FORT BENNING, Ga. (Army News Service, March 21, 2011) -- Soldiers from the state of Minnesota were a dominating presence at the fourth annual Army National Guard Combatives Tournament March 19 and 20, where they took four first-place titles in addition to walking away with the overall team award.

Soldiers from 18 states competed in the two-day competition at Fort Benning, Ga., in a grand prix-style tournament that escalated from no-strike grappling rounds to full-contact Ultimate Fighting Championship-style finals.

"You really need to be creative do to this kind of fighting," said Staff Sgt. Vincent Cruz, the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the tournament and a level-four Modern Army Combatives instructor.

Cruz, a Guam National Guard Soldier assigned to the Warrior Training Center at Fort Benning, competed in the 2009 competition himself, taking the cruiser-weight title. Now as an instructor, Cruz said he's helped train many of the Soldiers who participate in the tournament, and explained that the best way to prepare is to spend time learning several different styles of fighting.

Cruz also said each state has a different method of sending fighters to the national tournament: some have preliminary competitions, while others simply nominate those who show interest. This year, each state was allowed to send two fighters in each weight class, for a total of 95 fighters at the start of the tournament.

For Sgt. Josh Fridgen of Minnesota, who secured the lightweight title by subduing Spc. Benjamin Keen with an arm bar, winning was a team effort.

"It's the first time I've gotten first place, so it feels good," Fridgen said. "But the big one is the team trophy, and bringing it back to Minnesota."

Fridgen, who earned his place in the national tournament by proving to be one of the top competitors in his state, has been competing in Army combatives since 2006. Training outside the Army in martial arts since 2002, and focusing mostly on the Japanese-Brazilian fusion discipline Jiu-Jitsu, he also helps coach other fighters on his team.

As the competition moved on, however, Fridgen realized he'd have to fight one of his own team members for the lightweight title.

"At the end of the day, if you can drink a beer together, you'll be fine," Fridgen said of fighting his teammate.

Another Minnesota fighter, Staff Sgt. Braden Simonet, swung his way to the heavy- weight trophy. In a high-paced and furious bout complete with brutal take-downs, ripped shirts, and blood dripping from both competitor's faces, Simonet won via technical knockout when his opponent was no longer able to defend himself.

"It was the most intense fight I've had in a long, long time," Simonet said.

Simonet, who has trained in Jiu-Jitsu since 1999, started traditional wrestling at 11 years old.

He explained that as a ground fighter, he had focused namely on Jiu-Jitsu before the All-Army combatives, where he was disappointed with his performance. This time while in training, Simonet incorporated more fighting styles into his regimen, and came out on top.

"It's outstanding," he said of his win. "I've worked really hard the last few months."

Simonet actually tapped out in submission to his opponent at the end of the first round. But in a twist of luck, his tap came seconds after time in the round was up.

However, details about the fight were a little fuzzy for Simonet.

"As soon as you get punched in the face, you forget everything else," he said.

Other first-place winners were:

Flyweight - Spc. Jacob Shomer, Minn.

Welterweight - Pvt. Dalton Toombs, Mo.

Middleweight - Sgt. Cody Lincoln, Minn.

Cruiserweight - Staff Sgt. Autoneil Magny, Ill.

Light-heavyweight - 1st Lt. Ivan Lotchkolovsky, Ill.