Battle of H-Town “Instructor Super Fight Series” Preview

Written by: Mike Calimbas

For event promoter Elbert Hebron, this weekend’s “Battle of H-Town” event marks his eighth year hosting BJJ tournaments in the Houston area. During that span Hebron has brought in such notables like Ruben “Cobrinha” Charles, Ryan Hall, and Justin Rader to compete in super fights and expert tournaments. Despite all that, this Saturday will mark the first time Houston BJJ fans will see lead instructors from local academies compete against each other as they lead their students in the pursuit of glory.

I recently caught up with the competitor/instructors for this weekend’s inaugural “Instructor Super Fight Series” to provide our readers with insight on the essence their preparations, motivations, and the spirit of BJJ in general. Win or lose, one thing’s for sure – all four of these gentlemen deserve utmost respect for stepping up to compete in front of their hometown crowds on this stage.

Competitors

Alvis Solis – Head Instructor of Solis Martial Arts
  • Black Belt under Carlos Machado (2005)
  • 3 time Pan-American Champion
  • Full-fledged “Dog Brother” under Marc Denny
Jeff Messina – Head Instructor of Revolution Dojo
  • Black Belt under Rodrigo Medeiros (2008)
  • Medalist at events including Grappler’s Quest, Pan-Am’s, and Carlson Gracie Open.
  • Dean’s List Graduate of University of Houston
Josh Hill – Head Instructor of Fighting Arts Academy
  • Black Belt under Alvis Solis
  • 1st place wins at Prostar Grappling Championship, Animal Fightwear Submission Championship, and Texas Police Olympics.
  • Assistant District Attorney for Harris County, Texas
Darrin Lillian – Head Instructor of Infinite Jiu-Jitsu
  • Black Belt under Travis Tooke
  • Multiple-time NAGA medalist
  • Over 14 years of martial arts experience

Q&A with the Competitors

How are you feeling heading into your superfight this weekend?

I feel good. I just came back from the nationals, where I took two students. Carlos Rosario cleaned out his bracket and the absolute at blue belt and Ben Malberg took silver and bronze in absolute. i took bronze in the black belt senior 1 absolute, losing by 2 to Eduardo Rocha in the semi finals – He’s a 4th degree black belt monster. I feel good. Got some stitches above my eye but they will come out tomorrow. – Jeff Messina

I am feeling pretty good. I have some injuries that I am having to train around however, I feel as ready as I can be. I know that I am the underdog so that takes any real pressure off me. – Alvis Solis

I’m feeling really good going into this weekend’s super fight. My strength and conditioning are as good as they’ve ever been and my technical training is right where it needs to be. – Josh Hill

I feel real good. I have been training hard with my teammates Ryan Sosa, Mark Peltier, Robert Dembeck and Jeff Rockwell. – Darrin Lillian

How much do you know about your opponent?

Jeff Messina is a friend and a competitor/instructor who has been in the Houston Martial Arts scene for many many years. He is a great guy. He just placed third at the Nationals this past weekend, so this is a real challenge for me.  – Alvis Solis

I’ve know Alvis for a long time and I have a lot of respect for him. He is a great guy. – Jeff Messina

I don’t know much about Darrin other than he’s a black belt under Travis Tooke and he’s a little bit bigger than I am. I’ve heard good things about him generally (as a grappler and as a person) so I’m excited about the opportunity to compete against him. – Josh Hill

I don’t know a whole lot about him. I know his coach is Alvis Solis and he is great coach, so I expect him to be a game opponent. – Darrin Lillian

Anything you feel like you needed to work on to prepare for your opponent? Do you know his strengths/weaknesses? How does all that figure into the equation?

I don’t really know what Darrin’s strengths and weaknesses are, and I’m not sure it would matter much in my preparation. I try to stay well rounded to make sure that I’m prepared for anything my opponents might throw at me. Since everyone learns new tricks here and there, I’d rather worry about my training and game plan than try to adapt my training to what I anticipate he will do. – Josh Hill

Just like any other competition, I worked on my physical and mental preparations. I am going to work my game plan to utilize my strengths. – Darrin Lillian

I noticed he likes to do an inside trip while I like to pull guard, so I keep that in mind. However, I just want to play my game and see what happens. I just compete really to have fun. – Alvis Solis

I focus on my game. I’m confident in my Jiu-Jitsu. I’ve competed a lot this year –  MMA, Pan-Ams, International Masters in Brazil, Grappler’s Quest, Judo tournaments, nationals. i have tough guys around me and I’m always pushing my self with other black belts.– Jeff Messina

How would you describe your attitude/mindset towards competition?

The tournament I really want to do well in is the Pan Ams in March or April, so all these tournaments I am doing now are what I call “work through” tournaments. Regardless of what happens, me and my training partners will be back at the school on Monday preparing for the Pan Ams. Like I said before, I am just having fun. – Alvis Solis

My attitude and mindset changes depending on each individual competition. Some competitions are tune-ups or arenas for me to try out something new before using it in a more important competition. Other competitions are the main goal. Either way, my mindset is generally to try and make my opponent’s experience so miserable that he looks for an out and gives me a submission. I like to keep the pace fast and uncomfortable, constantly attacking, knowing that my opponent won’t be able to keep up. – Josh Hill

It’s not necessary but competition hones you and pushes you to be a better BJJ fighter and coach. i recommend it. I love competing. – Jeff Messina

My mindset is to go out there have fun and do my best. If I accomplish those two things then I will do well. – Darrin Lillian

How has training at your gym, with your training partners, helped you to be the best BJJ’er you can be? What can you personally do to get better?

When you get to the advanced levels of BJJ; your training partners are everything. You can’t be a big fish in a small pond and think you are king of the mat. I train with people that really push me to be my best. Its a great thing when you have a lot of great BJJ guys helping each other out. I visited my coach, Travis Tooke, recently and he always gives me excellent advice. He helps me develop a game plan and gives me things to work on. I feel very lucky to have a great coach and training partners.  – Darrin Lillian

Training at my gym (FAA) has helped me to fine tune my techniques through teaching. Also, co-owner Robert Soliz is a great training partner for me and he helps me out with a lot of technical adjustments. I also make time to train with Alvis Solis and the guys at Solis Martial Arts Academy a few times a week in order to get in training with a wider variety of partners – high ranks, bigger or smaller opponents, different styles and body types, etc. Training at SMAA keeps me sharp! – Josh Hill

My training partners know exactly when to push me, when to let me coast, and when to make me pay when I screw up a technique.  I have a really good bunch of high levels now, and rolling is really fun and competitive…plus being as concussion prone as I am, they also keep me safe. To get better I have been training with the mindset of what I call “predicting the future”. What this means is being able to read the cues that my opponent feeds me and then beat him to the transition…again this is all prep work for the Pan Ams. Plus always working on my conditioning and trying to stay injury free ( a real challenge at 46). – Alvis Solis

My training has been great. I am part of a strong team – BJJ Revolution Team. We are 5x national champions. All the black belts are competitors. We all know each other and train. We have  guys like Cyborg Abreu, Tim Maia,Tim Credeur, Clark Gracie, and Joel Tudor, along with many up and coming guys. I’m always pushing my self to get my game tighter. I go to Brazil, have guys come to me etc. always putting my self around others that can push me. – Jeff Messina


I also had the opportunity to ask some of these guys to share some wisdom for BJJ’ers just starting out in the sport. Here are a list of the top tips they shared with me.

10 Tips for Beginner Success in BJJ

  1. Go to a legit school.
  2. Show up to class, make some friends, and have fun training.
  3. Leave your ego at the door.
  4. Stick it out. Having an ego gets in the way of learning and progressing.  When you first start training, it sometimes takes a while for everything to “click”. You keep on losing to the same people and you keep on beating the people that started training after you. If you forget that everyone is progressing together, you get frustrated and want to quit because you don’t feel like you’re learning. Just stick it out and test yourself in competition to see how you do against people outside of your academy and give it some time. Eventually, you’ll be able to wrap your brain around the techniques and you’ll fall back in love with the sport.
  5. If you wanna learn real BJJ, focus on the gi.
  6. Don’t try to be an MMA star in 6-months.
  7. Focus on your technique, take notes if you have to. BJJ isn’t always an upward progression. It’s got both peaks and valleys.
  8. Compete as regularly as you can.
  9. Listen to your coach and live a healthy life (on and off the mat).
  10. Have fun while training – Eat. Sleep. Jiu-Jitsu.

For anyone interested in keeping up with my commentary on MMA and life off the mats, feel free to follow me on Twitter or add me on Facebook.

“Train Hard, Stay healthy!” – Mike Calimbas