Keenan Cornelius is practically a family name in jiu-jitsu, and for good reason: in addition to wowing the world with his now-famous worm guard, he’s taken the competition scene by storm, winning major tournaments and superfights and defeating athletes like Dean Lister on his quest to be the best.
On July 15, Cornelius will be in the spotlight yet again when he takes on 2015 no-gi Pans champion Matheus Diniz in a sub-only main event at the Five Grappling Lightweight Super League. The match will take place in the gi and have a time limit of ten minutes; if no submission is achieved by the end, a five-minute overtime round will occur in which points, but not advantages, will be given.
Even though many people know Cornelius for his accomplishments in the over 500 point-based matches he’s had (he’s a three-time no-gi world champion and just recently won the absolute division of the American Nationals), he also has a lot of experience — and success — in the sub-only scene. He’s 23-1 in sub-only matches, having competed at events like Metamoris and Polaris. “The goal in either [point-based or submission-based matches] is the same: to submit. I think points can encourage the submission more in some cases. This match is a mix of both.”
This won’t be the first time the two grapplers have gone against each other — Cornelius and Diniz faced each other at the brown belt level, and Cornelius hasn’t forgotten about it. “I remember every match I’ve ever had, and I distinctly recall he brings a heavy pace and possesses immense strength,” he says. “It’s going to be fun because I’m the opposite of that — my style is hyper-efficient on energy and strength, using minimal effort for maximum results. So it’s a bit of a contrast.” Those who’ve seen Cornelius grapple before probably won’t be too shocked at what they see from him, but those who haven’t… well, they might want to prepare themselves for a few surprises. “I’ll probably do something with his lapel, and at some point I will also contort into some obscenely flexible position as Diniz pressures my guard. Do not be alarmed when it happens — it’s normal.”
If Cornelius sounds confident, he’s certainly earned the right to be. He’s faced many of the best competitors in the world, and although he has “a lot more” that he wants to accomplish, he has a hard time thinking of a single person he’d be itching to go up against. He does, however, mention that 2017 world champion Nicholas Meregali “would be interesting and challenging” if the two ever got the opportunity to grapple each other.
Aside from injuries, which Cornelius describes as “the unfortunate side effect of hard training,” there isn’t a whole lot that can stand in this diverse grappler’s way. He not only has the talent and work ethic to make him a favorite at 5SL and just about any other competition he enters, but also the calm, collected mindset so often found in athletes of his caliber. “I think taking it one at a time and focusing on showcasing a unique style with effective techniques rather than putting pressure on yourself is a healthy route,” he says. On Saturday, we’ll get the chance to see if that unique style will be the key to victory.
The Five Grappling Lightweight Super League will be streamed live on FloGrappling starting at 4:30 pm EST on Saturday, July 15.