ABU DHABI // More than 300 fighters, including the defending champion Claudio Calasans of Brazil, will compete in the third staging of the World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship this month.
The best fighters from trials held around the world will vie for titles in eight categories for the black belts and a slice of the US$1 million (Dh3.67m) prize money at the National Exhibition Centre from April 14 to 16.
For the first time, a junior competition for ages 12 to 17 will be staged, as well as an over-40 event and a "No Gi" championship this Friday and Saturday, as a lead-up to the main events.
"The championship has grown in stature and only the best from the trials staged around the world will travel to Abu Dhabi," said Nasser al Tamimi, the championship director and general secretary of the UAE Wrestling, Judo and Jiu-Jitsu Federation.
"The fighters can participate in as many trials [as they want].
"So they have many chances to qualify and also win some prize money. Those who qualify from the trials also receive free travel and accommodation."
The championship is organised in eight weight categories for the professionals, with a separate tournament for the lower ranks.
"Claudio [Calasans] as the defending champion of the absolute class receives a direct entry to the finals," al Tamimi said. "Then there are those who qualified from the trials that were held around the world, so top-class combats are guaranteed."
Calasans last year won his 83kg weight division and outclassed the Briton, Braulio Estima, in the absolute class.
The UAE produced three world champions - Faisal al Ketbi, Tarek al Ketbi and Yahia Mansoor - all of whom will be back to defend their titles.
"The Abu Dhabi event is the one we have all been training for the whole year and looking forward to this as no other," said al Ketbi, who won both his 93kg and the open weight class in the purple-belt division.
"The sport has really taken off in the Emirates and this is a great championship to prepare for and participate. There will be around 20 Emirati fighters and we hope we can do better than we did last year."
The first two championships were staged at the Abu Dhabi International Tennis Complex at Zayed Sports City, the first with prize money of $150,000, since elevated to $1m.
"It has been a big hit from the inception," said Mohammed Thaloob al Derai, the president of the UAE Wrestling, Judo and Jiu-Jitsu Federation.
"There hasn't been a championship of this calibre, although the sport had a big following in several countries including in the Middle East.
"We wanted to give the sport a shot in the arm with a championship for the professionals and decent prize money. This championship has really taken off. It has become the premier and most popular event in the world.
"The trials that were conducted as qualification have received good response and obviously it has raised the bar for the competition."