Hundreds of Brazilian jiu jitsu competitors and fans packed the Father Duenas Phoenix Center for the 10th Copa de Marianas BJJ tournament. For the first time ever, the Copa featured a women’s black belt division, highlighted by world No. 1 ranked Talita Alencar and including Kristina Barlaan; USA, 2016 European Open Champion, China’s Emma Xiong, the 2017 Brown Belt World Champion and 2015 Purple Belt World Champion and the first female Chinese black belt, Tassia Pimenta from Brazil, who fights out of Gracie Barra Black Belt. “To bring these guys over, it puts Guam on the map. Guam has always competed off island, but in this case, now the world is coming to Guam.” said Fury Promotions owner Steve Shimizu.
The stacked brackets included local favorite MMA stars, Deep Impact heavyweight champ Roque Martinez, Bellator MMA’s J.J. “Superman” Ambrose, the husband and wife team of Mike and Brogan Sanchez, Ryan Bustamante, James Roberto and so many more (see results box on Page 28 for complete results).
Kid or adult, white belt or black, it didn’t matter, the 2017 Copa shined brightly, not only as the region’s premier BJJ event, but it showed the world what the Guam ground game was all about and it was awesome!
Alencar vs. Barlaan
For the top invited female guests world rankings were not on the line, rather, the four femme fatales were battling it out for a winner-take-all $4,000 combined cash prize. On their way to the finals, Alencar worked her way past Xiong, 7-0 in 7:35. Barlaan applied an ankle lock on Pimenta, at the match’s 9:25 mark, forcing the Brazilian to tap.
Besides a whole wad of cash on the line, at stake was the first-ever Copa de Marianas female black-belt belt, and there would be an upset. After 10 minutes of fighting, neither Alencar nor Barlaan could force the other to submit and the fight went to referee’s decision and was awarded to a ‘floating-on-air’ Barlaan.
The two had faced each other two times before in competition, with Alencar coming out on top both times, but not this time. “I’ve lost to her in the finals at pans this year and the semifinals of worlds this year,” shared Barlaan. “Today was my own validation of myself. I’m validating what I’ve always known. I know that I have the ability to beat anyone,” she added.
“I’m so excited. It’s such a big thing being the inaugural champion for the Copa de Marianas female division fifty-five kilos,” rejoiced the California Bay Area-based brawler, of Philippine descent. “My parents are from the Philippines; I actually have some family members I’ve never met before that were here to watch me compete. I didn’t know I had family on Guam, so that’s really cool,” beamed Barlaan.
Seeing herself as her sport’s ambassador, Barlaan hopes that her presence had a positive impact on those in attendance, especially for the young, curious girls on hand. “I’m really hoping that our presence here is enough,” said Barlaan. “It’s really exciting to be part of this community.”
Throughout the bout it appeared that Barlaan was in trouble, several times, especially near the end of the fight, with Alencar having hoisted her up and was applying “the squeeze.” “It doesn’t matter how hard a person is holding me, or how much pressure they’re putting on me, or how fast the pace is, I have it in my head that I’m not going to give up. I’m not going to stop. I’m going to keep going until I get what I want,” said the champ.
J.J. ‘Superman’ Ambrose
In the 181+ adult-gi brown belt division, Spike 22/Steel Athletics’ J.J. “Superman” Ambrose won the gold medal against Purebred Academy’s David Harris. Ambrose also won gold in the adult-no-gi 176-191 weight division, beating teammate Robert Alvarez in the finals. “I’m always happy to see the Guam competition going at this level,” said Ambrose. “It’s really cool that the Marianas Open and the Copa gives us a chance to compete, without having to go off island. Because, as you know, it’s very expensive,” he added.
Ambrose, who recently signed a contract with Bellator and will be making his big-league debut later this year or early next year, sees the Copa as a venue where he can sharpen his skills and compete at a high level locally. “This tournament gives me a chance to shake off some of the rust and it preps me for in-ring jitters I would have in the cage,” said Ambrose.
“In MMA, jiu jitsu is one of the greatest tools you’ll ever need. For the guys that compete in Bellator, UFC, this is what they use to keep their blade sharp,” said Ambrose.
The 2017 Copa de Marianas was presented by 76 / Circle K and sponsored by Bank of Guam, Aloha Maid, Fokai Industries, the Stations of KUAM, Paradise Fitness, Crust Pizzeria, Pacific Solar & Volotaics, Mat’kadot Engravers, The White House | Productions, Affiliated Lifestyles, Shut Up & Fish, Strictly Tees, Café Takoyaki Tama.
This article was originally published on the Guam Daily Post on Oct. 30, 2017. View here.