March 29, 2010

Virginia Soldier wins lightweight class championship at Guard Combatives Tournament

By Sgt. Andrew H. Owen
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

FORT BENNING, Ga. — In a fight that lasted barely a minute, Staff Sgt. Matt Stemmler of the Virginia National Guard defeated Staff Sgt. Justin Gottke of the Ohio National Guard March 28 to win the lightweight class championship at the 2010 Army National Guard Combatives Tournament at Fort Benning, Ga.


Staff Sgt. Matt Stemmler chokes out Staff Sgt. Justin Gottke in a guillotine to win the 2010 Army National Guard Combatives Tournament first place bout for the lightweight class. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Please visit the Virginia Guard Flickr page for more photos.

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Gottke rushed in to try to catch Stemmler off guard and take him out quickly, but to no avail. The Virginian had been studying his opponent all morning and had him pegged dead to rights, and finished off his competitor with a devastating guillotine choke at 1:03 in the first round of the match.

“I pretty much knew exactly what he was going to do,” said Stemmler. “I could tell by his stance and even by watching his brother compete that he was probably a wrestler and was going to shoot down at me, and sure enough he did right away. I just capitalized.”

Following several attempts to gain position by both competitors, Stemmler hoisted his opponent off the ground and slammed him to the mat of the cage. He was then able to lock Gottke into the guillotine from the guard position and force the Ohio Soldier to tap out within six seconds of executing the finishing move.

Stemmler, a Stafford resident and an instructor at the Blackstone-based 1st Battalion, 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute, advanced to the finals by defeating three other National Guard Soldiers in the tournament the day prior and had spent the tournament focusing on grappling techniques to secure his victories.


Sgt. 1st Class Austin Randolph holds up the arm of Staff Sgt. Matthew Stemmler after defeating Staff Sgt. Justin Gottke in the lightweight final match during the Army National Guard Comabatives Tournament at Fort Benning, Ga. March 28. Stemmler was undefeated through all four matches he fought in the tournament. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Please visit the Virginia Guard Flickr page for more photos.

During the first two matches the Soldiers were limited to strictly grappling, progressing to body blows and open-hand strikes to the face during the semi-finals.  The finals, which were held in the cage, allowed the Soldiers to utilize all the tools in their repertoire including closed-fist strikes to the face and kicks to the body.

Although the majority of the brief match was spent on the floor grappling, Stemmler had hoped to dominate the bout on his toes in a match of fists with the new rules brought on by the final match.

“Today I definitely was trying to work on my stand up a lot because I actually wanted to stand up and try and knock him out,” he said.  “The game plan was totally different than yesterday. Yesterday was all grappling.” 

“So today, you throw in those extra dynamics and you have to change your game plan a little bit, and so me and my coaches just kept going over the game plan in our head, trying new things, and trying to guess what he was going to do so that we would be ready for it so it wouldn’t be a surprise in the cage.”


Staff Sgt. Matthew Stemmler awaits the bell to mark the beginning of the lightweight division championship match against Staff Sgt. Justin Gottke of the Ohio National Guard. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Please visit the Virginia Guard Flickr page for more photos.

Stemmler comes back to Virginia as an undefeated fighter in the world of competitive Army Combatives with a flawless 4-0 record.

“It feels good. It’s a little surreal right now, it hasn’t really sunk in yet I don’t think. It always feels good to win,” he said. “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”

When Stemmler returns home, he hopes to generate more interest in the program in his home state to be able to return to Georgia next year with a larger team to compete in the tournament, but is quick to remind prospective fighters that it takes a lot of training and perseverance to be proficient.

“Definitely try to constantly train, and try to advance, but also try to find someplace outside of the Army where you can train and apply your skills and learn new skills because a lot of times, especially with combatives level one, it just teaches the basics and it builds on the higher levels you get,” according to the lightweight champ.

“Some people learn those basics and think they’re a stud and they go out and get beat up.  So definitely continue training and keep trying new stuff, new experiences.  Really in the end it all comes down to experience.” 

More than 90 Soldiers from 25 states showed up at the third annual event to try to be the best mixed-martial arts fighter in the Army Guard.  The event allows both male and female Soldiers to compete against each other vying for the top spot in their respective weight classes.

“We’ve seen an increase in participation every year, and I think next year we’ll get even larger,” said Capt. Brian Deaton, the officer in charge of the tournament. “We’re hoping to get over 120 competitors next year to come out and fight.”

“The combatives program helps to keep the warrior ethos alive and instills the fighting spirit and it’s also a great fitness tool for units to utilize in their fitness plan,” said Deaton.

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