x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Jiu-jitsu females are in with a fighting chance

Caroline de Lazzer will retire from competition this year to focus on training Emirati women to follow in her footsteps and become world champion.

Caroline de Lazzer is a jiu-jitsu competitor who works and trains in Abu Dhabi and is married to Marcos 'Santa Cruz' Oliveira, a Brazilian champion.
Caroline de Lazzer is a jiu-jitsu competitor who works and trains in Abu Dhabi and is married to Marcos 'Santa Cruz' Oliveira, a Brazilian champion.

Former world jiu-jitsu champion Caroline de Lazzer has a new goal - to see some of the Emirati women she trains become the best on the planet.

De Lazzer, who won her world crown in 2006, will quit from competition after the World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship in Abu Dhabi, which starts today at the National Exhibition Centre, and a final attempt to regain her world title in the United States later in the year.

"I had a dream of becoming a world champion when I first started in jiu-jitsu, and I achieved that," the 31-year-old said.

"Now I have another dream and that is to see some of my students to become world champions."

The Brazilian is an instructor with the Abu Dhabi Jiu-Jitsu School programme, an initiative of the Abu Dhabi Education Zone in conjunction with the Abu Dhabi Sports Council.

She has been in the role for two years and has eight female students, four Emiratis and four Moroccans, taking part in the World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship in the white/blue belt category.

"I have decided to quit from competition because I can't do both, compete and concentrate on my students," de Lazzer said.

"I want to give more than 100 per cent of my time to my students and in training future Emirati champions.

"This is the first time we see Emirati girls in a world professional championship. For them, it is not about winning but the experience. If they can go on and win, which they are capable of in my thoughts, it is well and truly good achievement."

Shamma al Muhairi, Maha Sultan, Shamtha Hassan and Eman Mohammed are the four Emirati girls and they come into the competition with only six months of training.

"The important development here is that they are willing to fight on the open stage, which is a breakthrough for the Emirati girls," de Lazzer said.

"These girls are from about 500 students we train under the jiu-jitsu development programme.

"They have been training three to four hours a day, five days a week to prepare for this competition.

"They are very excited because it is their first ever appearance in public."

De Lazzer began jiu-jitsu at 21 and became a world champion five years later.

She was lost to Hillary Williams in the 2010 world championship final on the judges' decisions after the points were tied.

"I was a late starter in jiu-jitsu but I was involved in various other sports and all that help me learn fast," she said.

"I started with ballet at age four and then took up gymnastics, and played volleyball and handball.

"My time in ballet and gymnastics helped when I got into jiu-jitsu. Ballet and gymnastics are fantastic sports for the kids because it teaches one to have a great balance and flexibility.

"I was introduced to jiu-jitsu by my brother and later one of my friends. I got hooked on the sport from the very first day.

"It has been a great journey for me in the past 10 years. Winning the world title was the high point.

"It was a dream that I had ever since I started and to fulfil that in five years was great. It also helped me to be selected for the Brazilian team in wrestling, for which I trained for about three years."

De Lazzer was a member of the Brazil's women wrestling team at the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro.

"Wrestling is quite similar to jiu-jitsu," she said. "I didn't win any medals at the Pan American Games but it was a good experience and nice to have it on your CV. However, it is jiu-jitsu for me for the rest of my life.

"Jiu-jitsu has given me so much joy and opened up a whole new world for me. If not I would have been working as a nutritionist, married and raising a family back in Brazil."

De Lazzer is married to Marcos "Santa Cruz" Oliveira, a Brazilian champion and an instructor under the same jiu-jitsu school programme.

He was also one of the finalists in the Dh1 million Mixed Martial Arts Abu Dhabi Fighting Championship held earlier in the year.

De Lazzer made a second-round exit in her first appearance at the World Professional Championship in Abu Dhabi last year but believes she is better prepared to win her 63kg weight category and the open weight class.

"The Abu Dhabi event has drawn the best in the world but I have prepared well this time," she said. "I usually train for five to six hours, six days a week ahead a big competition but since I have to work it has been three to four hours. Still I think I am in pretty good shape for another world title."

Nearly 80 female martial arts experts from all over the world are in fray in the brown/black category along with more than 200 in the men's division for a slice of the US$1 million (Dh3.67m) prize money in the competition worked off over two days. The opening day today is for the juniors.

apassela@thenational.ae