The Jiu-Jitsu Times is covering the 2018 UAEJJF Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship live and in-person in an effort to bring our readers a bit closer to this incredible international event.
The opportunity to compete at the Abu Dhabi World Pro is, for many athletes, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So for the brown and black belts who competed at the national qualifiers on Thursday, defeat was especially bitter, and victory brought a surge of hope that comes with the knowledge that they were one step closer to being able to call themselves a World Pro champion.
The vibe here was different than it had been on the previous days when only the blue and purple belts were competing. The atmosphere felt electrified, and with more jiu-jitsu “stars” competing and hanging out in the crowd, it felt almost like what it would be like if jiu-jitsu had its own Hollywood. Spectators’ eyes widened as they pointed out Clark Gracie and Talita Alencar to their friends, and Cyborg could barely walk ten steps without someone asking for a photo with him.
While competitors like Edwin Najmi are some of our sport’s versions of celebrities, for the lesser known athletes on the mats yesterday, they were just barriers standing in the way of their own stardom. And as the day went on, we saw more and more athletes’ dreams get closer to becoming reality while others’ were delayed for another year.
The qualifiers, for me, have been the most interesting part of this event so far because of what they represent: a chance at a chance. Yes, the athletes are already competing at an elite level, but they’re so far away from that final round, and yet, there’s an incredible amount of emotion packed into each match. If there was any doubt as to the amount of heart that goes into competing at this event, it can be erased by looking at the faces of quiet devastation on the competitors who were so close to getting their chance at gold and the faces of nervous excitement on those who are that much closer to getting their names written in the jiu-jitsu history books.
There are people who dismissed this day as being “just” the qualifiers, but for me, it would be an injustice to shrug off a day in which so much raw emotion was coursing through the Mudabala Arena. The feeling of “almost” is a powerful one, and whether yesterday’s competitors almost made it or are now almost there, you can bet that it’s a feeling they won’t soon forget.