One of martial arts’ most coveted tournaments is coming to the UAE, as the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship returns for a ninth year.
Attracting some of the planet’s finest exponents of this fast-paced discipline, the World Pro will spark jiu-jitsu fever at the IPIC Arena in Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City, with more than 7,000 players from over 100 countries battling it out for their share of a Dhs3 million prize fund.
While the elite competition will take place from Tuesday April 18 to Saturday 22, athletes of all levels and backgrounds are invited to show off their best sweeps, chokes and takedowns during the six-day Abu Dhabi World Jiu-Jitsu Festival the week before (Monday April 10 to Saturday 15). There will be plenty of local interest as a large contingent of UAE players both male and female take to the mat during this jiu-jitsu jamboree.
Among those with high hopes of success is Abu Dhabi-based José Junior, who will go into the male black belt 110kg competition as a huge favourite, following a string of stellar performances. The Brazilian star, who has been coaching in the UAE since 2009, has been in irresistible form, grabbing nine golds from his last 18 events and climbing to the top of the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation’s world rankings.
Just last month, he claimed victory at the London leg of the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam World Tour, defeating fellow Brazilian Gabriel Arges in the final. A triumph at the IPIC Arena will cement his position at the top of the rankings, a fact not lost on the 31-year-old.
“I’ve worked really hard to be at the top and it was something that I had been chasing for such a long time,” he tells Time Out. “I can truly say the hard work has paid off and it’s not a surprise for me [to be world number one]. Of course, when you get there it’s hard to believe that you finally have reached the top, but it’s an amazing feeling and makes me want work more to stay there as a number one.”
José Junior has worked with some the sport’s greats over the years, being a student of Juarez Soares for several years before working as a coach under the legendary Carlos Gracie Junior in the USA, gaining a black belt in 2007.
However, he believes his move to these shores was “the best professional choice I have ever made” and feels that, thanks to the UAEJJF’s backing, players here have the right tools to replicate his success.
“The federation and the UAE leaders can see the potential of this sport and its power to change peoples’ lives,” he says. “I believe the secret here is how it’s being introduced. Schools have now taken it on as part of their curriculum and the jiu-jitsu clubs in the UAE are growing.
“This has had a massive impact. We teach all the kids and the athletes strategy. And the sport is growing at a rapid rate. I believe this will make the UAE have outstanding athletes very soon in all the levels and all the belts.”
As for his own journey, José Junior is determined not to lose his grip on the number one spot. Self-belief is undoubtedly playing a part in his continued success.
“I try to do everything perfectly but my biggest strengths are not my power, not my techniques and not my strategy but how much I want to be the number one, how much I want to win – for me that’s all,” he says. “I will never be happy with anything other than being the champion.”
And as for his short-term goals, José Junior is determined to prove the UAE can produce top-class jiu-jitsu players, with success here in the capital setting a benchmark for others to follow.
“I want to inspire more people to get into jiu-jitsu. Soon we will have kids from across the UAE achieving what I am now. I’m proving that they can be a champion. And when I win I will dedicate this to them.”
Registration is still open for the elite championship, the festival, Youth Jiu-Jitsu Cup and Para Jiu-Jitsu tournament. But, if you’re not ready to compete just yet, we suggest you take a look at the Legends tournaments, which will see veteran stars of the sport roll back the years in the capital.
Free for spectators. April 10-22. Timings vary. IPIC Arena, Zayed Sports City, Abu Dhabi, www.uaejjf.org.