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|LeCuyer seeks Grappling World titles in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Dec. 12-13|
By Gary Abbott USA Wrestling
Tom LeCuyer on his way to victory at the U.S. Grappling World Team Trials in the Gi division. Larry Slater photo
USA Wrestling will be hosting the 2009 Grappling World Championships in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Dec. 12-13. As the defending World Team champions in both No-Gi and Gi Grappling, the U.S. is seeking to retain its position at the top of the Grappling world.
If Team USA is able to emerge victorious in Fort Lauderdale, much of the credit may go to veteran Grappling star Tom LeCuyer of Atlas XT/Torres MMA.
A year ago, LeCuyer won a bronze medal in the No-Gi division at the Grappling World Championships in Lucerne, Switzerland at 70 kg/154 lbs. In the Gi division the next day, LeCuyer placed ninth. Although he contributed to the team title in both divisions, LeCuyer was not pleased with his performance at the Worlds last year.
This year is another story.
Of the all the Grapplers on the 2008 U.S. World Team, LeCuyer had the best performance at the U.S. Grappling World Team Trials in Phoenix, Ariz., winning gold medals in both the No-Gi and Gi divisions at 66 kg/145.5 lbs.
"I have been training real hard all year," said LeCuyer. "I am really hoping to win a World title this year. I was third last year. I had a tough draw. I ran into a defending World Champion, Ricky Lundell, in the No-Gi event. I am down in weight this year. I feel really strong at 66 kg. I am really looking forward to it."
In the finals of the No-Gi division at the World Team Trials, LeCuyer defeated a veteran Grappler with a strong jiu-jitsu background, Dennis Prokopos of 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu by a razor-thin 1-0 decision.
"He was a really slick guy," said LeCuyer. "He has a really good guard. He has a really difficult guard to pass on and advance on. Once I got that one-point lead, I tried to hold onto that with a short time left for the win."
LeCuyer also put on the Gi during the second day of the Trials, and won the title, with a pair of wins in the roundrobin at his weight class.
"Winning this thing was the ultimate goal for me when I came here," said LeCuyer after his World Team Trials triumphs. "I can't complain after winning it."
Wrestling is a key part of his success story. LeCuyer was a three-time Illinois state champion for Plano High School, and went on the Northern Illinois Univ., where he was a NCAA Div. I qualifier. His interest in Grappling comes naturally because combat sports have been part of his life since his childhood.
"I have been doing Grappling for a couple of years now," said LeCuyer. "I really like it. It really fits my background. I started in judo when I was nine or 10 years old. I did that before I did wrestling, and it really helped my wrestling. Once I got out of college, I started doing this and it came naturally to me."
All seven of the No-Gi champions at the U.S. Grappling World Team Trials came from a wrestling background. Five others were successful college wrestlers.
All seven individual champions in the men's division had a wrestling background. Six of them were college wrestlers: Zachary Makovsky at Drexel (60 kg), Ben Askren at Missouri (84 kg), Ryan Gillespie at Portland State (96 kg), Kelly Anundson at Newberry (120 kg) and Mario Rinaldi at Delaware State (Absolute). The other champion, Alex Pacheco at 84 kg, was an Arizona high school state champion in wrestling.
The buzz from at the Trials came at 84 kg, when 2008 U.S. Olympic freestyle wrestler Askren defeated 2008 World Grappling champion Jacob Volkmann in the finals, 6-0. Askren spent 2009 competing in MMA and coaching wrestling, but has returned to competition.
"I am going to the World Championships. I'm going to try to win. We will see what happens. My Grappling has become a lot better in the last year," said Askren.
Both Askren and Volkmann will be in Fort Lauderdale looking for a World gold medal.
The U.S. women's No-Gi team will also be talented. World Grappling silver medalist Felicia Oh defeated World Grappling champion Lisa Ward in the 50 kg finals. Former wrestling World silver medalist Stephanie Murata captured the 55 kg title. Shayna Baszler won a loaded 63 kg division, which included Olympic freestyle silver medalist Sara McMann. Rounding out the World Team Trials champions were Tara LaRosa (59 kg) and Tori Adams (67 kg).
The U.S. team will be coached by USA Grappling National Coach Ricardo Liborio, a legend in Grappling and MMA circles. Liborio has high expectations for the U.S. team.
The top teams expected at the World Championships include the United States, Brazil, Canada, France and many others.
The No-Gi competition will also be held at the World Championships on Saturday, Dec. 12. A free clinic by USA Grappling National Coach Ricardo Liborio for all ticket holders will be held at 5:00 p.m. on Saturday. The preliminaries are set for 9:00 a.m., with the gold-medal finals at 6:30 p.m.
Daily ticket prices are $20 for adults and $10 for youth and seniors. They are available at the door, or in advance through TicketLeap.com.
Fans are encouraged to come to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., December 12-13 and support Grappling Team USA as it seeks to defend its World Team titles.