2016 World Jiu Jitsu IBJJF Championship
What a fantastic experience we all had this time around at the 2016 IBJJF World Jiu Jitsu Championships in Long Beach, California. Once again, Teresa and I travelled to the states with our small group of dedicated fighters and supported them as they tested their skills against the very best Jiu Jitsu fighters on the planet.
Every one of our guys who competed had near-perfect training and preparation in the lead up to competition, I could not be more proud and inspired by these guys for all their hard work and commitment to refining their skillsets, their strength and their conditioning for the biggest competition of the year.
For some, the very best training and preparation were not enough for the desired result on competition day, while for others the planets seemed to align perfectly and their results were nothing short of spectacular. The one thing in common between our team of fighters was that they all fought their hearts out to the very best of their ability, and they can hold their heads high regardless of the result.
I want to go through each of our fighters individually, and give them massive respect for their own efforts and experiences. Starting with the one and only, Apryl Eppinger. I’ve said it before, and I can’t resist saying it again, Apryl, you are one of the gutsiest women I have ever met! Once again, you showed up to compete when the odds were really stacked against you. To offer a picture of Apryl’s situation leading up to competition, her grandfather passed away just before competition week, and her lower back went into spasm just before we flew to the states. In the face of this physical and emotional adversity, Apryl showed up to FIGHT! And fight she did, winning her first two fights convincingly in one of the most competitive divisions, Apryl narrowly lost her quarter final on points. It was an incredibly emotional day not just for Apryl but for all of us, and she showed the heart of a true Champion.
Next up, the big man himself, George Tuuholoaki. George impressed everyone with his efforts on the gym floor leading up to this competition. To say that he turned a corner in his training would be a massive understatement. We saw a different George this time around, his strength and conditioning levels skyrocketed along with his motivation to shake up the Ultra-Heavyweight division and bring home the Gold medal. Unfortunately though, the most perfect preparation doesn’t always translate to the perfect result on the day. George lost his opening fight by an advantage, the slimmest of margins in a BJJ contest, to a guy who physically resembled actor Michael Clarke Duncan (R.I.P.) from the movie “The Green Mile”, outweighing George easily by 25kg.
George did all the right things, fought his best fight, but came up short when the final buzzer sounded. It was painfully close, and excruciating to watch George bow out by such a slim margin, but that’s the way the fight game goes sometimes. One thing is for sure though, George will be back bigger and badder for the next competition – that Gold medal will be yours one day, brother!
Cooper “The Terminator” Burnham is our 15 year old prodigy from Mildura. His exceptional talent, skills and work ethic have brought him a long way in his young years. After winning the Kids World Championships last year, Cooper and his family have dedicated this year to really pushing his limits on the major international competition circuit – and he did just that this time in his first crack at the IBJJF Worlds. Cooper’s ‘never give up’ attitude was on full display not only on the gym floor in preparation for the comp, but on the mats on game day as well. So much so, that he pushed through getting sick with a nasty cough in the week leading up to competition. Nonetheless, on game day Coop disposed of his first opponent handily, but went up against a Brazilian kid in the final who will most likely remain Coop’s nemesis for many years to come. In a hard fought, back and forth battle, Coop’s opponent struggled to maintain control of the fight while Coop threw everything but the kitchen sink at him. In the closing minutes of the fight Coop’s opponent was able to secure a very impressive ‘bow and arrow’ choke, forcing Cooper to submit.
It’s never easy for an ultra-competitive 15 year old being handed a Silver medal, but sometimes there is a more valuable lesson in a defeat like this, as you can build on the weaknesses exposed through the defeat and turn those weaknesses into strengths. With all that said, a Silver medal in Cooper’s first IBJJF World Championship event is an amazing achievement in and of itself, but the real gift here is the motivation to keep striving for the Gold. Coop, you are already a World Champion in our eyes, we are excited to keep working with you to put all the pieces together and bring home the Gold next time!
Finally, Shantelle Thompson. Last year, Shantelle tore through her division at the 2015 IBJJF Worlds and took home the Gold medal in her weight division, and the bronze medal in the open weight division. This year was an almost exact repeat of last year, except she chose not to compete in the open weight division – she figured one Gold medal was enough for the day. For the second consecutive year, Shantelle showed up much smaller than the other girls in the Super Heavyweight division (15kg-20kg lighter than her opponents), and absolutely dominated them in both strength and skill. She put on the kinds of performances her Coaches could only dream of, and asserted herself as the most dominant Super Heavyweight in the world, again.
All in all we had another amazing trip full of laughs, a lot of hanging out, relaxing, eating clean food, a little bit of training, and a whole lot of fire for competition. The experience was an emotional rollercoaster, seeing people we care so much about with so much on the line in this competition, there were tremendous highs and devastating lows. But this is the sport we love, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Many thanks to Coach Thiago Stefanutti of team Absolute/Maromba Academia International for his wisdom and guidance in coaching these guys to where they are today, I only wish you could have been there to see your guys perform, mate. To all of the unsung heroes, the training partners at Absolute (you all know who you are), you all deserve a massive shout out because without solid training partners there is no true development in the sport.
Thanks to Teresa Marcello, my magnificent girlfriend who supports these athletes so well, and keeps them as injury-free as possible. Teresa is always there for these guys, and I don’t think she gets the credit she deserves. T, you are amazing, I love you :)
Thanks to my awesome team at Fitline, Jeff, Jess, Michael, Amanda and Nadia for all your hard work and support for these guys over the last few months especially. You guys help to create the environment for success which our athletes thrive in, and you guys need to be recognized for how vital you are to the success of these guys. Jess for your controlled-strength work with Shantelle, the benefits of the controlled strength method for Shantelle’s balance, core strength and movement have been amazing! Michael for your exceptional strength and power work with George, thank you! The big man has come a long way since you guys have been working together, you are a true Jedi master :)
Last but not least, massive congratulations and thank you to the athletes themselves. George, Shantelle, Apryl and Cooper from the bottom of my heart I thank you for joining forces with us and allowing us to be a part of your Jiu Jitsu journeys. I am so deeply proud of you guys for the work we are doing together, and for being prepared to do what 99% of the population aren’t – to push yourselves beyond what you think you’re capable of, to push yourselves into the unknown, and lay it all on the line to fight for your dream. Thank you.