Abu Dhabi: After 20 years of relentless pursuit, the UAE’s favourite coach Jose Junior achieved what was a long lasting dream — the World No. 1 title.
Having led the World Ranking by 140 points over compatriot Gabriel Arges de Sousa and with another 400 points up for grabs at the Abu Dhabi World Pro, the race for No. 1 spot was wide open.
Junior needed to make it to the finals of the Black Belt 110kg category to seal the top billing.
On Friday, the IPIC Arena was jam packed with supporters of Junior, many who had started their Jiu-Jitsu stint through the programme set by the Brazilian way back in 2009.
Egged on by his hardcore supporters, Junior defeated Erberth Mesquita, last year’s 94kg Black Belt winner, 4-0 by two sweeps in an absorbing semi-finals to seal the No. 1 spot that triggered wild celebrations among his fans.
“I was pursuing this for a long time and this is the highest achievement that a Black Belt holder can have and it’s a dream come true,” said an emotional Junior, who packed his bags from Rio de Janeiro in 2009, cutting short his career, to be a part of the Jiu-Jitsu School programme here in the UAE.
It was only after coming here and seeing the facilities and support that Junior decided to rekindle his ambition of making it big in the sport.
Balancing coaching and training, Junior slowly managed to attain peak form and returned to competition.
“I have some amazing training partners here and that kept me going. Today I gave it everything and swept in twice. It was the first time I was meeting Mesquita but he is No. 1 in the ranking (for the) Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation but today was my day,” said the 32-year-old, who earlier in the group stages defeated Portugal’s Manuel Pontes.
Junior, however, is not keen on resting on his laurels and has set sights on the gold which has eluded him for two successive years.
“Gold will be a fitting finish and I will not spare anything. I have missed it twice before and want to win it this time round. Tomorrow, obviously is going to be a big day and I don’t care whom I’m playing against,” said a beaming Junior, who will be meeting Chris Bowe of Ireland.
The UAE’s poster boy Faisal Al Ketbi has also made it to his maiden 85kg Black Belt final in World Pro since he received his black belt last year.
Al Ketbi defeated Ross Keeping of Great Britain convincingly 9-0 to setup a title clash with Brazil’s Claudio Calasan.
“I tried to follow a strategy and I wanted to do a take-down but I couldn’t. In my training session, I had put myself in this position. I knew exactly what Keeping wanted to do and I waited till he got tired and then I kept pushing to break the guard until I got the points,” said a jubilant Ketbi, adding that he was lying low since the time he got the black belt to solely focus on his training and was focusing on competition in the 85kg category.
“My coach Gordon suggested that I have to play in the 85kg and after I finished the competition in Vietnam, I began losing weight. I took part in the Japan Grand Slam and from there on I started playing in the 85kg. I have trained really hard and hopefully I can win gold having come this far,” revealed Al Ketbi.
Last year’s Absolute winner, Brazilian Felipe Pena, has also made it to the finals of the Black 94kg category. Pena defeated compatriot Alexandre Ribeiro 2-0 in the semis on advantage points to meet Poland’s Adam Wardzinski.
“It was two tough fights today. My semi-final opponent was a really a tough guy and I am super happy to get the win. I’m fighting to the best of my abilities and it gives me a lot of confidence. I was great yesterday and today and I really now want to win gold,” said a pumped up Pena.
However, there was huge disappointment for United States star Mackenzie Dern, who was going for her hat-trick in the 55kg Black Belt.
Dern was battling against time to reduce weight but it is believed that she couldn’t make the weight limit on time and chose to pull out at last minute instead.