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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Samantha Cook expects Abu Dhabi Grand Slam win to inspire European fighters to challenge Brazilians

Englishwoman, along with Germany’s Charlotte von Baumgarten, break stranglehold Brazilians have over martial art in capital

Samantha Cook, in blue, says she can carry on fighting for two more years. Victor Besa / The National
Samantha Cook, in blue, says she can carry on fighting for two more years. Victor Besa / The National

Samantha Cook has said more European jiu-jitsu fighters will head to the UAE following her success at Grand Slam Abu Dhabi over the weekend.

The Englishwoman, along with Germany’s Charlotte von Baumgarten, broke the stranglehold Brazilians have over the martial art in the capital when they clinched gold medals at the two-day event, which concluded on Saturday at Mubadala Arena in Zayed Sports City.

Cook and Von Baumgarten won the women’s 90-kilogram and 62kg weight divisions, respectively - feats the former said would open the doors for more fighters, particularly from the United Kingdom.

“It’s incredible feeling to come here for only the second time and return with a gold medal,” Cook said after victory over the Brazilian Thamara Silva by submission in the final gave the Londoner her first title outside the UK.

“I have been here for the Abu Dhabi World Pro in 2015 after qualifying through the trials in the UK but couldn’t make it to the medal rounds," she added.

"I thought I’ll make another trip and very glad I did."

Cook pointed out the competitions in Abu Dhabi were beginning to reveal they were not necessarily dominated by the Brazilians.

“People from Europe are trying to come over because they know this is the best place to come, as it brings the top competitors from around the world to compete,” she said.

“Now the balance is tipped [after her gold], and hopefully more people from Europe will be coming in to compete here.”

Cook is not a full-time fighter but she finds the time to train from her day job as a physiotherapist.

“I have been in jiu-jitsu for nine years,” she said. “I started in judo as a young kid and then switched to showjumping competitively before taking up jiu-jitsu, which I want to pursue as long as possible."

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Cook said even though she was 30, she felt she could go on for at least two more years with the help of some rigorous training to remain competitive at this level.

"I’m still happy to fight girls who are 10 years younger to me," she added. “My body will tell me when to quit, but at the moment and with the success I have just had at Grand Slam Abu Dhabi, I want to enjoy it a bit more.

"Perhaps, coaching is another option.”

Cook also said she saw jiu-jitsu as a fast-growing sport that was increasingly popular in the UK.

“I’m based in London and I see quite a lot of jiu-jitsu schools,” she continued. “It’s still a part-time culture at the moment with not many pursuing it full time. But it’s growing."

Grand Slam London in March is one of the most popular jiu-jitsu events in the UK, and Cook said it would serve as a roadshow for the Abu Dhabi World Pro.

“The competitions like the Grand Slams are encouraging us to take the sport more seriously and find us the time to take part in competitions outside the UK,” she said.

“I have only taken part in the last two Grand Slams in London, and my preparation begins for a third appearance when I return to base.

“It’s hard to find the time when you have a day job but when you have the discipline you will find the time. It also means lots of sacrifices but that’s the joy in sports, preparing for competitions.”

Von Baumgarten stunned Larissa Paes, the Brazilian world No 1, by points 5-0 in the semi-finals. She then went on to take the gold medal from a second Brazilian - world No 10 Nadia Melo - on advantage points following a scoreless deadlock in the six-minute final.