Preparing for what can be called the Army’s version of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, 21 members of Fort Bragg’s combatives team packed their bags, boarded a flight and headed to Fort Hood, Texas July 19, to compete in the 2012 Army Combatives Tournament.
The team, which consists of Soldiers from the XVIII Airborne Corps, 82nd Airborne Division, Special Warfare Training Group, 3rd Special Forces Group and the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, is coached by Staff Sgt. Robert R. Contreras, who is assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Co., 82nd Abn. Div.
The goal of the team is to de-throne the host, III Corps team and bring the trophy back to Fort Bragg.
Contreras said the team is fully focused on its mission at hand.
“The team is very motivated. We’ve probably four or five former champions, including Sergeant Jesse Hartzog, who won the 155-pound champion last year. He’s competing at 140 pounds this year. So there’s a lot of buzz around those weight classes in which guys have dropped down, not to defend their titles, but to earn different ones,” Contreras explained. “Everybody is supportive in trying to cut those last few pounds before weigh-ins on Wednesday.
Usually, when boxers or wrestlers drop in weight class, their performance is sometimes affected. Contreras said that will not be an issue with his fighters.
“We’ve been cutting the weight very healthy,” he said. “It has not been any type of starvation-type diet. They’ve eaten healthier in the past three months with the goal of getting from 150 to 140.”
The team also has a female fighter in Spc. Tania Calderon, a medic assigned to division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, who competes in the 110-pound weight class.
Contreras said the team has received support from the Fort Hood combatives team as far as providing training location and supplies, such as training mats and the use of their weight room. But the team arrived to the Texas post in enough time to continue its regimen of running, sweat suits and training eight hours a day.
“We arrived in enough time that we can do that here and we’re not flying and trying to do everything at the last minute or they’re not starving their bodies on the last day before weigh-ins.”
Contreras reiterated that the team’s focus remains on claiming the title and he said their plan to accomplish that mission began back in April.
“We pulled the team together back in April and this is the first time Fort Bragg has had more than three or four weeks to put together a team to practice and get ready for competition,” he explained.
“Since April, we’ve gone to civilian competitions to see where we are as grapplers and we’ve done really well. So we know where we are and what we need to work on,” he added.
According to Contreras, the team was organized on April 1 and its members have spent the last 120 days training from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., five days a week.
“We’d do a positive workout from about 8 until 9 a.m., get a quick water break, put our ACUs on and we’d be on the mats learning submission (holds) or sweeps from 9 until 11 a.m.
“Then we’d take a lunch break until 1 p.m. and from 1 to 4 p.m., we would be fighting and grappling with each other in a series of 5-minute bouts for a couple of hours,” he added. “We’d take a dinner break and at 6 p.m., we had a civilian class for jiujitsu, given by Team ROC until 8 p.m.”
Contreras said that has been the team’s schedule from April 1 until the morning of July 18.
“You can see the difference in the Soldiers and the competition level and knowledge that they’re getting,” he pointed out. “It’s one thing to go through Army Combatives, Level 1 and Level 2, and learn the basic moves that we teach in combatives, but when you have a jiujitsu black belt, who studied under Royce Gracie teaching you specific moves and you’re training and drilling it over and over, the mind’s muscle memory comes into play.
“So, when you’re on the mat and someone’s bigger than you, it becomes second nature to do what you’ve learned,” he said. “It works the same way when you go downrange. If a local national puts his hands on you, you don’t have time to react you just have to act and that’s what we train everyday.”
The Fort Bragg team consists of 18 members, Contreras, who is a non-combatant, as well as civilian coaches Greg Thompson and Jason Palacios, from Fayetteville’s Team ROC martial arts club.
The tournament begins Thursday and lasts through Saturday at Fort Hood.