Alex Enriquez, a sixteen-year-old Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu blue belt and kids’ BJJ trainer at KnuckleUp Fitness scored one of the biggest upsets in recent memory when she submitted an Olympic Wrestler last weekend at the Kakuto Submission Challenge. Alex spoke to me recently about her big win.
I heard you had a really big upset victory at the BJJ tournament this weekend.
Yeah, I’m still kind of speechless about it.
Well let’s start by telling us a little about your preparation for the Kakuto Submission Challenge 6 Tournament and how you felt going into it.
The whole month [coming up to this tournament], I was basically preparing for leg locks. This past year I got submitted with heel hooks a lot so I definitely made it a point coming back that I would definitely get more into leg techniques. Kakuto is always a hard tournament for me because all the girls are very experienced, so I’m very excited for this tournament every time I compete in it.
Tell us about some of your earlier matches in that tournament.
Coming into the Absolutes Divisions, in one of my first matches, I actually almost got submitted with a D’Arce at the beginning of the match but I ended up escaping.
What did you do to get out of that, because escaping from a D’Arce is pretty hard?
I was on bottom half-guard, she tried to pull me into a D’Arce out of my half-guard and I swung my top hand over for an under hook and it ended up elevating the sweep to get out of that and come up on top out of half-guard I turned to the back and I tried to sneak my hooks from the back. I’ve been trying to work on my flow, trying to make it more of a Jiu-Jitsu game and not a wrestling game where I’m just banging into my move. Now, I’ll let my opponent move into a bad situation and that’s how that worked out for me and I ended up submitting her in an arm bar.
It was the fastest submission in round one so I was in a bye in the following round for the Absolute. I got a bye my following round and my next match was against a very tough purple belt. I ended up getting a flying triangle to finish her. I was pretty excited about that. By the time my second match was going on, I felt like my Jiu-Jitsu was flowing. I was feeling a lot more comfortable with the atmosphere. I was kind of sinking into my game and just everything was flowing really magically thanks to my coach Steve Mitchell.
The flying triangle is a risky move.
A lot of the female grapplers in Absolute were very experienced wrestlers so they would always tie up they had very good hand fighting with their standup. So this was a Jiu-Jitsu tournament where the fighters were experienced both on their feet and on the ground. In this particular match she would tie up a lot and the first time I tried to go to a flying arm bar, I missed and we both ended up scrambling back up to our feet again and she tied up again and I got control of her left arm and her left wrist. I shoved it down toward her stomach and I just tried to jump higher to see if I could go for a flying triangle and it ended up working. She defended my triangle up in the air when I jumped and I was securing the triangle by the time she was in the air. All that was left was to break her down and adjust my angle and finish.
Was Sara McMann the next person you faced?
Yes, sir. She’s very well known, she’s a professional UFC fighter, she’s faced Ronda Rousey. Her even greater accomplishment is that in 2004, she was the first American female to win a silver medal in [Olympic] wrestling. She’s always been a big idol of mine for the last year or two. The first time I faced her, she definitely rocked my world. The last time I was just trying to survive 20 minutes [with her.}
So this was the second time you faced her and the first time she beat you, correct?
We took a draw the first time after 20 minutes because it’s a submission only tournament.
Did you learn anything from that first fight that helped you during the second fight?
Facing her the first time, her pressure was incomparable. It was definitely that next-level Olympic status. I couldn’t even move from my bottom—I ended up staying turtle the whole time. She was very dominant the first match. It taught me that I need to not make this a wrestling match. I need to do Jiu-Jitsu more. I didn’t know if she was training a lot of legs this time around, so that’s why I thought I’ve got to add a new dimension to my game.
This time, instead of letting her pressure get to me, I tried to keep her shoulders and her hips away and what happened during the match was that we were on our feet and she snapped my head down. She had a great snap down to the guillotine and I was kind of stuck in the guillotine from standup. She was trying to secure her grip, and so I sat back with my hands on her hips trying to pull guard or throw her over me. She was hovering her hips above me and so I kept her hips forward so she couldn’t finish the guillotine. I took my bottom leg with my right leg still in between her, like an elevator or a block, and I took my bottom, my left leg, from the outside and posted my heel on her hips like I was getting ready to [reach] and I was trying to drive. Then, I pulled her hips to keep them above me so she couldn’t put the pressure on the guillotine and I was finally able to slide my foot over her hip and pop my head out of there to escape the choke. I went for a heel hook right away. She turned her leg over, switched her leg over pretty fast and I grabbed the heel again and switched to a knee bar and that’s where I finished the move and made her tap out.
You must have reacted pretty quickly because you don’t have very much time with somebody that good. You can’t stay in a guillotine very long if it’s placed correctly.
I was definitely moving on automatic because a lot of things I learned in Jiu-Jitsu. Like, if you make a mistake, you can’t just sit back and let it happen. You’ve got to react right away and put your counter on or your defense on or your going to end up five or ten moves behind. I wasn’t 100 percent comfortable with my leg lock game but I decided I had nothing to lose. I ended up trying to go for it and it worked outreally well.
You teach the kids classes at KnuckleUp Alpharetta right now, correct? Tell me a little bit about that.
On Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. I teach the kids Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu program over at Alpharetta and I’ve been doing that for a few months now. I began as an assistant to CJ (Wilson) but now I’ve been on my own and I’ve been able to build and teach the program by myself and sometimes with assistance from other students. I love it. I’m really lucky and privileged to be able to do something I love to do, which is teach. A lot of the things I teach are basics and fundamentals but I’m very nit-picky about them. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to technique and I think that really helps. I won’t half-ass the techniques. It has to be 100 percent.
From your experiences why would you recommend to a parent that a kid take your Kid’s Jiu-Jitsu class?
Definitely a lot of the kids I get coming into Jiu-Jitsu at first, it’s their parents trying to get their kids into doing something over the summer or whether it be year-round. It often starts off as a hobby at first, but a lot develop a passion for it like I did. We take kids from as early as five years old to like 12 or 13. We’ll play games and have fun but when it comes down to doing hard work and preparing for competitions for those kids who want to compete we work hard on the fundamentals. I’m very proud of all the kids in my class.
There’s a big epidemic in schools of kids bullying each other, and a lot of people say Jiu-Jitsu is a really good anti-bullying thing to learn. Not so much that it teaches the kids to go out and beat everybody up, but it just sort of gives them confidence to not be targets. What do you think about that?
I definitely agree with that. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a great way to build kids’ self-esteem and confidence. Honestly, growing up in this sport, I feel like I learned so many life lessons and morals that I still carry with me to this day and I think I will carry them with me through life. Jiu-Jitsu has taught me a lot about hardships and friendships and just overcoming things. It’s definitely aided me in so many ways.
Do you have any parting words about your big win at the tournament?
This past weekend wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my team and how great KnuckleUp is that everyone’s very supportive of each other. I couldn’t have done it without my teammates, my training partners—they always push me every practice. They’re always like, ‘come on, let’s do another roll.’ They’re just very supportive and that’s what I love about this team is that we push each other to get better. They don’t just let you get away with half-assing things. They’ll push you to show up to practice and everyone’s here—the professors, Master Murgel, Quentin, CJ, Steve. They’ve always been here for me, so I couldn’t have done it without our team.