FORT HOOD, Texas (July 29, 2012) -- It's time to make more room in the Fort Hood trophy case.
The III Corps Combatives Team added to its 2010 and 2011 titles by winning the 2012 U.S. Army Combatives Championship, July 28, at Fort Hood, this time in a come-from-behind effort, passing 3rd Infantry Division of Fort Stewart, Ga., on the final day of competition.
III Corps relied on its tournament-high eight fighters in the finals -- five in third-place bouts and three in championship bouts. The next highest finals fighter count was four, tallied by three different teams -- Fort Carson, Colo.; Fort Bragg, N.C.; and Fort Stewart.
Knowing the importance of head-to-head bouts against Fort Stewart, III Corps' Staff Sgt. Aaron Riley went right after his flyweight opponent -- Pfc. Joshua Young, Fort Stewart -- in the third-place bout, one that turned out to be a slugfest.
Jarrod Clontz, coach for III Corps, knew the match was going to be pivotal coming into the night.
"I said, 'Riley, I not only need you to win this match, I need a stoppage,'" Clontz told Riley before his bout. "'I need you to knock him out or submit him, and I can accept nothing less, and I need you to come through for me.'"
Riley and Young battled in a fight Clontz described as "rock 'em, sock 'em robots," as Young landed the bout's first heavy blow.
"In a bit of honesty, I don't remember being hit and put on the ground," Riley said. "When I came to and had the realization of what was going on, I was on my back. I thought he took me down. I had to be told later on that I got hit, and put down."
Riley said he managed to stay composed on the ground, relying on his never-give-up attitude to push him through the fight.
"You don't want to let people down," he said of the pressure going into the fight. "We're in our home base here, this is Fort Hood, people are watching you fight for Fort Hood, and there's so much riding on your victory, and specifically on my fight, because we were fighting Fort Stewart."
Riley's win via referee stoppage, combined with teammate Spc. Larry Jackson's victory in the third-place bout at the bantamweight division to open the night, gave III Corps the lead, one that they would never relinquish.
In the first-place bouts, Fort Carson wrestled their way up the ranking to take third overall with a string of championship performances in the middle weight classes -- Staff Sgt. Glenn Garrison, lightweight; 1st Lt. Matthew Kyler, welterweight; and Capt. Jon Anderson, middleweight.
Both Garrison and Kyler earned victories via judge's decision, each defeating a III Corps fighter -- Staff Sgt. Shane Lees and 2nd Lt. Nick Shafer, respectively -- while Anderson submitted his opponent, Pfc. Vincent Fairbairn, Fort Stewart, in the first round.
At the light heavyweight division, Sgt. 1st Class James Stelly, 5th Special Forces Group, joined an exclusive group of combatives competitors, winning his third All-Army title -- his previous two in 2005 and 2011. Tim Kennedy, now a staff sergeant in the National Guard, and Staff Sgt. Brandon Sayles, a current instructor at the Army Combatives School at Fort Benning, Ga., are the other two fighters to accomplish such a feat.
Stelly found himself in hot water in the early on his bout, falling to the ground after a heavy right hand from Spc. Carlie Williams, Fort Drum, N.Y.
"I kind of just went back to my instincts," Stelly said of how he kept his composure. "He hit me, and I turned from a Level 4 to a Level 1, and I just achieved the clinch. That's all that was going through my mind, 'you're not going to knock me out.'"
Stelly recovered nicely, eventually gaining a side mount, working for an arm-bar submission. Williams successfully broke the arm-bar loose, but wasn't able to withstand Stelly's next submission attempt.
"I got position, I knew that I'm a lot safer on the ground -- it's where I'm comfortable," the jiu-jitsu black belt said. "So when I got the rear mount, I got my forearm in there -- and it's hard to choke with those gloves on -- but I snaked it in there, and eventually I got him."
Stelly called being a three-time champion a blessing.
"Just to be alongside Tim Kennedy as two of the best guys, maybe, to be in the All-Army tournament, I really consider myself lucky."
Despite crowning no individual champion, III Corps' overall team depth proved pivotal to success, with all five III Corps fighters fighting for third place earning victories, including Sgt. Phil Platt's decision over Spc. Hobert Wilmotf, 5th Special Forces Group, which was dubbed the "Fight of the Night."
Kris Perkins, the director of Fort Hood's combatives program, said the team's success went beyond the eight fighters competing in the finals, and even the 16 fighters competing in the tournament.
"At the end there were a lot more than 16 people in the cage," Perkins said, describing the celebration with the Lacerda Cup, the trophy awarded to the tournament's top team. "I had four people per weight class training for three months. They deserve this win just as much as anyone who competed."
He added, "As iron sharpens iron, one man sharpens another."
III Corps -- 441 points
Fort Stewart -- 407 points
Fort Carson -- 365 points
Championship Fight: Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Mejil (Fort Sill) defeated Spc. Sean Stebbins (Minnesota National Guard) with a submission in the first round.
3rd-place Fight: Spc. Larry Jackson (Fort Hood) defeated Sgt. Robert Mitchell (Fort Bragg) by judge's decision after three rounds.
Championship Fight: Staff Sgt. Francisco Mercado (Fort Bragg) was awarded first-place after an injury forfeit from Sgt. 1st Class William Haggerty (Fort Bragg).
3rd-place Fight: Staff Sgt. Aaron Riley (Fort Hood) vs. Pfc. Joshua Young (Fort Stewart) after referee stoppage in the first round.
Championship Fight: Staff Sgt. Glenn Garrison (Fort Carson) defeated Staff Sgt. Shane Lees (Fort Hood) by judge's decision after three rounds.
3rd-place Fight: Sgt. Jesse Hertzog (Fort Bragg) vs. Spc. Blaze Schubert (Fort Campbell) after referee stoppage in the first round.
Championship Fight: 1LT Matthew Kyler (Fort Carson) defeated 2nd Lt. Nick Shafer (Fort Hood) by judge's decision after three rounds.
3rd-place Fight: Sgt. Philip Platt (Fort Hood) defeated Spc. Hobert Wilmotf (5th Special Forces Group) by judge's decision after three rounds.
Championship Fight: Capt. Jon Anderson (Fort Carson) defeated Pfc. Vincent Fairbairn (Fort Stewart) with a submission in the first round.
3rd-place Fight: Capt. Jason Norwood (Fort Hood) defeated Tech Sgt. Christopher Davis (Joint Base Lewis McChord) after referee stoppage in the third round.
Championship Fight: 1st Lt. Daniel Midgett (5th Special Forces Group) defeated Staff Sgt. Ashten Richardson (Korea) after referee stoppage in the first round.
3rd-place Fight: Spc. Austin Avela (Fort Stewart) defeated Staff Sgt. Patrick Miller (Fort Benning) in an exhibition bout with a submission in the first round. Miller was awarded third place after a forfeit by Staff Sgt. Andrew McLauchlan (Fort Stewart).
Championship Fight: Sgt. 1st Class James Stelly (5th Special Forces Group) defeated Spc. Carlie Williams (Fort Drum) with a submission in the first round.
3rd-place Fight: Sgt. Jose Espinosa (Fort Hood) defeated Spc. Julio De la Cruz (Fort Leonard Wood) with a submission in the third round.
Championship Fight: Spc. Nathaniel Freeman (Fort Stewart) defeated Sgt. Jason Reyes (Fort Hood) after referee stoppage in the second round.
3rd-place Fight: Staff Sgt. Lonnie Kincaid (Fort Riley) defeated Sgt. 1st Class William Smith (Fort Carson) after referee stoppage in the first round.