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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 28 May 2018

Brazilian jiu-jitsu star Jose Junior itching to fight again as he eyes comeback at Grand Slam Tokyo

Instructor prepares for opening leg of Abu Dhabi World Tour in July following one-year break from competition

Jose Junior, in blue, could no longer watch from the sidelines while on a sabbatical. Amith Passela / The National
Jose Junior, in blue, could no longer watch from the sidelines while on a sabbatical. Amith Passela / The National

A rejuvenated Jose Junior has targeted Grand Slam Tokyo for his return to competition after completing a one-year sabbatical from professional jiu-jitsu.

Junior, who has been involved with the sport for two decades, rose to prominence last year when he became the first world champion after the title was instituted by the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation (UAEJJF) in 2017. But he was forced to take the 2017/18 season off in order to focus on his job and family commitments.

The Brazilian now aims to regain the title from Igor Silva, his compatriot and fellow instructor, as he eyes his comeback in Tokyo. The Japanese capital is due to host the opening leg of the Abu Dhabi World Tour in July.

“I enjoyed the break as never before,” Abu Dhabi-based Junior said, while reflecting on the past 12 months. “I have been competing since I was 14, and then almost gave up contesting when I moved to Abu Dhabi for employment 10 years ago."

It was a welcome break for Junior, and he thoroughly enjoyed it.

“I ate whatever I wanted. I spent quality time with my family. I even went out of shape. I put on 15 kilograms [he weighed 125kg before the break], just like I had won a reward to enjoy life!”

But even when he took a backseat, Junior had no doubt in his mind he would one day return to competition.

“It was so difficult for me to watch the action from the stands because I felt the stands wasn’t where I belonged,” Junior, 33, said.

Thus, he began preparations the day after the 10th staging of the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship on April 29. In the days since, he has already shed 10kg.

For Junior, discipline is key.

“First, I try get into good habits,” he said. “I try to live a good lifestyle. I have a good night’s sleep, conscious of what I eat and drink. And above all, I’m a jiu-jitsu teacher and want to lead by example.”

Junior has added cycling to his training regime this season and travels to Al Wathba Cycle Track twice or three times a week.

“I train two hours a day. I cycle for about one-and-a-half to two hours to get into good shape," he said. "I’ll be starting my conditioning training and then get into professional training in the next couple of weeks.”

Junior wants to compete in as many events as possible in his bid to regain the world No 1 title. Hence, even though he officially kickstarts the season in Tokyo, he intends to get some practice at the two-day Ramadan Cup, which gets under way in Abu Dhabi on May 26.

“Perhaps, I may enter the Ramadan Cup to get my adrenaline working and get that feeling of competing again," he said. "I want to take part in all the local competitions."

Jose Junior was last year named Best International Male at the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship awards ceremony. Delores Johnson / The National
Jose Junior was last year named Best International Male at the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship awards ceremony. Delores Johnson / The National

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Junior paid tribute to the various establishments in the UAE for promoting martial arts "like no other country has around the world". The Brazilian himself has played a key role in the grassroots development. He was among the first batch of instructors to arrive in the country and work on the Jiu-Jitsu School Programme.

The programme was established by the UAEJJF in association with Abu Dhabi Education Council in 2008 when jiu-jitsu was included in the public school curriculum. It was an instant success and now boasts of more than 70,000 schoolboys and girls.

Junior is impressed by the progress.

“In 10 years, the school programme has achieved what others would have taken 50 years,” he said.

Junior considers himself fortunate to be in Abu Dhabi, grateful for the opportunities he has come across during his time here. "To reach the summit in the sport is a dream come true and I want to try and win the world title again," he said.

“Obviously it’s going to be a lot harder than the first time with so many around the world eyeing the title. I prefer the bigger challenges and that’s what a world title is all about.”