Last weekend I competed at the Pan American Championship in Irvine. The Pan Ams is my favorite annual competition. It’s the only international competition in the U.S. where the entire competition team can participate in; from Juvenile to Master and White to Black Belt. It’s the first competition of the year where I focus all my efforts into being as well prepared as possible beforehand and give it my all when the Referee starts the match… usually.
My strategy going into my first match was to stay on top with either a takedown or letting my opponent pull guard, and then go for the pass. The Master’s divisions are short matches so I wanted to score first and be in the position to ride out the clock and work for Mount or submissions from Side Control.
I’m stretching in the bullpen, taking in the atmosphere of the building. The bullpen is a mix of tension with the fighters waiting to be called for their fights and elation with winning or being done for the competitors who already fought. The ring coordinator calls my name and my opponents and we follow him to our mat. I’m warm, I feel good, and I’m ready. The referee calls us out and I run on to the mat, bow, slap hands and fist-bump. It’s on.
My opponent is careful to engage, and we spend a couple minutes dancing around until I chase him down. We make grips and he pulls to an open guard. “Perfect!” I think. And this is pretty much where the entire match takes place. I feel good with my base and every time he tries to unbalance me I hold strong and ride it out. He has a good grip and Spider Guard on my left arm, but every time I try break it or get in a position to break it, he off-balances me and I have to focus on my base. There were a few instances where I broke the grips or he let go and I was moving and working my passes and then he’d get his grips again and we’d be right back in the same Spider Guard.
I’m watching the clock tick down to zero with the score tied at 0 points, 0 advantages, and 0 penalties. I’m thinking it would be foolish to try something risky to earn an advantage. I was on top and more active. I was more offensive and closer to a pass then he ever was to a sweep. All I had to do was not get scored on and there was only 10 seconds left. My opponent tried extending me one last time, but I stayed low and kept my weight back.
Time ended and we fixed our Gi’s. The referee held our arms and I took a deep breath. He raised my opponent’s arm and I turned away. I shook my opponent’s hand and congratulated him. I bowed to the Referee, thanked him for the job he had done and walked off the matt. I couldn’t believe it. How could I have not earned the decision win?
Well, I let the fight end with a tied score. Was the referee wrong with his decision? No, of course not. They don’t want to make the decision; they want you to score and make it clear that you won. It didn’t have to be in the last 10 seconds, but at some point in a 5 minute match you have to at least score an advantage. Otherwise there is nothing to have hard feelings about, other than your own performance.
What is the referee looking for in those situations? It’s completely subjective, yet completely justified. Every loss is a learning lesson and this isn’t the first decision that resulted in a loss for me, which is why I thought I had won. The lesson I take from it now is that it’s a coin-flip, in terms if you agree with the decision or not. They have their reasons and I’m sure if you ask, most will tell you why they ruled that way… after the fact.