If you’re feeling discouraged because you can’t seem to come out on top when you compete, let John Freeman ’s story convince you to keep on trying. After nine years of trying — and failing — to win an IBJJF tournament, Freeman at last took home the gold at the Las Vegas Open at the end of April.
Make no mistake, that piece of metal around his neck didn’t come easily. Freeman knew what would be required to achieve his dream, and he never stopped giving it his all:
“I thought a lot about what work I’ve put in throughout the years,” he said. “Training every single day, even on holidays. Most days feeling overworked and overtrained, and also driving 45 minutes to get to the gym as well as being a full time college student and BJJ instructor. I really used all these things as motivators for me and I wanted to make my opponents pay for all the hard work and sacrifice I’ve been through.”
Of course, though, Freeman had to face a whole different set of challenges once he stepped out of his home gym of Dunham Jiu-Jitsu and onto the mats of the Las Vegas Open. His first obstacle on his way to the top of the podium came in the form of Atos’ two-time world champion Eros Baluyot. Although Freeman was ahead 6-2, he got caught in a tight D’Arce choke after shooting a takedown on his opponent… and it nearly cost him victory.
It was deep. It was going to put me to sleep. It was probably like 90 percent of what it needed to be. People told me my face was starting to turn purple. But I didn’t tap because I felt like I could fight it off and he would gas himself out eventually.
The match ended with him still in the choke and the crowd going wild.
Freeman’s final match in his three-man round-robin bracket was against Ashurbanipal Bourang of Ares BJJ, who had previously wasted no time in submitting Baluyot with a footlock. Despite being down 2-0 after four minutes and going against a man whom he describes as the strongest person he’d fought as a brown belt, John Freeman was able to get the timing right, escape from beneath Bourang, and submit him with a footlock.
I was amazed when he tapped. I jumped into the crowd with my friends because they train with me every day and see everything I’ve went through. The work it took to get here wasn’t done alone.
The outcome for this tournament may have been better than what Freeman had achieved in the past, but it wasn’t due to any change in his training. He claims he just stayed “hungry and consistent” in practice and really visualized himself being victorious at the Las Vegas Open. And of course, he’s had plenty of help along the way.
I surround myself with great people and great training partners. On a daily basis I’m training with some of the best competitors: Mikey and Tammi Musumeci and Rene Lopez.
After nearly a decade of always coming up short at IBJJF tournaments, one victory isn’t going to be enough to make Freeman forget the mental and emotional endurance it took to keep on showing up to train and putting himself out there to compete. He knew he had to change his mindset in order to find the strength to continue moving forward.
One thing that helped me with dealing with my loses is not focusing so much on the outcome. I started to focus more on my technique and my performance. As competitors, we cannot guarantee we will win; sometimes we cannot control the outcome. One thing we can control is if we try our best.
John Freeman is living proof that amazing things can happen if you refuse to give up. Whether you’re on a nine-month or a nine-year losing streak, the words of wisdom that he offers are ones we’d all do well to heed:
Remember why you started jiu-jitsu and started competing. If I am not having fun training or having fun competing then I start realizing I’m doing it for the wrong reasons. Be patient and work hard.
Congratulations, John Freeman— that medal truly represents a champion’s heart.