"Magic" Michael Perez : The Blueprint to Beat a Big Man

By Matthew Gioia

The Abu Dhabi Combat Club’s infamous Trials are both the most exciting and intriguing tournaments in the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu sphere of influence. The sport’s biggest stars and most legendary runs in recent years have come from the North American West Coast variation of the fabled tournament including and not limited to Nick Rodriguez’s, “Black Belt Slayer” debut, Nicky Ryan’s devastating submission only run, and Jay Rodriguez’s upset filled trials victory in 2021. 

This year’s rendition proved no different as incredible runs from the Tackett Brothers, Jasmine Rocha, and Michael Pixley proved that no tournament can match the pure excitement of the ADCC trials. Yet, quite literally the biggest performance of the night, and possibly in the history of the trials came from ATOS’s Michael Perez.

Weighing in at 175 pounds, Perez entered the 99+ kilogram division and stole the show submitting three of his opponents in less than ninety seconds before defeating the much larger Vince Pezzuto in the finals to secure his place at the 2024 rendition of the ADCC World Championships. 

While the weight class Perez achieved victory in might have been a surprise, it was not a shock that Perez dominated as the man known as “el Patron” is no stranger to the ADCC ruleset as he has competed at the World Championships on three occasions as well as claiming gold at the 2013 and 2015 trials renditions including victory over Gordon Ryan. 

Hailing from a school renowned for their tactics in Atos Academy, the Andre Galvao black belt  used perfect positioning and strategy to flummox fighters who routinely outweighed Perez by over 50 pounds. The difficulty of this feat was exacerbated by the nature of the ADCC ruleset that actively penalizes guard pulling in the most critical period, overtime, and heavily favors top position.

To combat the tremendous size disadvantage he faced on the feet, Perez utilized a vicious front headlock in order to cut his opponents down to size from the standing position.

The front headlock as a reflexive defensive tactic served a few purposes for Perez. Firstly, it severely limits the mobility of the shooter as a passer can only move in the same direction as their spine is facing. With the head facing downwards with an arm in grip, the shoulder and spine are locked in place meaning the shooter can only move forward or stay still without greatly affecting their balance. Therefore if the shooter moves in a different direction all of their weight is transferred into their upper body, rendering their lower body weightless. Without the ability to post in the way they would be able to in a floating pass sequence, the only other pass where the hips are weightless, the passer becomes increasingly vulnerable despite any size discrepancy.

In this sequence, Pezzuto tries to finish his double leg by turning the corner, yet Perez is able to counter by rolling on to his shoulder. Without the requisite balance, Pezztuo has no ability to post as his head is being dragged down and is effortlessly flipped onto his back. 

Secondly, the front headlock is the unique submission threat where it is beneficial to be the smaller grappler. Despite the many different variations of the guillotine, whether it be any variation of the arm in guillotine or the high elbow guillotine, the commonality they share is that the submission requires the player to curl themselves up in a manner similar to a crunch.

The most famous example of this occurring is when 10th Planet’s Geo “Freakazoid” Martinez, who typically fights in the the 66 kg weight class, was able to submit Hasiam Rida, a regular feature in the +99 kg division.

Perez attempted this same strategy in the overtime period against Pezzuto. Unlike the first guillotine Pezzuto recognized the danger of continuing to move forward and instead decided to halt his momentum. Since Pezzuto’s hips are no longer moving forward, Perez can no longer use the momentum to roll him and instead opts for pulling his opponent into his closed guard.

While the guillotine was the primary attack, the jump to closed guard had the added purpose of trapping the Pezzuto inside the closed guard. The biggest adversary a smaller grappler faces against a larger opponent is space, as if the bigger athlete is able to utilize space it is much more likely they can achieve a position where they can exert their force. 

Therefore Perez opted for the strategy of switching between closed guard and inside-position based guards such as single leg x guard and x guard. Instead of prioritizing sweeps that required trapping an opponent’s limbs, Perez continued to harass Pezutos balance, preventing Pezzuto from anchoring himself and using raw power to escape closed guard or inside position. 

In competitive grappling there is nothing more exciting than a smaller grappler coming out on top. The sport and its sister sport Mixed Martial Arts were built on the idea that technique mattered more than size as pioneers such as Royce Gracie, Kazushi Sakuraba, and Marcelo Garcia routinely dispatched fighters severely outweighing them. In the modern day, Lachlan Giles’ memorable run through the ADCC World Championships in 2019 stole the show in Anaheim and now you can add Michael Perez to the list of elite grapplers who showed the true purpose of the art that is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.