Do You Grapple Like You Deserve To Be There?

Throughout anyone’s grappling career, there will always be moments of stepping up to the next level. And these upgrades don’t always happen on a competition mat either. Sometimes they occur in your academy after you have a great roll with that purple belt that always stays one step ahead of you.

When these moments of growth occur, the mind is usually the toughest opponent. Am I really good enough to hang with that guy or did I just get lucky? The ability to conquer these demons can often separate the grapplers that progress and the grapplers that still need more work. A great example of this is a match I had a few years ago against Richie “Boogeyman” Martinez.

It was a submission only tournament with a $10K cash prize and some of the best submission grapplers in the world were bracketed including Gordon Ryan, Bill Cooper, Jeff Monson, Vinny Magalhaes, Hector Lumbard, and Boogeyman Martinez. I was an alternate but fully anticipated a call to compete because many of the competitors were dropping out. Needless to say, I was honored for the opportunity to be on the same stage with so many great grapplers. But that sense of honor may have also been my undoing.

My first match was against Josh Bacallao, a competitor that I know well and have rolled within the gym many times. It was a well-fought contest, which I won in overtime via EBI rules. Quickest escape. Very cool. I was excited about the win and fired up. But my expectations for continuing in the event were, “Wow, I won. How cool is that”

Which moves us on to my next match against 10th Planet black belt and submission machine Boogeyman Martinez. I was excited. But not because I was in it to win it, I was excited just to have the opportunity to be there. I thought, “Wow. Win, lose, or draw, I’m going to compete against the great Boogeyman on a Pay-Per-View event.” It was an honor just to share the mat with him.

Our match was exciting. Fans were cheering my name and Boogey knew I was coming hard for him. Then came overtime. The first two rounds ended with no submission. Then in the third round, I knew riding time was close and I needed to escape quickly. So I took a chance, which Boogey, being the great competitor that he is, capitalized on.

This is where things get interesting. Anyone that has ever competed will tell you that the mind is always looking for an excuse to quit because pushing your body past the point of its pain threshold is unnatural. Those excuses can be rationalized in nanoseconds during a competition. So at the pivotal moment in our match, Boogey sunk in the rear-naked choke. I peeled off the top hand just like the textbook says to do which he then transferred to a neck crank. The crank was tight, but it wasn’t going to kill me. I could have fought a few more seconds for an escape. But in my mind, in the heat of the moment, I decided I had done enough. I won a match against a tough guy and took the great Richie Martinez to triple overtime and that was ok. I can quit here and still feel accomplished.

So, what is the moral of this story? What caused me to lose my edge at such a crucial moment? The answer is that I’d already convinced myself from the onset that just being there was enough. My expectations were not set on winning. They were set on doing my best and whatever happens past that point is just gravy. Accepting you deserve to be there is the first step to winning or moving confidently on to hanging with the “tough guys” at your gym. Never go into anything thinking, “Wow, it’s an honor just to be invited.” Go to win or don’t go at all. All you need is the smallest hint of doubt hidden away in the deep shadows of your soul to give you a reason to accept defeat. Don’t settle for “Just being here is good enough”.


  1. this story is really relatable, from my last blue belt tournament. had a juggernaut of an opponent, i ended up giving him a better contest then i expected and because i one a match i tapped when i probably could have safely fought through his sub.


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