Polaris 8 Recap
Polaris Professional wrapped up their 2018 on a high note Sunday night in Wales. As usual, the organization put together a compelling fight card on paper, and the way the matches played out made for an exciting night of grappling.
The event featured big names from the grappling world, but with more representatives from the sub only, and MMA camps, rather than from a points fighting background. Out of the five fights on the main card, viewers were treated to two wins by submission, with the remainder of the bouts decided by judge’s decision. Polaris has a unique way of scoring their bouts; the matches this weekend were 15 minutes of continuous action and judges scored each 5-minute section based on a 10 point must system. Scoring criteria is based on excitement, positional control, and submission attempts and penalties given for passivity, stalling, and poor sportsmanship. I’ve said before that there is no ruleset you can employ that will result in a 100 percent submission rate on any given event, but I find that Polaris has been able to consistently provide exciting matchups under this ruleset.
The event started off with a Gi match between Santeri Lillius vs Pedro Bessa, who have met previously in competition. The match started with some good action as the competitors traded sweeps, but eventually degraded into a 50/50 positional jockeying contest, although Lillius did threaten with a very interesting looking knee bar from there. The Finnish fighter was able to leverage several more modified ankle lock attempts from 50/50 (one of them allegedly breaking Bessa’s foot according to his post-fight interview) to score enough to secure the decision win.
Next up was Imanari vs Nicky Ryan for the featherweight strap. This was a largely technical affair with both combatants trading leg entries and looking to hold the knee line long enough to get a bite on a heel. The guard work from both these guys was lightning quick and really enjoyable to watch, albeit maybe not super viewer friendly to someone who is unfamiliar with the dark arts. Nicky displayed a strong top game too; getting past Imanari’s guard a couple of times and eventually securing back control. From there he worked the hand fighting sequence he and his team are known for and was able to secure the tap via face crank. Nicky is on a tear with 3 consecutive submission wins; in his post-fight interview he called for matches with Gianni Grippo, Bruno Frazzato, or either Miyao brother, but personally I’d like to see him take on John Calestine.
Billed as a “mega weight” bout; the absolute match between Dan Strauss and Satoshi Ishii was a relatively ho-hum affair that ended in decision. Strauss had a great start to the match, attacking with a front headlock and then taking the back very early in the fight, but he wasn’t able to capitalize (citing the strength of Ishii as the reason why he couldn’t make anything happen from the back). Strauss pulled guard and attempted several other guillotine/front headlock attacks, but never really gained any traction against the giant judoka. Ishii (and several members of the audience) unsuccessfully tried to goad Strauss into standing with him, which he elected not to do, much to the chagrin of those in attendance. Strauss ended up winning by split decision. I think he needs to be matched up with somebody who will take the fight to him, I suggest undercard standout and submission machine Fredi Vosgrone as his next opponent.
The next match was to crown the welterweight champion, originally scheduled for Polaris 7 victors Ross Nichols and Oliver Taza. When Taza had to pull out due to injury, Mansher Khera stepped in to fight Nichols. Then Nichols had to pull out due to injury, and Lachlan Giles stepped in to fight Khera. Still with me? Being late replacements, there wasn’t a whole lot of excitement heading into this match. Both guys are skilled grapplers who are fairly active on the professional circuit, but neither have had much success at the highest levels of submission only. The match played out fairly predictably with Munch pressuring from top and Lachlan playing guard looking to get in on the legs. Khera was able to control the position for the majority of the bout, with Lachlan securing a pretty good bite on a heel hook at one point. Khera took the decision here on the strength of his pass attempts and took home the Polaris welterweight belt. One would assume that he’ll have to face either Taza or Nichols as his first defense of that belt, but after the result of the subsequent match on the card, he may have to make other plans.
You know you are in store for a fun, fast paced matchup whenever Benson Henderson is involved. Couple that with the violent elegance of Vagner Rocha, and you have yourself a full-blown barnburner. This was a really compelling matchup on paper and a tough one to predict as both guys like to push the action and practice an “in your face” style of grappling. Vagner surprised a lot of people by coming out and immediately getting in on a single leg on the accomplished MMA star. From there it was a back and forth scramble fest with Vagner getting the better of the exchanges, even taking Henderson’s back a few times. Henderson, who is notoriously difficult to finish, weathered the initial onslaught of the “python challenge”, but as the clock ran out, Vagner was able to generate enough pressure from his face crank to actually begin to put Henderson to sleep, and was able to get the tap before time expired. A super exciting finish to a super exciting match. Vagner used his post-fight interview to campaign for a shot at the welterweight title (even going as far as asserting that he should have been fighting for the title to begin with) looking at his body of work and this most recent performance, it’s hard to argue with that. Give this man a title shot!
The much heralded main event was a rematch between sub-only superstar Craig Jones, and the American Jiu Jitsu scene’s favorite nerd, Keenan Cornelius. The two met at ADCC back in 2017, with Keenan taking the match on points (lame) 13-0. Obviously, Craig Jones has become more of a household name since his breakout performance at ADCC and was the favorite heading into the match. He surprised Keenan by coming out and pushing forward with his wrestling rather than his trademark z guard. He had several strong snap downs, but wasn’t able to secure much off of them. He started mixing in some foot sweeps and was able to off-balance Keenan several times before landing an uchi-mata to take things to the ground. From there, Craig tried to crack the code that is Keenan’s guard, which proved difficult. Neither man was able to assert their will during the match, which resulted in a split decision in favor of Jones, a rather anti-climatic, but not totally disappointing way to end things for the night.
Overall, it was an exciting night of grappling, props to Nicky and Vagner, who definitely won the night and put on a great show for the fans. Shoutout to Fredi Vosgrone who (despite not securing a submission) pushed the pace his entire match and got the victory on the undercard. Polaris did a great job in promoting the event, and the production quality by the UFC fightpass team was top notch. Polaris seems to be the gold standard right now on the professional scene and they are cultivating a nice competitive landscape within their ranks. The title picture at the top of the welterweight division is very exciting, and at 205, Gordon Ryan has already thrown down the gauntlet saying he is ready to steal that belt from Craig Jones. Polaris has 4 events planned for 2019 with lots of momentum behind them, it’s a great time to be a fan of professional grappling.