Brazil’s Marcus Almeida pulls upset in men’s black belt final and compatriot Gabrielle Garcia cruises on women’s side as the UAE contingent finishes with six gold medals in three-day tournament, writes Osman Samuddin.
Emirati fighters close curtains on solid outing at Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship
Marcus Almeida provided a dramatic denouement to the final day of the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship on Saturday, upsetting his heavily-favoured Brazilian compatriot Rudolfo Vieira to win gold in the top category of the tournament, the men's open weight black belt.
There were no surprises on the female side of the draw, the towering Brazilian Gabrielle Garcia winning her fifth gold in Abu Dhabi in the black and purple belt open weight category.
The final day also saw a further addition to the UAE's gold medals tally at the championship, Eid Rehaan Al Tenigi winning the Masters blue and purple belt open weight and bringing the gold count to six.
There was a pleasant surprise for Faisal Al Ketbi as well, who was awarded with a silver medal in purple belt open weight after the two finalists Keenan Cornelius and Kaue Damasceno were disqualified for negative play.
But the day's headline-maker was Almeida who beat Vieira 4-2 in a tight final, his first gold medal in this category in Abu Dhabi, and picked up the US$30,000 (Dh110,100) top prize in the process. The pair had faced off twice previously before this match, each picking up one win. Almeida had arrived fresh from winning a tournament in Los Angeles.
"When me and Rudolfo fight each other there is no game plan, we just both fight to win," Almeida said.
"He tries to make me submit, I try to make him do it and we fight aggressively. I'm feeling great because I came here expecting this to be the toughest tournament ever, as all the best fighters in the world were here, so I was well-prepared. And it has been a perfect weekend for me."
The vanquished Vieira was gracious in defeat, though he warned that the title was only in temporary custody.
"I'm sad about losing obviously, as I always am, but he is an excellent athlete and deserved it fully. I am not being a hypocrite in saying that I am very happy for him and that the title is in good hands, but I'm going to work hard and will return as champion."
The women's final was never as close. Garcia used her height and formidable strength from the very beginning and never looked in the remotest bit of trouble against Beatriz Mesquita, romping away to an 11-0 win. In the process she picked up the US$10,000 winner's cheque.
The pair had fought out a couple of ties in recent months and Garcia had felt unwell on Friday night, suggesting that the final could have been a close-run thing.
"I rested a lot last night but I am very happy with this win," Garcia said.
"I had six fights this weekend and I won by submission in all of them up to the final so I'm very happy with the result and all the work that I had put in before this."
But perhaps the day's most heartening story was that of the Emirati Al Tenigi.
Though a veteran fighter, he had not fought competitively for nearly four years until returning to the sport earlier this year. Yet he worked his way through the draw in his category, before beating Sasa Srndovic in the final, who had beaten him by a single point earlier in the weekend.
"I feel so good I can't describe it right now," said Al Tenigi, beaming, arms still raised a few minutes after the win. "I stopped for four years and though I was still training in the gym, I didn't compete at all. So to come back and win is an amazing feeling because I wasn't expecting it at all."
Before the tournament, UAE coaches were confident of doubling their gold medal haul from last year and though, in the competition, they picked up just one more than 2012, officials were still pleased with the progress.
"I think they've done really well because let's not forget that the level of competition this year is higher, tougher than ever before," said UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation (UAEJJF) board member and acting chief executive, Sameera Al Romaithy.
"We had more trial tournaments from around the world, 27 in all, to select the best fighters so literally we've brought the very best of the best. So the haul is a good one."
The fifth anniversary of the tournament had more competitors and greater total prize money than ever before, reaffirming the belief among much of the jiu-jitsu fighting community, including Almeida, Vieira and Garcia, that this is the tournament to be in and win medals at.
Al Romaithy believes, however, that it can get better still.
"We're always trying to improve this event," she said. "We took a lot of feedback from last year to make it better this year. We're still not perfect but we're going to take things away from this tournament and hopefully make next year even better.
"Still, it's been fabulous this year and the level of attendance has been great as well."
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