Austin, Texas just played host to one of the longest submission-only showcases the pro grappling world has ever seen, as the crowd found its endurance tested alongside the athletes. Thursday night’s “Who’s Number One” featured the WNO heavyweight battle between New Wave Jiu-Jitsu’s Gordon Ryan and Gracie Barra’s Pedro Marinho, with several other known grappling elite filling in the undercard.
Also heading the event, the finale to the FloGrappling produced BJJ reality show “Who’s Next?” with 10th Planet’s Kyle Chambers facing ADCC Australian Trials winner Izaak Michell. Coached by WNO Champ Tim Spriggs and ADCC silver medalist Craig Jones respectively, both men battled their way through some of BJJ’s greatest rising stars en route to their title bout.
With a match length of two hours, Michell and Chambers stressed the limits of the sub-only ruleset past the breaking point. Setting the tone with an early guard pull, Chambers quickly found himself on the back foot to Michell’s offense. Michell managed to pass, and began working to advance from side control. Despite initiating a scramble, Chambers was unable to regain top position and Michell moved to take the back.
What looked like a finishing position only heralded the beginning of a grueling exchange. Michell locked in an RNC, but Chambers wove a hand through the choke to create space for his neck. He patiently waited for Michell to tire out, and worked his shoulder to the mat. Ever the Eddie Bravo Acolyte, Chambers fired off a twister attempt with Michell still on his back, but the Australian was able to escape just in time.
This back and forth continued into 50/50, with neither man able to secure a leg lock before Chambers ended up on the defensive again. What followed was a full hour of Michell moving to different attacking positions, and Chambers miraculously denying Michell’s numerous close finishes. The match devolved into an unstoppable force meeting and immovable object, as Michell launched back take after back take on the supernaturally elusive Chambers. Lulled by the inaction, the crowd swelled back to life at the 70-minute-mark as Chambers locked in his most secure RNC of the match, only for Chambers to once again isolate the top arm, work his shoulder to the mat and emerge free.
“What if we go till three in the morning here? Is there a rule about this?” color commentator and seasoned black belt Kendall Reusing asked her fellow panelists at the 79-minute-mark.
Rolling out of a triangle armbar at 88-minutes, Chambers would fight for leg control before defending another triangle from mount. With the clock approaching 99-minutes, Chambers threw up a picture-perfect triangle armbar of his own as Michell worked an over under pass. Holding on as Michell fell to his back, It looked like the match might be finally over. But Michell was able to slip out, and immediately took the back again to resume his assault. With the match reaching 99 minutes, the officials were forced to let the athletes rehydrate and resume the match on the backstage mat area. This finally gave Ryan and Marinho the stage for their much delayed showdown.
The venue change would not mean a speedy wrap up, however. Resuming the contest, Chambers once again sat as Michell worked to pass. Opting to fall back for a leg lock, the B-Team’s champion battled with Chambers for foot control. The hastily lit room offered little visibility, but also a respite crowd noise to distract from either corner’s sideline advice. Michell found his way to the back, a common occurrence by now, but worked a crucifix position as Chambers defended. Another escape ensued from the 10th Planet competitor, and another after that as Michell struggled to maintain his pressure.
Exhausted, Michell took the back again with a body triangle. 16-minutes into their second half, Chambers turned and Michell rose into mount from top position. Chambers buckled free, but Michell moved right into a knee-slide pass and secured Chambers’ head and arm. Chambers went for another hip bump sweep, but Michell rode along and secured a belly down armbar before Chambers could escape. After shrugging off submissions for two hours and 15-minutes, Chambers finally gave the tap and Michell was declared the winner.
“That’s one of the happiest wins of my career,” Michell said in his post-fight interview. Along with the title, Michell exited the evening with $25,000 and a contract with FloGrappling.
Conversely, the main event match was a much more succinct affair. Ryan began resisting an arm drag from Marinho, using his height to maintain distance. Staying on the feet, both men spent time measuring distance and aggressively fighting grips in the opening. Marinho collected a single leg, but Ryan was able to turn and escape before the takedown. Taking advantage of Marinho’s raised right arm, Ryan ducked under to take the back. Marinho went for a guillotine, but fell and Ryan moved to top half guard.
After a reset, Ryan locked down the cross face to exert his infamous pressure. He mounted with head and arm control, taking time to smile at the cameras as Marinho tried to make frames. Bringing the full weight of his chest down on Marinho, It almost looked like a tap would come by smothering alone.
Turning to relieve his neck, Marinho gives up the back as Ryan sinks in his hooks. Threading an arm behind Marinho’s head, Ryan forced the Brazilian to turn back to mount. Not finding the tap with his head and arm position, Ryan moves back to half guard hoping to open up Marinho to attack. He passes back to mount almost at will, and resumes his head and arm smother attempt.
As Ryan transitions in and out of mount, Marinho is briefly able to throw up single leg X-guard before being passed once again. Holding the GB phenom in the smothering head and arm position, Ryan finally transitioned to the back again at five minutes left in the match. Realizing the time, Ryan opts to sink in an RNC, getting the tap with three minutes remaining in regulation.
Unsealing an envelope he’d written in before the match, Ryan revealed that he’d predicted getting the win via the smother tap.
“I tried to smother tap him for the first 25-minutes, but he figured out that he could put his arm in my armpit to relieve the pressure,” Ryan said in his post-fight.
Ryan will return to the ADCC stage to face grappling legend Andre Galvao this September.