Respect 1 - Recap
Professional jiu-jitsu debuted in St. Louis on Saturday to much approval.
Respect 1 featured 15 jiu-jitsu matches at the hyper-cool Kemp Auto Museum in Chesterfield. The bouts took place on an elevated stage as a mostly seated and studied crowd looked on.
The BJJ enthusiasts braved six inches worth of snow-covered roads to witness the first of what appears to be a series of events in the ever-growing sport.
An appreciative audience applauded takedowns, sweeps, and guard passes as if they were overhand rights and uppercuts in MMA.
The card was highlighted by three of St. Louis' most well-known black belts, Kyle Watson, Ezra Lenon, and JW Wright, each of which brought something different to the table. Watson displayed tactical brilliance and superior positioning, Lenon was hyper-aggressive and never stopped looking for the finish, and Wright displayed his trademark elusiveness and cat-like quickness.
Promoter Patrick Smith knew early on that Saturday wasn't going to be a one off night.
"There's no roof. I think it's the beginning of big things," Smith said. "The crowd seems excited about it and I think those guys nailed it out there. We have a lot of kinks to work out but it's only going to get bigger and better."
Smith and Wright teamed up to put on the show. Wright was a man of many hats. Not only was he juggling roles behind the scenes, but cornering several fighters, and closing out the show against Renato Tavares.
All night the fans embraced the evenings theme of Respect.
"They love the venue and they know what they're watching," Smith said. "Very educated fans here and it's nice to see. I'm a newbie here too and it's great."
Tyler Bishop, of BishopBJJ.com and himself a black belt under Wright, anchored commentary for a Google stream of the festivities.
"I though the event was awesome," Bishop said. "The venue plus the platform, the matches, it exceeded my wildest expectations."
The all gi matches consisted of one 7-minute round with no advantages and bouts could be won with any legal submission or by points. The rules made for crisp, clean night of action.
"I love the rapid pacing of it," Bishop said. "One thing I don't like, and other people may feel different, is in MMA shows things can take some time. This was one right after the other. If you love jiu-jitsu this was great."
The night began with all 30 grapplers taking the mat in their gi's for the national anthem.
Over the course of a couple of hours most of the matches took place over a revered silence. The occasional chirp from a coach or the whirl of camera were the sounds as all attention was on the mat.
"I would have to whisper into the microphones," Bishop said. "You think about the old Pride days and how the Japanese people were and something about that is really special."
Of the St. Louis-area competitors, Lenon, Watson, and Nick Sanders had standout performances in the black belt division. In all there were eight black belt matches. The MMA sector was represented with the likes of Kirk Huff, Vince Eazelle, and Zach Freeman.
"I know a lot of the competitors and everybody played their game exactly the way I see them playing," Bishop said. "The guy who drug the other guy into their game is the guy who won in every single match."
Respect 2 is being eye-balled for some time over the summer.
"Jiu jitsu guys are just so laid back. They're great." Smith said. "I love working with them. These guys are pure class and I'm excited to see the next one. It's going to be big."
Renato Tavares def. JW Wright
Ezra Lenon def. Joao Faria
Kyle Watson def. Piet Wilhelm
Nick Sanders def. Shawn Hammonds
Roli DelGado def. Jason Bircher
Mark Vives vs. Shawn Wood (injury default)
Mark Commean def Mike Cimm
Mike Harris def. Jeff Serafin
Josh Littleton def. Brian Stuebner
Nick Schrock def. Ilya Bodnya
Zach Freeman def. Jon Perrine
Clay Mayfield def. Chadd Vogt
Kirk Huff def. Joey Walters
Drew Hill def Vince Eazelle
Andrew Wiltse def. Teody Lopez
Photo courtesy of Karl Lund Photography