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North American Freestyle SAMBO Championships journey from Newark to Texas

Peter Lampasona
18 October 2010
North American Freestyle SAMBO Championships journey from Ne...
On November 6, the North American Freestyle SAMBO Championship will officially depart from its prior home in Rahway, New Jersey, and make its first appearance at the Austin Sports Center in Austin, Texas. The location change, according to American SAMBO Association (ASA) president and event organizer Stephen Koepfer, is a product of SAMBO's rising trends in popularity and efforts to expand the nationwide nature of the tournament. “Within the last year or two in the southern US there has been a rise in interest [in SAMBO],” said Koepfer. “We have several new ASA member clubs in Texas.... Guy Mezger's club, Mezger's Combat Sports club, has a SAMBO program. Texas is, next to California, is the hotbed for grappling.”

Koepfer not only credits Texas' love of grappling for the move, but also the ASA's plan to make SAMBO tournaments more accessible across the country.

“We wanted to make the national tournament more national,” Koepfer continued. “We hold it in New Jersey every year and it just becomes an [east coast] thing.”

Depending on attendance of this year's Freestyle SAMBO Championship, the competition may stay in Texas for another year or move to other parts of the country.

Freestyle SAMBO is a set of rules for the Russian martial art invented in the United States with the goal of allowing grapplers from various disciplines and focuses an equal chance to use their skills. The rules set awards a varying number of points for both takedowns and active positional dominance during engagements on the ground.

In the past, freestyle rules have attracted a number of grapplers outside of the SAMBO community. For this year, preregistration numbers are largely from clubs with SAMBO programs. However, Koepfer is expecting as much, if not more, attendance from competitors with other backgrounds.

“There is a standard, mostly due to competitions like Grapplers' Quest, where people pay at the door,” Koepfer explained the preregistration numbers. “It's very tough to gauge a turnout based on preregistration, alone. Based on the requests that I got for [SAMBO specific equipment] I would expect a lot of competition outside of SAMBO. [Particularly] a lot of Judo people who are discouraged by the current state of Judo rules.”

In spite of its recent increase in popularity in grappling circles, SAMBO is still largely only known to the general public as the discipline of origin for some Russian standout MMA athletes like Fedor Emelianenko. Given the lack of main steam knowledge of the sport, promoting a SAMBO tournament is no easy task.

Koepfer credits ASA contact Grant Gilliam for laying the ground work for a successful tournament in a new area. Gilliam is also spearheading the initiative to get the ASA licensed to promote Combat SAMBO, a different rules set that allows both strikes and grappling.

“In the past we've tried placing ads in magazines,” Koepfer discussed promoting a SAMBO event. “Probably the most important thing is to be present in the internet community.”

Koepfer also discussed the possibility of holding a more well known style of no-gi tournament in tandem with the freestyle SAMBO competition in order to attract more people to the event. Koepfer has thus far decided against it, citing that the increase in man hours and preparation needed to create a whole other event would detract from the SAMBO tournament. Koepfer ended simply by saying there were “enough no-gi tournaments” available for those interested.

Tournament sponsor M-1 Global has offered free passes to its December Challenge event in Atlantic City, New Jersey, as a prize for the top submission and throw honors of the tournament. The Freestyle Championship is also sponsored by Submission Control, Kamagon Fitness, and Eclectic Combat Systems.
Last Modified:
18 October 2010

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