Whatever Happened to Eddie Cummings? Catching Up With The Wolverine
Eddie Cummings hasn't competed since April of this year. Where did the noted leglock specialist go, and what has he been doing?
We went to New York to check in with "The Wolverine" at his home gym of Unity Jiu-Jitsu. This was just two weeks out from the 2019 ADCC World Championship, and he was training hard with his teammates Dillon Danis, Paulo and Joao Miyao, Junny Ocasio and others.
Interviewer: Eddie Cummings, how you doing? It's been a while, man.
Eddie Cummings: It has been quite some time. I've been good. I've been, you know, settling into my new home for the past year or so, loving it here at Unity, training with all the guys, learning a lot from everyone. Murilo has been showing me a lot, been patient with me. Adapting to the intensity of training, maybe, that was still fun, still makes training, you know, it's the hardest thing I'll do all day, so that's good. But yeah.
Interviewer: We haven't really seen much you of during this period. You were really active there for a couple of years, you know, EBI, ADCC, superfights, but you seem to have moved away from the comp scene for a little while. Can you tell us what's going on?
Eddie Cummings: Yeah, I mean, I think it's definitely a combination of factors. You know, I've always personally been dealing with, you know, injuries and getting a little older, and that's always a little taxing in the sense that I'm not always confident I can show up to a tournament.
Eddie Cummings: And I know some older guys can get through it fine. They do great. I'm just not always confident in my body and sometimes that maybe gets in my head, so mostly focused on superfights and I've had some good offers that, you know, maybe didn't work out logistically, and other maybe not so good offers or some fell through. And I did have a match last year that was maybe a little lackluster and maybe showed some of my rust. I wasn't really happy with it.
Interviewer: Do you find it hard to find opponents, though?
Eddie Cummings: Yeah, I mean, look, it's definitely hard to find, you know, opponents in the weight class that match up well that are sort of, so-to-speak, good matches, you know, like somebody at 145 who... not that a name necessarily matters about skill, but that, in terms of branding, I find that maybe I've made a mistake of competing with people who maybe weren't as well known and didn't have as much to lose, and the matches maybe get a little weird.
Eddie Cummings: So, you know, I feel like if you compete with someone who maybe has some public recognition, along with skill, that would be optimal for me. But that I think is few and far between. So most of our best 145ers, I either train with or have trained with-
Interviewer: It's the trade-off between staying busy and taking those matches that matter, right?
Eddie Cummings: Yeah, I think that's it. And I think at some point, competing maybe mattered a little less to me, and I know it's easier to quit a world that's faster quitting you... you know, so maybe I didn't always perform as well as I wanted in competition and it's easy to maybe not take three or four weeks out of my life, you know, family now. Taking four weeks away from that to prep for a match that maybe doesn't mean as much to me as it once did, it starts to become a harder decision.
Eddie Cummings: I mean, I love jiu-jitsu, I love training, and I have that here. Like, any day I want, I can train with some of the best guys in the world, any weight class you want, and they will give me a hard, honest round happily. It really takes a lot, as a martial artist, a lot of the motivation away from wanting to compete and test myself when I can come to this gym and really like... I mean, there's a lot of depth, like even not the names you maybe have heard of. Now maybe you have heard of them, but I knew them a year ago and they're all very, very talented.
Interviewer: You mentioned something interesting today. You call yourself a martial artist.
Eddie Cummings: Yeah.
Interviewer: You don't call yourself an athlete. You don't call yourself a competitor. You are a martial artist who competes.
Eddie Cummings: Yes. And I know that's the cliche, you know, like, I'm not a fighter, I'm a martial artist who competes. I mean, I do fancy myself a jiu-jitsu fighter on a good day, but I think that is mostly the same thing as saying you're a martial artist. I do love the art. Like, that's why I do this. And I think if you do it for that reason, it is both very frustrating sometimes to see the world of jiu-jitsu, but also remind yourself at the end of day, you know, I went in, I learned some jiu-jitsu, I got better, my training partners got better. I know I sound very cliche right now, but I mean it. That's what matters more to me about the art now than anything else, I'd say. And I'm happy like that, I think. For now.
Interviewer: Let's talk about training here at Unity. So a very interesting environment. You have a lot of different guys from different walks of life, very different stylistically and with different goals. A lot of guys competing in gi, competing no-gi, even guys like Dillon who's obviously busy in MMA, and then yourself. So tell me a little bit about how your transition was to Unity and how you've been adapting.
Eddie Cummings: They really sort of rolled out the welcome mat for me, so I'm very grateful for that. They took off their gis for me. I've put on the gi very few times since I've been here. I want to do it more, but it's not only a humbling experience mentally, but also physically, it takes me a couple of days to recover sometimes.
Eddie Cummings: But they definitely take the gi off from me whenever I need, and from day one they were really welcoming, allowing heel hooks, learning them for me and then beating me with them as fast as they could. I think the environment here, it's not like necessarily cliquish all, there are very different cultures. You have kids from Brazil, Australians and Dillon– who's his own entity– and me, but I think we all do get along really well. We all do pursue the same goal. We really share knowledge. Like, I pick everyone's brain and they pick mine, so.
Interviewer: Let's talk about that, that exchange of technical information, because you're obviously probably one of the best-known leg-lock exponents in the world. When people think about the heel-hook game and how it really came along a couple of years ago and changed the face of jiu-jitsu, you were one of those guys associated with that movement. Now, here at Unity you have the really interesting technical players. You have the excellent guard players, obviously influenced and inspired by the Miyao Brothers and their history of the berimbolo and so on. But then you also have the crushing top game of Murilo Santana, and these guys, they all berimbolo from bottom, but they pressure pass from top. So you coming in with your leg lock game, let's talk a little bit about the influence that you've had on them, but also that they have on you.
Eddie Cummings: Yeah. Absolutely, the influence they've had on me, like, I am working my passing, I mean, Murilo got me working some guillotine detail, some wrestling. Like, I've changed my stance and how I do stand up, which is getting a little more defensive, a little better off the take down.
Eddie Cummings: So when I get taken down I have a different guard approach than I used to have maybe, which I think is working a lot better. I'm learning berimbolos and inversions, and I counter them better and I think it works both ways, because I think the best saddle counter's a good berimbolo, and the best berimbolo counter's a good saddle. So we're learning a lot about the back saddle interplay. I'm learning a lot and think everyone else has too, so it's a lot of fun.
Interviewer: Has it changed your approach to certain things?
Eddie Cummings: Yeah. Game's completely changed.
Eddie Cummings: I mean, it's sort of like... my game has always been, I think, I tried to play to the sort of highest opponent rather than the lowest. So if there's a counter to a move, I'll stop doing that move. Right. Even if it's a really good move 90% of the time, right. If there's a strong counter, I don't want to do it. Even if I know my opponent, maybe he doesn't have a strong counter there. You know, again, it's sort of my personal preference of what I'm doing here. I'm trying to, you know, learn as much as possible about these movements and express it as well as I know how, and in my opinion, that's sort of the goal.
Eddie Cummings: So there's been a lot of that, a lot of like, "Oh, this move works really, really well on 95% of opponents. But if you get a guy who really knows how to invert, it's going to take your back off this 100% of the time." And you're only going to run into that, you know, maybe one match in competition. And like, if you're lucky like me and you have these training partners, then you see it every day.
Interviewer: I was going to ask, is that something that you are encountering?
Eddie Cummings: Yeah, I mean, so that's just it, like when you train with so many high-level guys, you really see which moves are tested at that level. So, if you go to maybe a gym where you don't have as many have high-level guys, or any high-level guys, you can get away with stuff. Right? And you might not even get exposed, like maybe never in competition. Maybe it's like you're making a technical flaw and you win world championships because no one in that division knows how to capitalize on that. But especially in the lower weight classes sometimes it's like everyone's really good. You'll get exposed pretty quick if you're 145 pounds and you're trying it on a 200 pound guy. Like even if they're bad. But yeah, I think that's mostly where my game has narrowed, if you will.
Eddie Cummings: So, I mean I record all my knowledge, I have my notes and I can show you counters to this and that and why this might work or that would.
Interviewer: Have you discovered some new ones since you've been here?
Eddie Cummings: Oh, yeah. Lots of cool stuff, you know, out of necessity, sometimes. It's like, I need something that works out of here. You know, I get to work a lot too, now that I'm not competing, I get to experiment. Like, my training is experimental, I'm working, you know, certain positions, trying different movements, I don't have to go all out, I don't have to just look for the finish. I can explore things, you know, and I feel safe to do that here. So it's really cool.
Interviewer: And let me ask then a little about the exchange in the other direction. So obviously, you've picked up a lot. You said you picked up details on guardpassing and the guillotine and so on, that the counters to your leg attacks, but we've seen, Paulo and especially Joao in recent weeks do some really nice leg work.
Eddie Cummings: Junny too.
Interviewer: Junny is another great example. There is a distinct influence from yourself on the competitors that were already here. Right? So-
Eddie Cummings: Yeah, I think they were all learning leg locks as I got here as well. They're already heel locking people.
Interviewer: Okay, you don't want to take credit for it. But there's definitely been an exchange in that direction too.
Eddie Cummings: Anytime they ask me anything I will show them everything I know. I hope it can help them. Like, I hope I can at least help show them what not to do in certain moves. Here, when I do this, I lose. Like, I can tell you what to do to lose. I know what to do there, really, really, well.
Interviewer: Well, is that something that... is this something that after training together that you sit down and you're figuring out those things together, you're going over it, or is it just something that occurs during the training?
Eddie Cummings: I mean, I think it's a combination of sort of the trickle-down effect, right? Like, you train with someone, they train with someone, and it spreads, right, good counters, good offense. But, I mean, I'll also grab Paulo and Joao, what do you think it is? You know, what do you think of, or Italo, or Jeferson, even Murilo, Junny, and all these guys, I'll work with them. What do you think of this? Does this work? Does that work?
Interviewer: A real free flow of information, right?
Eddie Cummings: Yeah, I mean, it's very... sort of just open, like, we're trying to figure out... I think when you have such a high-level gym, it's not just that you're less closed with information, but out of necessity we have to be open. Cause we have to figure out what's going on here. Right? Like you come up with a good move within three days. Four guys have a really high-level counter to it, you know? And then, oh, what about this? And the recount. I mean, you figure this out and it's just fun. I'm really lucky to be here, I think in that sense, it really fulfilled that need for me. You know?
Eddie Cummings: So maybe that's why I'm also not pursuing competition as much, you know? It's not like these guys aren't competing. They're out there, so-
Interviewer: It's a good moment to be here as well because right now, you know, two weeks out from ADCC, Paulo, Murilo, and Dillon are all going. What's it been like at the moment? What's the training been like?
Eddie Cummings: Ah, it's been intense. I haven't been here as much as I usually because I've started school again. So that's been taking my time, but it's definitely... you know, I don't want to give too many secrets away. But they are working hard and yeah, I'm looking forward to watching ADCC this year. They're all doing [No-Gi] Pans tomorrow. Crazy, you know, they're... I'm excited to watch them.
Interviewer: Will ADCC something that you, yourself, the competed at a couple of years ago now, but... 66 would be your division.
Eddie Cummings: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Interviewer: Let's talk about that. Let's talk about the ADCC division this year. What are your thoughts, first of all, on the competitor list?
Eddie Cummings: Yeah, so it was definitely... you know, when I came to Unity, part of the deal was, and I said this, it wasn't anyone required me, I'm like, look, I don't want to compete against teammates. You know, I'm not going to look for a slot against Paulo at 66, you know, if 77 opens up, maybe there. I made that clear walking in, just, I prefer that. You know, I think it facilitates a more open environment. It's like, look, I don't want to compete with anyone. If you guys want to take... you know, not that they're taking the spot. Talking about 66, I think Paulo's a huge favorite. I think even last year against Cobrinha, like he fell in that guillotine, could have gone either way, the call, but I think he's... I am confident in him in that division. Yeah.
Interviewer: It's a loaded division, right? 66 is interesting this year because we were looking at it and Frazatto and Tanquinho, two of the oldest veterans within the division. But Paulo could possibly be considered a veteran because there are so many guys making their ADCC debut, and a lot of first timers and really young guys, right?
Eddie Cummings: I mean, I think... I came up when Paulo and Joao were brown belts, you know, and they were like crushing everything and I was like a purple belt and they were these godlike, you know, mini-Mendes brothers coming out who were going to be the next big thing. So I think, you know, my generation still views them as, "new" and the younger competitor, but yeah, you're like, wait, they've competed at ADCC.Like, they've been around, you know, they are definite veterans of ADCC, you know, I don't think it's a lack of experience that's going to cost Paolo anything in that division. And I think, you know, guys like Tanquinho, he does match up very well... he's good. Make no mistake, these guys are very, very good.
Interviewer: Who else in the 66 division? Like I said, a lot of guys making their debuts. You've got guys like Jamil Hill and Matheus Gabriel, and a lot of other guys who maybe we haven't seen.
Eddie Cummings: You can't write them off, right, because you haven't seen them compete no-gi with heel hooks as much as possible. In my personal experience, especially these days as the gi and no-gi separate more and more, and again, there are guys who've bridged that gap really well. Like Paulo being one of them.But I think, you know, Paulo still competes a ton in no-gi, he just had a bunch of supervised no-gis. He's training no-gi with heel hooks everyday. I'm sure the other guys are starting to really see those heel hooks, but I think you can't underestimate how different those games are and how like, Oh yeah, I think I know a heel lock versus, like, are you had heat put on you in serious heel hooks? Sort of like...you know, just wrestled and then you go do jiu-jitsu. Right. Your wrestling doesn't translate well. So I think just doing gi jiu-jitsu and you go to ADCC no-gi heel hooks, it's a different gap as well.
Interviewer: So you think this gap is just continuing to grow?
Eddie Cummings: I think it's going to widen more and more. I think, you know, thanks to Flo and a lot of these no-gi events, you think there are a lot more people exclusively training no-gi. And I think even if you're not exclusively training, if you're training with people who are exclusively training it, that instantly levels you up so to speak. Right? Like if you're training with a guy who does gi all year and then takes it off with you, well he's not skilled, but if you train with a guy who does heel locks all year round, and then he's trying to heel lock you, right, you're jumping to the head of line in terms of learning how to defend an attack, right. Rather than like, Oh, we both take our tops off and we figured this out together. No, you have to specialists... so the more specialists there are, I think the more the little nuances will spread and become a bigger part of this.
Interviewer: When do you think that we might or we could see you back in action?
Eddie Cummings: I can't say when for sure. You know, I have had some tempting offers, but I think it's... you don't use the word retired, like, unless you've accomplished something, you know? But I'm definitely taking a step back for quite some time, I think. So, you know. Training, teaching, I'm studying, but I think, yeah, I don't think the juice is worth the squeeze in terms of competition, for me, at this point. I'm not that successful, maybe, so it's easy to say that, I guess, it's like, yeah.
Interviewer: Sounds like you're not writing it off, though.
Eddie Cummings: What? No, I mean, like, at some point, sure. Like, I get the itch time, but you know, then it's like Ottavia will be like, "look, do you really want to take four weeks and cut weight and all this sacrifice to what, show up to some lackluster match?" We're not even sure about the rules, really. Do we like sub only, do we not, like, Fight 2 Win seems to be doing the best and KASAI, you know, and those are great rule sets but then they only come around once in a while. Finding good matches that the guy's not going to pull out.
Eddie Cummings: The worst is prepping for a fight and someone pulls out. That costs me two weeks of my life of not eating as much as I want, and training for a specific guy and sacrificing other areas of my life for literally nothing, and I'm not sure, again, with the level of competition I have in the room, I'm not sure it's worth making those sacrifices right now.
Interviewer: Speaking of the rules as well, and we were talking about this earlier, is the question will be the rules. Because you know, there are various opportunities to compete now, you've got obviously IBJJF points no-gi, you've got ADCC points, you've got ssubmission-only, you've got KASAI points, which is kind of a hybrid. There are various solutions being presented to the question, how to score match. But there's still many question marks over which is the best. Do you have any feelings or thoughts on this?
Eddie Cummings: Yeah, I have a lot of thoughts and a lot of feelings, but I don't think I have anything necessarily constructive to add. I think we've all figured out that there's positives and negatives to every rule set. The KASAI rules for instance, I think I was influential in some of the points, we get a point for the sub and all that. I think we're figuring out how to apply that better and clearer on that rule set. But that rule set works nice. You know, keep in mind the rule set like... like, if you told me, "Eddie, what's the best rule set for you personally? Like to decide who is a better grappler or to decide which techniques work better?" Those rules look very different than what is spectator-friendly. Right? So I think any rule set is going to strike a balance.
Eddie Cummings: Like, as a competitor, I like to see no time limit matches. I like seeing no time limit matches with breaks, you know, honestly. Because then you get the best jujitsu, right? And that's what we really want as someone studying tape. I want to see guys go at it for six hours straight with breaks so they're nice and fresh. So they get to game plan and maybe talk to their coaches, figure out something different and go try that, go try that. You know, multiple submissions, something like that. You know, I'd like to see, you know, something more along the lines of, like, a tennis match, which is epic, you know, and a couple tries to really see who's better. Going to lower the, the variance of matches and results. But who wants to see, you know, 10 hours of jiu-jitsu event, you know?
Interviewer: You saw a match recently with Keith Krikorian competing on a submission-only event, I think it was called Shugyo and it was a 70-minute match.
Eddie Cummings: That's awesome. Yeah. That's awesome. That's awesome. I like that.
Interviewer: But... Difficult to watch, right?
Eddie Cummings: Oh, I mean, that's not like... like the Gordon Keener matches, they're like an hour and a half. I was just talking to Dylan about it. We have a bet going on it. But I've watched it a bunch of times and I think, look, I mean, I love it. I love the sport and I love studying it. But even I, you know, like need a cup of coffee to get through that sometimes. So I get it. But you know, I think sometimes there's the part of us that wants to see like,, cool flying things and like the part of us that really wants to enrich the art and learn and figure out which techniques are better and see beautiful cleans jiu-jitsu that's technically sound. You know, there's those two pieces, always, you know, we all like to see like, you know, a backwards imanari roll to a flying triangle. I don't even know how you'd pull it off.
Eddie Cummings: At the same time, I think we need to really be disciplined with ourselves so we further the art, right? So we see what good jiu-jitsu likes, and we give people a chance to express that. So, you know, it's hard to answer that question. We talked about rule sets.
Interviewer: I remember you saying to me years ago, I think the first time that we met, that you were, you know, frustrated about how certain rule structures have an influence on the direction of the art.
Eddie Cummings: Like we talked about this from like day one. Why do you heel lock? Because no one trains them, because you know, there's this rule set that bans them. So you know, 11 months out of the year, guys aren't training them. So that's a good thing to train me. Right. And that's entirely because of the rule set. Like you talk to any black belt, they're all okay with heel hooks, they're fine with heel hooks. The only reason they don't do them is because they're not in competition. But, like, they're fine with them. They're not scared of them and they're not going no, don't let heel hooks in. You know, and I get it. We have rules that are established, so I'm not trying to say we should change all those, but I think we do need to be careful with how rule sets can change the game. I mean EBI rules really I think sharpened everyone's back control and armbar and we realized how hard it was to finish from the back.
Eddie Cummings: And we came up with a whole bunch of escapes that led to mount, which we didn't use in IBJJF. Right? Like you'd never used that escape. Like the elbow slip escape we were talking about, you'd never use that in IBJJF because you get mounted. But EBI rules, that's awesome. That's a great escape.
Interviewer: Did you find that there was a trade-off, though, for example, the EBI rules? We definitely saw that it promoted people simply stalling out to the overtime time. Right?
Eddie Cummings: Yeah. We've got to fix that. Right. But you know, people still still out in regular tournaments and then have a wrestling match in overtime. So, you know, there's a sound argument where at least we're deciding it with jiu-jitsu rather than a wrestling match.
Interviewer: Still looking for that solution.
Eddie Cummings: Yeah. So you know, I'm not knocking any rules set. You know, I think they're all trying to solve the same problem. And I think ultimately, I think it is impossible to reconcile the, you know, furthering the art because that just, you know, you just need lots of tape, lots of slow, measured, controlled, repeated matches here. You need to have 10 10 minute matches separated by a time break with two guys so that, you know, you could see, oh, they won this one, this one they made this adaption, they made that one. Stalling becomes futile, you know, sort of like an exercise in repetition, if you will.
Eddie Cummings: But I think yeah, we see the problems with EBI rules and all those things too. You know, if it's exciting, it's maybe not as productive in terms of furthering the art. Right? Like we could have three minute rounds, where you have crazy scoring rules. Like remember that one push out tournament they did down South? That was like crazy rules. And like, that was exciting. But I'm still not sure who won, right? I'm not sure why this is two and you get one if it's a near sweep, but you're out of bounds. And it was a whole weird, but people moved a lot. Right? Got a lot of points going, so, Oh no. But yeah.