As I was coming upon the end of another stay in Brazil, I thought it appropriate to visit a new spot, Manaus, which happened to be hosting an IBJJF Open. This was the perfect excuse to head north, try and choke a few likeminded dudes, and see what the Amazon was all about.
The first thing I noticed after stepping off the plane in Manaus was the suffocating heat, it was literally work in and of itself to breath. My initial thoughts then were, this does not bode well for competing. I arrived just 24 hours before I was due on the mats, which was hardly time for my body to acclimatise; I didn’t like the idea of gassing 20 seconds into my first match! The second thing I noticed was how different the people look, facially Manaus’ inhabitants were noticeably different from those of Rio and Sao Paulo. I suppose this shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise to me as Brazil is a whopper of a country. The third thing that struck me after reaching the city centre was it’s similarities to Blackpool. There was excess levels of cheap and tacky stretching as far as the eye could see but in a way that was somehow beautiful and uniquely South American.
The IBJJF in their infinite wisdom did away with a bullpen and had the athletes waiting for their matches on the seating steps at the Sao Paulo Open. It is already bad enough with no matted area trying to warm your body to compete, could you imagine Olympic athletes being told to get themselves warm standing on a set of stairs? Thus the lovely cold slab of concrete to ready ourselves to compete seemed like a real treat here in Manaus.
My fears of gassing were seemingly unfounded. It probably helped that my first match ended up lasting all of thirty seconds after catching a footlock. Like a lot of No-Gi competitions here in Brazil it was a small category, so that was one and done, I had won the gold.
Winning my category gave me an opportunity to compete in the open weight and for the first time ever I beat a super heavy weight. This individual was huge and there was definitely an intimidation factor stepping on the mats to face him. I didn’t want to mess with the possibility of being smashed directly through the mats to the concrete below, so I touched his hand and dropped into guard so quickly my ass went completely dead. He aggressively attempted to pass to the outside of my guard, this allowed me to get underneath him to get the sweep and go straight into a belly down foot-lock. This large gentleman didn’t seem to like the idea of tapping, it got to the point I could feel something begin to tear. I had always wondered if I’d have the ability to keep cranking on something knowing it would break, I discovered today, I would have pulled his foot clean off to beat him. I think dude thought we were fighting Pancrase rules and he’d get his rope break as he pulled himself out of the mats, he obviously hadn’t seen Abraham Marte do the same thing in the worlds. So he was DQed and angrily hobbled of the mats. I didn’t have the same luck against another super heavy weight in the final as I really was punched through the planet with a takedown!
By the time I fought in the kimono late in the afternoon the intensity of the climate began to take it’s toll. In both my matches I relied on trusty old deep half to get me through to take the gold medal. I’m not too proud to admit, I got my sweep and pass and then knowing I was five points ahead sat back and stalled as much as humanly possible to win without vomiting.
To celebrate a successful campaign I spent the next day in the Amazon, which gave me the opportunity to fulfill a childhood fantasy borne out of too many episodes of Mysterious Cities of Gold. Visiting the ‘native’ village was a strange experience, one that felt understandably contrived. It was a village as you would imagine but it felt more like a movie production of a village than one that people actually live in. I did see a pair of ‘UFC’ shorts hanging from a washing line, which shattered any illusion for me. Although stepping into a hut the notion of it being contrived suddenly flew out of the window when a topless women had a large baby attached to one of her ample breasts greedily guzzling.
I also had the opportunity to see a traditional tribal dance, which were both incredibly powerful and mesmerising. Although in this grandiose display of timing and coordinated rhythm, I noticed one of the young men missing everything, he was at least a second behind what his fellow dancers were doing. As someone who had to suffer through year nine music lessons and the shame of performing with no sense of rhythm, I could really empathise with him and felt his pain albeit on a slightly micro level. The look of sheer terror on my face then as I was pulled up to join the dance by one of the females of the tribe. This must honesty be the only situation in which dancing with a underage topless girl is not frowned upon but rather actively encouraged. After some coaxing I was on my feet and got my little moves jumping off obviously out of time with what everyone else was doing. I have never been so ridiculously aware of my own limbs in my life, I didn’t want to accidentally nudge anything. Reflecting on this experience it was incredibly surreal, I danced with a whole lot of naked people in the jungle and treasured every awesome uncoordinated moment of it.
After spending my day in the jungle, I was walking back through town to my hostel when I expectantly happened upon cats battle rapping in the street. I say in the street, we are talking a main road with two lanes of traffic going each way with a central reservation. Half the people were watching from the reservation whilst everyone else was huddled onto the pavement watching the guys battle next to a rudimentary speaker set up. Obviously I only had a basic understanding of what dudes were saying, there was the usual topics ‘you’re gay’, ‘I smashed your chick’ although a new one for me was the accusation of dog molestation.
The guys would battle for two x one minute rounds, if they couldn’t be separated by a crowd vote then they would go an extra round, if there was still a tie then they would go bar for bar. It had a real throwback feel, it felt like a battle from the late nineties / early 00s, everyone was going off the head and guys would get dissed when they were obviously spitting writtens. All the beats that were being laced were grimy shit from the nineties too. Everyone was blazing, it smelt like green and sweat, to give it that authentic hip hop show vibe. Manaus is the hottest, most humid spot I’ve ever visited but you had dudes rocking beanies like it was winter in New York. What you don’t see everyday is a dude battling sporting a pair of crocs and strangely not getting lit up for it. Obviously my phone had died at this point so I didn’t get a chance of provided any evidence of this dopeness.
I had also intended to get a spot of training in whilst I was here but as luck would have it my last day was a national holiday. This actually ended up being a blessing in disguise, I ended up having probably the highlight of my time there in Mindu park. This beautiful chunk of jungle which unfortunately had been somewhat, sullied by the huge amount of waste that people have discarded. Whilst walking along the river bemoaning to myself how I hadn’t really seen any wildlife. Even in the Amazon the only animals I’d witnessed were the docile, drugged up looking creatures that the natives had for the tourists to pay to hold. I rounded a corner and about fifteen feet ahead of me sat on a rock at the side of the river was an alligator. NO barriers to keep him from me, although there was a park ranger on one of the other rocks, I guess to distract the big fella from eating any dumbass tourists who stumbled upon him. This awesome, prehistoric dude looked rather bored and obviously uninterested in any effort to eat the dopey looking gringo grinning at him from the side of the river. After a while lowered himself into the water and swam down stream, it kicked so much ass I was smiling for the next few hours.
I am super happy to have one of Terere’s talented young athletes and my little bro, Gabriel Carvalho, demonstrate one of his favourite transitions, lasso to X-guard sweep which he hits straight into a pass.