Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 August 2019

Abu Dhabi World Pro 2019: Cancer survivor Joao Rocha has already won his toughest battle

On Wednesday, the Brazilian returned to the UAE for the first time in six years to top the Brazilian Qualifier and reach the main draw of the black belt 110-kilogram weight

Joao Rocha has been battling on two fronts: on the mat in his favourite sport, jiu-jitsu, and the other against a much tougher opponent: cancer.

On Wednesday, Rocha returned to the UAE for the first time in six years to top the Brazilian Qualifier and reach the main draw of the black belt 110-kilogram weight in the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship 2019.

The 26-year-old was diagnosed with testicular cancer in early 2014 but returned to action a year later in local competitions.

“Life became different for me after going through four chemotherapies and losing all my hair from the head,” said Rocha who made his first and only appearance at the World Pro, as the Abu Dhabi event is popularly known, in 2013.

“It was a long and arduous journey to come back where I’am today. I’m extremely happy to have made it to the main draw. Now I want to win here."

Rocha competed in the brown belt 100kg in the World Pro 2013, reaching the semi-finals.

He reached the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation’s (IBJJF) World Championship final in the same weight and belt division in California in September before he earned his black belt.

“The illness kept me out of action for a year because of the treatment I had to go through,” Rocha said.

“Imagine, a 20-year-old black belt having everything he wanted in life and then suddenly everything changed. I was devastated when I was told of my illness.

“I went to the doctors because I felt pain in the stomach and I was shocked when the reports came in. My family was around me and it is because of their support that I’m back to full fitness and competing here.”

Rocha said his energy levels fell considerably after going through treatment and the road to recovery was a torturous journey.

“It was like picking up from where I started, from the white belt. I didn’t give up hope but decided to go through the whole process again. I had to be mentally strong and I slowly fought back.

“It was a life-changing experience and it still is. I’m now living a life wishing everyday that there will be another day for me.”

In the World Pro qualifier, Rocha had to overcome three opponents to reach the main draw. He outclassed Mauricio Lima by points 9-0, Rodrigo Ribeiro 2-1 on advantage points after a 2-2 deadlock, and Matheus Felipe da Silva 4-2.

Whatever happens for the rest of his stay in Abu Dhabi, Rocha has already won his toughest battle.

“For me, returning to full fitness and qualifying for the main draw was the first objective on my return to the World Pro,” he said.

“Obviously the next goal is to go on and win the gold medal, hopefully. But look, what I have achieved by returning to competition after battling cancer is my biggest victory. Now, I wake up every morning looking ahead for the next day.”

Updated: April 24, 2019 05:13 PM

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