Pablo Popovitch entered the 2012 NoGi Pan Ams as a favorite to win not only his weight class but also the open weight division. On Pablo’s side of the bracket were Abmar Barbosa and first time Pan Ams competitor, Ezra Lenon. Pablo had a 1st round bye and popular opinion was that his first match would be against Abmar and then after the inevitable win Pablo would continue on to win the gold. In what was the biggest upset of the tournament Ezra Lenon defeated Popovitch 2 – 0 after beating Barbosa 10 minutes earlier.
BJJ Legends: Tell me a little about yourself and your training history:
Ezra Lenon: Started training in 2006 with Zack (Ezra’s older brother). He was a blue belt at time and taught me a lot of my fundamentals. After that I moved to Columbia, MO because American Top Team had the only black belts in the area. I trained under Kiko France and stayed there until they closed and I moved to St Louis a little over 2 years ago to teach at Finney’s MMA. In February of 2011 Zack and I both got our black belts from Kiko. At Finney’s I’m teaching classes 5 days a week to kids and adults. I’ve got 70 or so students between all the classes. My older brothers both train BJJ, Zack’s a black belt under Kiko and Levi is a purple belt under Scott Huston.
BJJ: How’d you manage to get your black belt so fast?
Ezra: I pretty much lived at Top Team. I was completely obsessed with training; I’d be there twice a day, six or seven days a week. I still train that much with conditioning a couple times a week, drilling two or three times a week and rolling daily with my students.
BJJ: When you saw the brackets and realized that you had two of the top guys in the world your bracket what were you thinking?
Ezra: Very excited. I couldn’t wait to test myself against this level of competition. I’m always looking to test myself and I’ve been following Pablo pretty much since I began training and knew that no matter what happened it’d be a good match up for me and would be a good match to watch. Also really excited about the absolute division but that didn’t work out because of my knee.
Ezra: Super sneaky guard. Felt really good on my back and going for sweeps. I always feel good off by back. Once I got on top and in his guard I never felt completely safe. He kept me from getting my rhythm and getting anything going as far as subs. Never really got comfortable with him.
Ezra: I knew I couldn’t make any mistakes and that I had to be ready for his game and work hard for points. He’s an incredibly strong guy and had good control. I felt pretty safe most of the match and wish I could have been more aggressive but didn’t want to get into a scramble with him. Time wasn’t really an issue and just kept working for the sweep the whole time with a few subs as well to set it up. The most important thing was to play a really tight game and make sure that he didn’t get his underhooks.
BJJ: Pablo’s only been beaten by 4 guys in the last 7 years: Marcelo Garcia, Andre Galvao, Rafael Lovato, Jr and now you. Pretty impressive company. What were you thinking when you hand got held up at the end of that match?
Ezra: It was a surreal experience. I’ve been watching and studying these guys for so long…it helped me understand that this is where I belong as long as I stay dedicated
BJJ: What’s the deal with the rashguard?
Ezra: The L³ is for the Lenon Brothers, Me, Zack and Levi. We’ve all trained together as much as possible since the very beginning. The Steroid Free BJJ patch is something that we feel really strongly about. Caio Terra and a lot of other competitors have been talking about it for years and we wanted to show our support for anyone that stays away (from steroids). We’ve started a Facebook page and will have patches and rashguards.
This is the quote that Ezra is referencing:
“Many top competitors have told me they use steroids. I’m not talking about hearing secondhand information from friends. These guys told me with their own mouths. They told me they use steroids and asked me if I use. They talk about their cycles, what they take, and how much they take. Now, most of the guys who said they use steroids tell me they were just kidding and that they do not use. They would say things like, this is the tenth cycle I’ve taken, and now that they know I’m against it, they want to hide it. Everybody knows. I know who uses steroids and so do you. You may not want to point your finger at anybody but you do know. The International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) knows who uses, too. You can just look at them and know.” Caio Terra interview at Inside BJJ.com
BJJ: For more information on the perception of steroid use in BJJ see this article: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and the Culture of Performance Enhancing Drugs.
BJJ: How would you describe your game and philosophy regarding BJJ?
Ezra: My philosophy is to really work the basics. When I teach we just do one technique, maybe 2, in a class. The whole class is spent drilling the same thing over and over again and then rolling. You show somebody a bunch of stuff and then nothing sticks and there’s information overload. I’d rather have a student be able to use a single technique while rolling than be able to demonstrate three or four but never use them against resistance.
My favorite position to play from is the half-guard. There are so many sweeps, submissions and transitions from it that you can be ready for anything and always have a lot of options. Getting ready for this tournament I really focused on my conditioning and added some Crossfit workouts every week. I’m always training in the gi and out of it. The only thing that changes for me is that I switch up my strategy some depending on if I’ll be in a gi or not.
BJJ: What’s next?
Ezra: Nogi Worlds in November and then as many tournaments as I can get to next year. I’ll definitely be doing gi and nogi at the Worlds and Pans again and both Chicago Opens. I’m also planning on doing some local NAGA tournaments and anything else that I can get to, maybe the Boston Open or something on the West coast. I’d really like to compete every month or so all year long. I had a rough start this year with injuries and need to make up for lost time.
BJJ: How can our readers get in touch with you for privates, seminars and so on?
BJJ: Anything you’d like to add?