Isiah Wright is, in a word, grateful.
The BJJ black belt under Amal Easton and Vellore Caballero is preparing himself for yet another big match at Fight 2 Win, this time against Andrew Wiltse in a no-gi match at F2W 144. It’s a familiar challenge for the athlete, who was the 170lb no-gi champion for the promotion as a brown belt. But this time around, his presence on that stage will feel different, and it’s all thanks to the hard work he’s recently put into both his jiu-jitsu and his heart and mind.
Wright began his journey in the jiu-jitsu world after seeing the movie Red Belt. He thought to himself, “Man, I can do that,” but it wasn’t until he started taking his brother to training that Wright himself eventually decided to try it for himself. “The first time I did class, I got beat up. I was like, ‘The hell with this,’ and didn’t come back for five months,” he told the Jiu-Jitsu Times. “After my pride was able to take some hits, I went back to Easton in 2010 and haven’t left since.”
While Wright says that there are a “ton” of people who have contributed to making him into the man he is today, he specifically names his professors Easton and Caballero, his mom (even though she still calls it ‘karate,’ he says), and his partner as being the people who have had a significant impact on him. He also plans to be a role model himself as future generations begin their own jiu-jitsu journeys.
“I think it’s important for the kids to have structure and good role models. I am blessed to work in a nice neighborhood. I think it’s cool for the kids to be able to see someone that is different from them — who doesn’t look like them, different backgrounds, religions — and figure out how to love and live with each other at a young age. Then for the kids of my culture, I think it’s very important that I show them that there are other paths in life like being a business owner or community leader rather than being a rapper or football player. Not that there is nothing wrong with playing football (my slow a*s couldn’t), but growing up, I always thought it was so cool to see people that looked like me doing other great things in life!”
Wright, like many of us, has been impacted by the current state of the world, but even all the despair in the news can’t diminish his gratitude for what he has. “Man, with so much going on in the world right now, I am just extremely happy to be able to do jiu-jitsu! I think we took a lot of things in our life for granted, and what’s happening right now has taught us to just appreciate the small things,” he says.
The black belt is also going into his F2W match after a dramatic mental and emotional transformation. He isn’t ashamed to talk about the struggles he’s faced and overcome. “I feel great. This is the first time I can remember in a while where I feel happy and mentally happy,” he says. “I’ve been battling with my own demons of sobriety and depression for a while. I remember hearing Seth [Daniels’] interview or post about his own demons, and I thought, ‘Damn, other people going through this, and if they can, I can too. So with therapy and some very great close in friends in my life, I was able to hit the reset button! Wasn’t easy, but I love it. I have been sober for 189 days now and happy to be back to what I love to do and now competing with a fresh mind and heart.”
These struggles have shaped not only how Wright approaches his life outside the gym, but also how he views this particular match. “This match is just another day doing what I love to do. [Wiltse]’s a great competitor. I expect it to be a high-paced, exciting match — fight of the night! But I believe there is no man alive that can beat me the way I beat myself the past before. So even if I do lose this match, f*ck it, I still want all the best grapplers at my weight, and I’m excited and blessed to continue this new journey I have started!”
Wright has also been vocal about his support for the Black Lives Matter movement and expressed his hope that the current protests will ultimately help shape a better world. “It’s really cool to finally see everybody around the world waking up and finally coming together to fight the social injustice system in this country and around the world! I don’t think it really affects jiu-jitsu too much, because if you stay in the gym long enough, you don’t care about anybody’s race, religion, what they look like, their past, because we all become family. We just try to help out in our community as much as we can and give back to people of all shades and colors, because we’re all one at the end of the day! BLACK LIVES MATTER!”
Obviously, grappling is a tough sport, and it doesn’t take much to see that Wright is a tough dude. But he hopes that people can look beyond the submissions and outer strength and acknowledge that the life of a BJJ athlete isn’t all about gold medals. “I think it’s important to talk about the dark side of jiu-jitsu, too. Everybody always hears about winning and glorious titles, but being sad is part of life, and figuring out how to come out of the darkness to still do what I love is important. I used to be embarrassed and sometimes still feel self-conscious about it, but why?! That’s who I used to be as a person and is what’s going to make a stronger person/coach in the future!”
The work Wright has done on himself has also shifted his goals on the mats. Once upon a time, he was hyperfocused on winning, but now, he’s found the inner peace he needs to be happy no matter the outcome tonight. “I had so much darkness in me that I was using every time to compete, and I still was not happy. You would see me all crazy-eyed and sh*t before the matches trying to hype myself up — that was just insecurities. Now I have nothing to prove to no one besides myself, so I’m just having fun again getting back to my roots of jiu-jitsu. What drives me now is to become a better man on and off the mats for the people in my life and community and choke the sh*t out of people or get choked along the way!”
You can watch Wright vs. Wiltse, plus many other exciting matches when F2W 144 streams live from Dallas tonight on FloGrappling.