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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Igor Silva looks to end season on a high by winning first gold medal at Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship

Igor Silva has finished baking the cake. He just needs some icing to go on top of it.

Having secured enough ranking points to end the season as the world's No 1 jiu-jitsu fighter, he is now looking to win his first gold medal at the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship.

The Abu Dhabi-based Silva goes into the 12-day season finale, which gets under way at Mubadala Arena on Monday, with 2,040 points under his belt. That puts him 420 points ahead of his nearest challenger, Poland's Adam Wardzinski, with only 400 up for grabs for the winner.

Silva, who works with the UAE Army as a trainer, has competed three times at the World Pro - in 2011 when he was still based in his native Brazil, and in 2015 and 2016 by which time he had become a UAE resident. He had to settle for bronze medals on all three occasions.

And after skipping the competition in the intervening years for a variety of reasons, he is confident of winning gold this year - seeing as it is his best season since arriving in the Emirates.

Silva has also sought to add more significance to his victory bid in the capital.

“My first target was to win the world title for both my country, and for the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation on this special occasion when the World Pro is celebrating 10 years,” he said.

In that sense, Silva may have timed his rise to the top to perfection.

Indeed, he has enjoyed much success this season, most notably winning the Super Fight in Brazil, and finishing on top at the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship, which is the world's most prestigious Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament, as well as the European Championship.

But Silva, who turns 34 on Thursday, hinted that his biggest achievement would be to become world No 1 after swapping categories within the martial art during the break between seasons.

After reaching the top of the rankings last season in the "No-Gi" category - which involves competing without the traditional kimono - Silva chose a career path similar to the one taken by compatriot and fellow jiu-jitsu instructor Jose Junior when he switched to the "Gi" category.

What makes his successes even more commendable is the fact he has had to wear a few hats while competing.

“It’s no easy task to divide time between work and family commitments, and still find time to train twice a week to become the world No 1,” said Silva, who has a three-year-old son with a second child expected in August. “It’s very hard to do it every year. I focused too much on the No-Gi last season and [it is] no different this time around.

“It still takes a big toll on you, but you have to make sacrifices if you want to reach the summit in any sport."

It is the kind of toll that forced Junior to take a break this season after a successful previous year, but Silva has chosen to keep going.

Jose Junior, in blue, has set an example for fellow Brazilian fighter Igor Silva to follow. Amith Passela / The National
Jose Junior, in blue, has set an example for fellow Brazilian fighter Igor Silva to follow. Amith Passela / The National

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"I still enjoy competing at this level and hope more big moments still to come,” he said. “Fortunately, here in Abu Dhabi I’m in jiu-jitsu all day either teaching or training. The facilities are the best in the world and more importantly life is comfortable."

Silva first arrived in the Emirates in 2011 to compete at the World Pro after winning a qualifying competition in Brazil.

“I had a colleague of my working as an instructor in Abu Dhabi, and he suggested me to come and try something outside Brazil," he said. “I thought it was a good idea, and it was a country that was supporting jiu-jitsu all over the world. I came here and got employment."

Silva's life has evidently taken many twists and turns. For instance, had he not taken a stab at jiu-jitsu when he was 14, he may well have chosen another profession.

“I was playing football until then,” he said. “I knew some of my friends practising the martial art, and they encouraged me to join. After a few training sessions I wanted to compete straightaway.”

Silva insisted jiu-jitsu is in a better position than when he first started out.

“Now they have better facilities, more competitions and bigger prize monies,” he said. “The levels from the blue belts onwards is very high."

What would his advice to youngsters be? "If one wants to be successful, you need to think and work more professionally from the start," he said.

But more than anything else, "be a good person both inside and outside".