#159 Gracie Barra, 2009 Pan-Ams Gold Medal Winner

Flavio Almeida jiu-jitsu Rafael Lovato Jr
Flavio Almeida (Gracie Barra) attempting to pass the guard in his victory over Rafael Lovato Jr. (Gracie Humaita) at the 2009 Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Pan-Ams.

Last weekend the 2009 BJJ Pan-Ams shook Carson, California, with over 2,500 Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners testing their skills against one another. While the listeners to The FightWorks Podcast predicted that Alliance would win first place in the team competition, Gracie Barra took the gold medal! So to discuss this big accomplishment we brought on Flavio Almeida, who is not only one of Gracie Barra’s elite competitors but also is in charge of the expansion of Gracie Barra globally.

Cohost Dan and I chat with Almeida about the tremendous performance of Gracie Barra competitors, the upcoming BJJ Mundials in June, and the return of Roger Gracie to BJJ competition. He will also lend his expert advice in response to a question from The Mighty 600,00 about how to handle the unpredictability one encounters during the day in many jiu-jitsu tournaments, both physically and mentally.

We will also play a 2009 BJJ Pan-Ams soundbyte from Rickson Gracie, who gave a brief eulogy for his recently deceased father Helio Gracie.

Dan and I will also discuss the recent BJJ Poll we had on the site about the dissatisfaction that 60% of BJJ practitioners feel regarding the quality of takedown and throw instruction in their academies.

Finally, there’s a little bonus material at the conclusion of the show because in our last show I accidentally neglected to include our conversation with Alicia Anthony about the 2009 Pan-Ams! (Sorry Alicia!!!)

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Excerpt from Interview with Flavio Almeida

Caleb: Here’s a question for you Flavio, and this is an interesting one. In your division at the 2009 BJJ Pan-Ams, which is heavyweight, you got second place and Roberto “Tussa” Camargo Alencar, also from Gracie Barra, came in first. You guys closed out the division together and didn’t do the fight. It’s not an uncommon thing; Alliance did the same thing in the lightweight division with Lucas Lepri and Michael Langhi. Could you talk about that phenomenon a little bit? How that works, and how those decisions are made?

Flavio Almeida: It’s interesting that you’re asking that because a lot of my students are asking me the same thing, “Why didn’t you guys fight?” I think it’s just a tradition inside BJJ not to do it. Even though I see it changing a bit, it’s really up to the fighters whether they want to approach it. Because in Brazil, we used to train every day together. Some of our best friends were our friends from the mats. The competition environment was so wild and so aggressive that it was impossible to think about you fighting your own friend. I think these days the sport is growing and becoming much more professional. I think the vibe between competitors is positive, so I totally see that changing in the future. That’s more how I see the situation now. What happened to me is that Tussa is a very close friend of mine. We work together. I help him as much as I can in managing his school and everything, with all the challenges he has being the Gracie Barra regional director for the state of New Mexico. It would be weird for me to fight him. I talk to the guy very often. And we train together. More than that, as soon as I came off the mats after winning the semifinals against Rafael Lovato Jr., somebody said to me, “How’s it gonna be in the finals?” And I said “Tussa can keep the first place”, because I wanted to avoid any weird situation. But second of all, for me competition is a hobby. And Tussa is younger than me and he is in a stage in his career that he is looking for accomplishments on the mats. For me I would love to be the Pan-American champion but it’s not my priority. And I know that thing is important for him. So I just let him keep the first and I kept the second. For me I had accomplished everything that I went for that day, so that’s pretty much how I made that decision.

Caleb: It’s totally reasonable and understandable, especially the way you explained it. And the other thing that you could say is that the Mundials are coming up in an intra-team match going right into the Mundials.

Flavio Almeida: Yeah.

Caleb: On the other hand I think it’s like you said, that as the sport becomes a little bit more professional, or reaches a level where the audience grows to a point where they’re going to require that those matches happen and expect that those matches happen because they probably paid to get in and see the best fight the best.

Flavio Almeida: Caleb let me give you an example. In Abu Dhabi 2007 Romulo Barral and I clashed in the semifinals. And there, we’re not only talking about being professional but we’re talking about a prize of $10,000, you know?

Caleb: Yeah!

Flavio Almeida: It’s not an amateur event anymore. I remember Rominho [short for Romulo – Caleb] saying before, “Man, we’re going to have to fight!” And I said, “Man Rominho we’re friends and we train together but this is professional. I’ll do my best, you do your best, and we’re going to laugh about whatever happens in the end, you know?” And he said, “Yeah, yeah!” So I totally see the sport going more towards what happened in 2007 between Rominho and I than what happened with me and Tussa this weekend.

Caleb: Let’s look forward a little bit. The next big thing on the radar for a lot of our listeners (and for myself and Dan I know I speak for us) is the 2009 BJJ Mundials. A lot of the competitors we saw in last year’s Mundials we did not see at the Pan-Ams just now. Which is normal; if people are going to chose to do an event they’re going to World Championships. Do you know if we’re going to see folks like Braulio Estima and Roger Gracie at the Mundials?

Flavio Almeida: Well Braulio is here and he said that he will. He confirmed to me that he will [compete in the Mundials] but he might get injured or something might happen, but it’s in his plans to be here. Last time I spoke with Roger was last year he said that it doesn’t matter what happens, that if he’s not injured he’s always going to be competing in the Worlds forever. So I’m assuming that both of them will be here. And I know Romulo Barral will be there. So most of the best guys from Gracie Barra will be competing for sure.

Caleb: That’s exciting. Very cool. I know our listeners will look forward to that. I mean we have the potential for another big rematch right? Xande Ribeiro has stated that he’ll be there of course.

Flavio Almeida: Yeah. I am looking forward to it man. For us at Gracie Barra we still did not swallow Roger losing to Xande last year. It’s hard. Really hard. Because we know what Roger does with us on the mats. He makes all of us feel and look like white belts. Even the guys that go well against Xande like Romulo Barral and Braulio, [Roger] gets these guys and he only plays with these guys. So to see Xande beating him in the finals of the absolute division of the Worlds was hard to accept. But I think Xande has all the merits and let’s see what’s going to happen in a few months! [laughs]

Dan: Flavio what is it that makes Roger Gracie so tough? We’ve talked about it a couple of times in different shows, but as somebody who has trained with him, what are some of the things that make him so tough?

Flavio Almeida: The problem with Roger Gracie, I mean the problem for me with Roger is that I think his jiu-jitsu is as good and effective as Cobrinha‘s, but he is three times the guy’s size. [laughs] He’s got a lightweight jiu-jitsu game and techniques, but he’s 110 kilos and is six-foot-whatever, I mean he is huge! The fact that he is so long… he swallows you! When he is on top, it’s like a blanket being thrown on top of you and you can’t get out of that thing, you know? And all the things that you use that work on people – like your butterfly guard or whatever – he melts on top of you and he doesn’t even move, and he’s so heavy!

Dan: [laughs]

Flavio Almeida: You’re used to sweeping someone or maybe in a certain position you sweep everybody, and then you go with Roger and he doesn’t move an inch! And his grips, he can get your gi and rip it off, even a brand new gi. And what else… His takedowns are amazing. They are much better than they look in the tournaments. And then he closes the guard on you and once again he swallows you. Whatever you do he’s always a few steps ahead. On top of that, he’s always in amazing shape. So he doesn’t get tired. And he has a very aggressive approach to training. “Aggressive” in a good sense: he’s always looking for submissions. He gives anybody hell. [laughs]

Caleb: That sounds really unpleasant. [laughs]

Flavio Almeida: It is unpleasant but it’s fun, and very humbling. You might feel like the most powerful person in the world, like your jiu-jitsu is great and you’re doing good against everybody, and then you go with Roger and you see that there’s so much for you to learn and understand about jiu-jitsu.

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