By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV
Andrew DeGraff, a 17-year old jiu jitsu phenom from Lewisburg ranked 20th in the world, won the Interim Bantamweight Championship last weekend in New York. He defeated Jon Jimenez by submission, setting up a rematch with renowned grappler Mateo Maldonado (who holds the interim title as well).
DeGraff took command of the fight with Jimenez early, applying a submission maneuver. But he was unable to lock it in, and the match continued. He applied the same submission maneuver a second time, locked it in, and Jimenez refused to submit.
“He didn’t want to tap and lose the match,” DeGraff says. “So I had to damage his leg pretty badly. The only thing you can do is give someone enough time to tap and if they don’t then that’s on them.”
DeGraff completed the submission maneuver when his opponent refused to submit, likely tearing ligaments in his opponent’s leg.
“It was kinda sad, but it is what it is,” Degraff notes. “It’s a problem in the world of jiu jitsu. People’s pride and not wanting to submit when they should.”
DeGraff says as a competitor you have to decide going into a competition how far you are willing to go if a situation like that presents itself. He says some competitors don’t even give their opponents adequate time to tap out before inflicting damage, but he makes a point to give his opponents every opportunity to tap out. “If they won’t, that’s their decision that they have to live with.”
It’s a split-second decision in the heat of combat grapplers must make. And the more known DeGraff becomes across the nation, the more opponents he will see who try to test his limits.
“You never wanna hurt someone,” he says. “This is the worst injury I’ve inflicted in my career so far. I talked to him today, and he’s doing pretty well.”
Rematch with Maldonado
Right now, Degraff and Maldonado are both interim champions. They are on a collision course, perhaps as soon as this summer.
In late 2022, DeGraff and Maldonado fought for the first time. The tight match went into overtime.
“I was winning the overtime, and then the ref called it early,” DeGraff remembers. “It was just one of those weird calls that went wrong.” Maldonado was awarded the match, but the two have unfinished business.
“I feel confident,” DeGraff says. “I’m always improving. If you look at my matches against people I’ve fought previously, I tend to do better the second time. Don’t get me wrong, he’s very good and very experienced, but I feel confident.”
The battle for the 135-pound bantamweight championship will probably be announced in the near future and may happen as soon as this summer.
Nova Jiu Jitsu (Ronceverte)
Andrew wasn’t the only local competitor in New York for the RISE Invitational. Lucas Raymond, Leslie Campbell, and Alex DeGraff (older sister of Andrew) competed as well. Lucas and Leslie made good showings but were unable to secure a victory. Alex made it to the second round and came in fourth place overall in her division.
“It’s cool that Nova is starting to make a name for itself competition wise,” Andrew says. “There are more people from here starting to win and put West Virginia on the world stage.”
Andrew plans to hang his championship belt at the Nova studio as a symbol of their team effort.
Nova Jiu Jitsu offers classes for adults, women, and children. For more information, check them out on Facebook.