side, Telles continually gives up massive points if they're being scored and has to catch-up or create a finish in a hurry far too often. This submission-only format is perfect for him.

Fowler is an action figure put onto the grappling mats. His unique hairstyles are matched by his willingness to explore positions that most would pass up and his athleticism is married with very strong technique. Fowler has a history of being unfairly ruled against by referees, so he's mostly stayed out of the big IBJJF tourneys for the last few years and since his home academy is out in Hawai'i's North Shore, he's pretty out there. In cooler news, Fowler has been on Enson Inoue's pilgrimages through Japan for a couple years now and has made his own 100 Temples journey recently. Fowler loves hunting for the submission and actually displays much more focus in getting it than grapplers like Jeff Glover. He also loves playing to the crowd too.

Prediction: In the most exciting match of the card, Fowler catches an armbar on the older Telles after bursts of back and forth scrambling in the 12th minute.

A.J. Agazarm vs. Oliver Geddes (no gi)

Agazarm is an extremely hard-to-finish-S.O.B. on the mats. He utilizes that to its fullest extent to tire opponents and then break them if he can. His submission only matches featured a ton of escaped submissions and lots of scrambles for top position - that he usually won. Agazarm hasn't quite broken into the elite levels of black belt, yet he continually finishes in and out of the gi in the top 10 or 15 in most tourneys in the absolute and in the top 8 in his weight division with near banal regularity.

Oliver Geddes is a half-guard player that will probably be overmatched by Agazarm's athleticism and cardio. Geddes has a good understanding of leglocks (in particular, kneebars), but keeps getting stuffed in the half guard by players who've scouted him. His very good defense allows him to shift back to the half guard multiple times against just about everyone, but in a 15 minute match, Agazarm's top game will wear him out and he'll have to figure out something from turtle or side control.

Prediction: Oli pulls half guard, AJ stuffs it and eventually takes his back for an RNC in the 6th minute.

Kit Dale vs. Victor Silverio (gi)

Dale rose to the top levels of competitive BJJ very quickly, working out of a relatively unheralded gym in the Melbourne area. Dale won two Abu Dhabi World Pro championships, but did not really break through at the big IBJJF or ADCC tourneys like some of the other grapplers above. He displayed a very strong top game and superior athleticism to just about everyone in his division at the purple and brown belt level. However, at the black belt level, his experience gap has led him to a few high profile losses through not navigating guards or scrambles quite right. That is slowly being remedied as he trains at better and better camps (and has moved to Los Angeles, apparently). Despite being stronger and more well known on the whole than Silverio, Dale has some health (tonsil and ankle) concerns coming into this - which he's told the world on Facebook.

Victor Silverio is a young GF Team black belt with some considerable success on the elite Brazilian circuit. He went from being "pretty good" to giving players like Gianni Grippo and Gilbert Burns a tough, tough match and winning matches against players like Marcio Andre at the Copa Podio. Like most GF Team black belts, Victor doesn't prefer pulling guard quickly and will work on the feet for a throw if he feels it can be gotten. In matwork, Silverio is very fast, even for those expecting him to be fast. I think he might be a better athlete than Dale too, but Silverio has been frustrated in his guard-play before and pushed to take risks. I don't think Dale with the tonsil and ankle problems can push the pace on Silverio, so Victor will have the opportunity to do what he wants more than Dale will in this match.

Prediction: After lots of standing and maneuvering, Silverio pulls guard on Dale, sweeps him, gets swept back, then re-sweeps and eventually works his way into a dominant position on the stronger player as time expires. I'm calling a draw here.

Angelica Galvao vs. Michelle Nicolini (gi)

Both want to start from the guard. Galvao is perhaps a better athlete, but she is a new black belt - even if she's trained for years at her home gym of Atos San Diego with all the other monster grapplers there. She prefers going into the guard, getting a sweep quickly and then trying to bait a turn into turtle or getting massive pressure into the top of guard. Galvao won nearly every major gi tournament at purple and brown belt, but hasn't competed a ton and her home gym isn't full of women on the same level as her or her opponent. Nicolini is a fluid and skilled athlete with armloads of black belt level medals and titles in the grappling world. You may recall the tizzy last year when she broke Tammy Musumeci's arm in spectacular fashion in the finals of the World Championship - which made many, many rounds in GIF and Vine format. She strongly prefers to play shin-on-shin guard these days and has a major thing for footlocks. I think Michelle's size advantage will let her play her game more than Angelica's preference.

Prediction: Nicolini uses her experience to win the guard battle, off-balances Galvao and then chases footlocks for the rest of the match before finally getting one somewhere in the 8 minute mark.

Max Campos vs. Darragh O'Conaill (gi)

Max is a modern guard player by preference, preferring reverse de la Riva guard to start before flowing into the spaces his opponent leaves.  To be good at that particular meta-game, one has to have an ant-like ability to be crunched into a ball by an opponent, yet still kick out with strength and exquisite timing to get a sweep. Campos has it - although not to the degree the Miyao brothers or other absolutely superb guard players do - and utilizes it alongside his good gripping game to off-balance opponents. His top game is predicated on using bursts of speed to take advantage of escapes and he has a knack of sliding arms and legs smoothly into the right places for the set-ups for finishes. However, I do not think Campos has previously displayed an ability to finish the caliber of opponent he'll face in Darragh, especially from the top position. I do think that Campos certainly has a strong shot at using the gi grips to spin around and under Darragh to a draw.

Darragh hates pulling guard in big matches, preferring greatly to start on top. Campos will concede that, so Darragh may initially be slow in engaging, bringing as much pressure as he can bear in the guard passing, want to achieve side control and top of north/south before moving quickly to submission positions. In the past, Darragh has not shown the pure IBJJF-specific gamesmanship that other competitors have, but he has been fairly successful in large tournaments all over the world. I think this no-points format fits him nicely because he does occasionally lose position without being in much trouble submission-wise and regains the top fairly quickly against the more elite opponents. I don't think Campos can finish him from the bottom without a heelhook threat.

Prediction: Darragh spends 10 minutes getting firmly past the guard and then stifles Campos within a couple minutes to get a keylock finish - but nooooo, Campos spins out and they reset for a draw.

*No sheep are included in the purchase price

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