FORT HOOD, Texas, July 21, 2011 -- Soldiers from around the globe swarmed to Central Texas to compete in the 2011 U.S. Army Combatives Championship at Abrams Physical Fitness Center here July 21, 2011.

This is the first time the U.S. Army Combatives Championship has been hosted outside of Fort Benning, Ga., since its inception in 2004. It is being hosted here because the III Corps sqad took last year’s championship squad.

“The number of competitors is equal to when Fort Benning hosts, so there is no loss of competition with Fort Hood hosting,” said Kristopher Perkins, Combatives director, III Corps. “The 36th Engineers Brigade and the Fort Benning field house staff have put in a lot of work into making this a success. Overall, this [tournament] is going really smoothly.”

This year, 410 Soldiers came to fight, hailing from as close as Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio to as far away as Vicenza, Italy.

“It’s not the distance, but the competition that matters,” said Lt. Col. Bo Stuart, Team United States Army Garrison Vicenza, a middle-weight competitor. “We’re mostly paratroopers at Vicenza and so we’re all pretty competitive. We’ve brought the best."

Vicenza Garrison held their own combatives tournament from which they selected 14 of their best competitors to head to Texas.

“We’re looking good, and we’re from one of the smallest posts competing in the event,” Stuart said. “I love it.”

The tournament features eight weight classes, from bantamweight at 110 pounds and under (for males) to heavyweight 206 and over (males), to ensure competitors have a fighting chance in their respective weight class.

In addition, the event is a non-gender specific tournament, which will pit males against females in their respective weight classes. Thirty-four female Soldiers are participating in this male-dominated tournament.

Females are allowed additional weight in each weight class, to allow an even pairing against their male counterparts.

“There is a 12 percent weight advantage for females,” said Staff Sgt. James Hanson, chief trainer for the U.S. Army Combatives School at Fort Benning.

Specialist Viktoriya Varpakhovich is competing as a flyweight. The Fort Wadsworth, N.Y., competitor won her first bout by submission.

“I heard a crack when I did the arm bar,” she said. “I hope she is alright, but I really didn’t want to lose.”

Varpakhovich entered without a team, without the support, encouragement and coaching a team provides. In addition, Varpakhovich is new to the combatives community. Despite having only finished Combatives level 2 in May, with minimal martial arts training outside of the military, the flyweight is determined to compete among the best the Army has to offer.

“I just started doing combatives this year and I took a little Jui Jitsu, as well,” Varpakhovich said. “I’ll enjoy the experience even if I lose. I wanted to fight a guy (first) since it would be more of a challenge.”

She lost her next match, by submission, to 2010 flyweight champion 1st Lt. David Mason from the III Corps squad.

The fighters will compete under basic rules on the first day, progress to intermediate rules on the second day and finalists will fight under advanced rules, mimicking mixed martial arts competitions most sports fans are familiar with from television.

The tournament is not about mimicking MMA events, Hanson said. Instead, it’s about showing off Soldiers’ combat prowess.

“Everybody looks at the U.S. Army Combatives Championship and thinks MMA,” Hanson said. “However, these Soldiers practice in full gear. Everything they do here, they can do on the battlefield.”

The winners of each weight class will be awarded a champion belt. The team with the most points will earn an engraved marker on the United States Army Championship Combatives Tournament Staff Sgt. Pedro Lacerda Cup.

Semifinal matches will be held July 22. Championship and third place consolation bouts will be held July 23.