By Vince Little, The BayonetMarch 23, 2011
FORT BENNING, Ga. - More than 90 fighters turned out for the fourth annual Army National Guard Combatives Tournament - and Minnesota continued to make its mark on the sport.
On the strength of four individual champions in seven weight classifications, the state collected 293 points to capture its first team trophy. Two-time winner Illinois (273) had another strong showing to finish well ahead of third-place Missouri (96).
This year's event, again hosted by Fort Benning's Warrior Training Center, shifted from Briant Wells Fieldhouse to the Santiago Fitness Center on Sand Hill. Striking was limited in Saturday's preliminary rounds, but the cage returned Sunday for the consolation and finals bouts, where the Soldiers battled in three 5-minute rounds using advanced techniques.
Minnesota's title comes on the heels of a fourth-place showing at the U.S. Army Combatives Tournament here last fall.
Braden Simonet sealed the squad's Army National Guard championship with a victory over South Carolina's John Bryant in the heavyweight final, but the win wasn't without some controversy.
Bryant bloodied Simonet in Round 1 as the two traded punches and each scored thunderous takedowns. In the final seconds, he locked in an arm bar and Simonet tapped out, but the referee determined it came just after the bell sounded.
But Simonet rallied in the second round. He quickly gained an advantage up against the cage on the mat and landed a barrage of blows to score a technical knockout.
Afterward, Simonet said he was a little baffled by what happened at the end of the opening round.
"I was surprised when he said I was saved by the bell," he said. "I heard the bell ring and (Bryant) let go of the arm bar, but (the referee) didn't stop it. Guess I was saved by the bell there."
Simonet, a Level 2 combatives performer, made it to the sixth round at last year's Army Combatives Championship but had never appeared in the Army National Guard tournament.
"That was the most intense fight I've had in a long, long time," he said of the final. "As soon as you get punched in the face, you forget about everything else. It's hard for it not to turn into a bar brawl ... but you're not out there to hurt each other, just to make 'em quit.
"That's the great thing about Army combatives. We look out for each other."
Minnesota and Illinois were so dominant throughout the tournament that their fighters had to face teammates in three of Sunday's championship matches - at lightweight, cruiserweight and light heavyweight.
"It's a little strange ... but at the end of the day, if you can drink a beer together, everything's fine," said Minnesota's Josh Fridgen, who applied an arm bar on teammate Benjamin Keen to force a second-round submission and claim the lightweight championship. "We had a good fight. It was back and forth the whole way."
Fridgen said he was one of two Minnesota National Guard members who competed in the 2006 U.S. Army Combatives Tournament at Fort Benning. He was the lightweight runner-up in that event, but the team's fortunes have since changed dramatically.
"It feels good for me to win - it's nice, it's rewarding," Fridgen said, "but the big one was getting that team trophy. To bring it back to Minnesota is really sweet."
The field of 91 Soldiers was slightly lower than 2010's record number of entries. But the competition grows more intense as the talent pool gets deeper, said Maj. Brian Deaton, officer in charge of the tournament and commander of the Warrior Training Center's A Company.
"I can see the level of proficiency go up each year," he said. "You can tell they train hard back in their states to get ready for this tournament."
TOP GUARD FIGHTERS
A look at the top teams (with point totals) and individual finishers by weight classification in the fourth annual Army National Guard Combatives Tournament, held Saturday and Sunday at Santiago Fitness Center on Fort Benning:
1) Minnesota - 293
2) Illinois - 273
3) Missouri - 96
1) Jacob Schommer, Minnesota
2) Ryan Taniguchi, Hawaii
3) Erik Cabral-Garibay, Minnesota
1) Josh Fridgen, Minnesota
2) Benjamin Keen, Minnesota
3) Adrian Bojorquez, Minnesota
1) Dalton Toombs, Missouri
2) Bernie Williamson, Minnesota
3) Michael Rowe, Washington
1) Cody Lincoln, Minnesota
2) Adam Therriault, Illinois
3) Nicholas Grant, Illinois
1) Aoutneil Magny, Illinois
2) Aaron West, Illinois
3) Matt Jukkala, Minnesota
1) Ivan Iotchkolovsky, Illinois
2) Jeremy Stimac, Illinois
3) Staff Sgt. Brian Friedrichs, Minnesota
1) Braden Simonet, Minnesota
2) John Bryant, South Carolina
3) Jeremy Christenson, Alaska