ABU DHABI // With three world titles already safely nestled beneath his black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ), Braulio Estima's focus for the past few months has switched to improving his stand-up fight game ahead of his mixed martial arts debut in the US competition, Shine Fights.
But the lure of another world title in the form of the second World Professional Jiu Jitsu Cup - which begins this evening in a city he says is held in high regard among the fight community for its investment in sport - proved too strong for the 6ft 3in Brazilian to resist. And so Estima, who won the Under 88kg division of Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) Submission World Championship last year in Barcelona as well as the absolute, or open weight division, took to the weighing scales last night ahead to this evening's opening bouts.
"I have seen most of the trials and how good most of the guys have been doing," he said. "I like to challenge myself and compete. I have been training MMA for the past three months but didn't want to miss the opportunity to come here and work with the top guys. I love this sport." Estima is one of 115 professional fighters who are competing in this year's event. Last year, he came second in the open weight category and fourth in the Under 95kg division. This year he will be fighting at a lighter weight of 83kg.
Trials have been held around the world during the past six months, including in the United States, Brazil, the UK, New Zealand, Japan, Australia, South Africa and Canada. The best 80 fighters have made it to Abu Dhabi and this final three-day event, having had their flights and hotel expenses covered by the organisers. Fernando Junior, a BJJ coach in Abu Dhabi involved in the event, said yesterday that the cash prizes awarded to the various divisions - which range from US$1,000 (Dh3,671) to $20,000 - are unusual in BJJ competitions and this, along with the trial process, ensures the event garners the best athletes the world has to offer.
Estima agreed when he said: "The submission competition launched by ADCC in the 1990s became very prestigious because of the money it offered and the quality of fighters it attracted. "So when they launched this World Professional Jiu Jitsu Cup it already had the credit of the ADCC and the fact that all of the top sporting events are now coming to Abu Dhabi." The city, he said, has become a reference for top sports and its investment in BJJ - such as the recruitment of 80 BJJ teachers from Brazil by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, to instruct the sport at UAE public schools and within the armed forces, "it has become very prestigious for us to come here".
Estima is participating in the professional Under 81kg division as well as the absolute division - which offers a winner-takes-all prize of $20,000. While he is unsure about how he will fare, due to his switch to MMA and the rounds being six minutes long instead of the usual 10 minutes, the quality of fighters at the event made it too tempting an invitation to turn down. "All of the top fighters are in this so it is going to be difficult," he said.