This is part-two if a two-part series.

The nerves didn’t hit until I walked into the Las Vegas Sports Center for Friday night weigh-ins. As I looked around the large event center, I spotted numerous UFC fighters, world champion grapplers, cauliflower ears, Mohawks, and tattoos (and of course scantily clad fighter groupies). Intimidation set in even more as I sized up my competition during the tense weigh-in process. The next day, some of these fighters would be my opponents with full intentions of breaking my arm or choking me unconscious! Negative thoughts started to flood my mind. Had I trained hard enough? Was my skill level ready for a tournament of this caliber? I quickly pushed these thoughts out of my head when I recalled one of my favorite Arnold Schwarzenegger quotes: “The mind is the limit. As long as the mind can envision the fact that you can do something, you can do it, as long as you really believe 100 percent.” My confidence was immediately boosted.

I really thought that it was likely that none of the other fighters had trained half as hard as I did. Then I started to think that maybe I could win my class in Grappler’s Quest. Wait, I will win Grappler’s Quest. As I waited in line for the scale, I quietly said “Jesse Cohen: Grappler’s Quest champion” to myself repeatedly until I started to believe it. I weighed in with a confident (maybe even cocky) smirk on my face feeling sorry for anyone who had to fight me the next day. They were going to lose.

After successfully making weight, we (my dad, my teammate, and I) journeyed next door to a Chipotle burrito restaurant. The post weigh-in meal is one of the greatest meals one will ever eat. Weeks of strict dieting, days of water and sodium restriction, and hours in a sauna trying to sweat excess pounds had left me thirsty, hungry, and very irritable. Driving past the Chipotle on the way to weigh-ins was pure torture, but tasting the gigantic burritos afterward was heaven. After devouring two chicken burritos, a gallon of water, and some Gatorade, I retired with my travel companions to the hotel.

I didn’t sleep very well on Friday night. A combination of anticipation, anxiety, and adrenaline kept my mind in turmoil as I dozed in and out of consciousness before finally rising around 7:00 am. After a carbohydrate filled breakfast, we headed to the Sports Center around 9:00 am. Little did we know that we were about to have a very long day.

With the stands beginning to fill and most of the fighters arriving, my teammate Travis and I found some space on a practice mat and began to warm up. After breaking a sweat, we headed back to our seats where I put my headphones on, listening to heavy metal as I started to get mentally prepared. All that was left was to wait for my name to be called before my first victim would be sent home a loser. I wound up waiting all day.

At 7:00 pm, after 12 hours of fitfully waiting and multiple warm-ups, I finally heard the announcement calling all men’s welterweight Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighters to check in at mat number two immediately. As they posted the bracket, I saw that I was lucky enough to have a first round, which gave me a chance to get loose again. The last time that I had warmed up was around 5:00 pm, after waking up from an hour nap. I stretched and studied each fighter as I watched the first round and selected three fighters who I thought I might meet in the championship.

Finally, after seven long weeks of training camp, four weeks of rehab, and dozens of hours spent in the gym, I heard the words that I had been yearning for—“Jesse Cohen of Zingano Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, please enter mat number two.”

I stepped on the mat without hearing my opponent’s name. I saw a patch on his pants showing that he was fighting out of Arizona. He was nowhere near as muscular as me and had an anxious look in his eyes. “Easy first fight,” I thought to myself.

He was better than I had anticipated, as he blocked my first two takedown attempts. I quickly clinched and pulled guard, as I just wanted to get the fight to the ground. Once we were on the ground, I locked in tight head and wrist control, allowing me to rest and regain my composure. It was incredibly loud in the arena, but I could still hear his corner yelling advice.

“Get your posture!”

“When he re-guards, pass!”

“Watch for the arm bar!”

I looked at the clock. One minute down, four to go. “Time to start scoring some points,” I thought.

I loosened my grip just enough to see how he was controlling his body and posture. He had decent body position, meaning any submission attempt that I tried would be risky because he was blocking my legs from an arm bar or triangle choke. However, I noticed that he was postured further back than he should be, making it an ideal time to start my offense. As I opened my guard, he started to stand up, allowing me to easily sweep him onto his back. After a quick scramble, he tried to re-guard, but I was too fast for him. I quickly passed his open guard, earning two points for the sweep and three points for side control.

Without hesitation, I garnered six more points as I transitioned to the knee-on-belly position (three points) and full mount (three points). I glanced again at the scoreboard. I was up 11–0 with about two minutes to fight. I felt my lead was comfortable enough that I could start attempting various submission attempts. Sure enough, as he tried to push me off, he left his arm in the open, and I temporarily secured a tight arm-triangle submission. I returned to side control, earning three more points as I worked on choking him unconscious with his own arm. He was able to defend my submission attempt because I didn’t have ideal hip position to finish the choke, but he gave up his back in the defense. I scored four more points as I locked down full back control and glanced at the clock again. I was now leading 17–0 with thirty seconds left.

As he squirmed underneath me, I locked my legs around him even tighter and rested. The bell finally sounded, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Not only did I just win my first fight at Grappler’s Quest, but I had absolutely dominated my opponent. I looked in the crowd and saw my dad glowing with pride. I was so happy I had to restrain myself from jumping up with joy. However, my euphoria didn’t last long. As I walked off the mat, the referee informed me that I had about two minutes until my next fight.

I drank some water and made a mental note to thank my team for pushing me so hard during training camp. My conditioning felt phenomenal. I was sweating a little, but my heart rate felt like it was still under 100 beats per minute after my first fight. I walked back to the mat to meet my next opponent. It was the tall, San Diego-based fighter I had picked as the number one contender who I would meet in the championship. He had beaten his first two opponents in under a minute, and I knew right away that the winner of our semi-final match would win the championship. We shook hands and started fighting.

He immediately shot in for a takedown, but I was able to sprawl and trap him in tight head and arm control. As soon as we returned to our feet, I tightened my grip and threw him to the ground, landing in side control. In the first twenty seconds, I was already up five points. I relaxed and started to work my offense. I couldn’t get a strong position on him, and he was able to pull guard, where he started to work some submission attempts. After a failed attempt, we both started to scramble.

I then made the fatal mistake. Instead of pulling guard and remaining five points ahead, I took an ill-advised, lackadaisical single leg takedown shot, which he easily stuffed before taking my back. As he worked for different positions and chokes, I checked the scoreboard. I was still up 5–4 with two minutes to go. I was calm and defending all of his submission attempts with ease and knew a quick escape would keep me in the lead and place me in a dominant position. In a split second, he trapped my arm with his leg and sunk in a deep, rear naked choke. I entered survival mode, trying frantically to pry his arms off of my neck. The choke became even tighter, and I started to see stars. I had no choice but to tap out.

I felt as if my journey had ended in failure until my dad, my teammate Travis, and a few spectators commended me on a great showing. The positive comments helped boost my spirits, but I was still upset because I would be returning home without the first place finish. I congratulated my opponent on his win and cheered for him as he won his next fight in thirty seconds for the championship.

I began to experience mixed emotions. I proved that I was ready to compete at Grappler’s Quest, yet I had made a stupid mistake that cost me the championship. For comparison, I felt like a quarterback who was playing a near perfect game but throws an interception for a touchdown in the last minute of the game and his team loses. After hearing reaffirming comments from my mom, my coach, and a few of my teammates on the phone, I decided to stop hanging my head. We were in Las Vegas, and I did make it to the semi-finals competing in my first Grappler’s Quest. It was time to celebrate! We went to In-N-Out Burger for a late dinner and then headed back to the hotel to shower and party on the strip.

I no longer feel any shame for losing at Grappler’s Quest. As I reflected on the journey, I realized that I had trained and competed to my full potential and that makes me proud. I didn’t win this tournament, but I can guarantee that I will win championships in the near future. I was incredibly nervous, but that is normal for all athletes while competing in their first, large, athletic event. I reviewed the film with my coach and found mistakes that I had made even during my winning fight, which I have started to correct during training. I’ve already designed my next training camp for the Fight2Win tournament in February.

I hope I meet the fighter who beat me at the Grappler’s Quest in the future. If he’s reading this, this last note is for him:

You submitted me at Grappler’s Quest Las Vegas on December 6, 2008. Congratulations on your win. You deserve it. I will make no excuse for losing. You were the better fighter that day. But cherish your victory over me. It will never happen again. I hope to have a rematch at a future tournament. Just know that I will be training harder, lifting heavier, and winning more tournaments than you. Not winning Grappler’s Quest fuels my fire to train harder and get better every day. You are the reason I did not get my championship. The next time we meet on the mat, you will lose.

Jesse Cohen is a speed and strength coach at Next Level Performance in Golden, Colorado. He can be reached at

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