The next generation of Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitors is going to be vicious, and Cooper McMahon is proof. Though he has not even reached his ninth birthday at the time of this writing, Cooper has won 25 gold medals and has fought in tournaments as big as NAGA.
Cooper trains under many instructors — including former Bellator fighter and BJJ black belt Derrick Kennington — at Fitness Edge MMA in Conway, South Carolina.
We had the chance to talk with Cooper’s father, Erich, last weekend about his son. The following interview was conducted via Facebook private message and has been edited slightly for clarity.
Jiu-Jitsu Times: Start out be telling me about your son. What got him into BJJ?
Erich McMahon The local MMA gym had a summer camp. I just happened to notice a sign and thought it would be fun for him. He had just turned six. After the camp he wanted to try the classes. Fitness Edge MMA is the gym and Grand Strand BJJ is the school.
JJT: And how long has he been doing it now?
EM: Two and a half years. It’ll be three years in the summer. He’s eight now.
JJT: Was it something he did well right away or did it take him a while to get as good as he is?
EM: It took him a while. He’s not the most athletic. He’s tall for his age and hasn’t really grown into his body. He’s not very coordinated. He didn’t win anything his first couple of tournaments. He puts in a lot of hard work: private lessons, kids classes, and adult classes when he can. The adults — some professional fighters like Joe Solecki and Derrick Kennington, Jordan Weeks, Cody Jones — all work with him during the adult class. His five-year-old brother started this summer and also goes to the adult classes. His instructors for kids classes are Stephen Bonatibus, Jordan Weeks, and Derrick Kennington.
JJT: Wow, so he does the adult classes, too! So, how often does he compete?
EM: We live in Myrtle Beach which has two tournaments, NAGA and Good Fight, and we will travel as far as the Charlotte area, which has a few including NAGA, New Breed, US Grappling, and Good Fight. We try to do one a month. It works out to about 10 a year. Charlotte is three hours away, so we leave around 5am to get there in time for weigh-in between eight and nine. He does the highest division for his age. Some tournaments it’s Advanced and some it’s called Expert. He weighs around 68 pounds.
JJT: It sounds like you guys put a lot of effort into competing and training. He must be an incredibly driven kid.
EM: Yes he is. None of it is forced. He always has the option to skip a tournament or a practice. He has a stated goal to be a world champion when he gets older. He’s very into fitness in general: the gym six days a week for BJJ, CrossFit, and a conditioning class. He and his brother try to eat healthy on their own, looking at protein, sugar, and fat on labels. His brother Colton is more athletic, so he might end up being better, but Cooper makes up for it in hard work.
None of it is forced. He always has the option to skip a tournament or a practice. He has a stated goal to be a world champion when he gets older.
He’s extremely flexible which allows him to do rubber guard and things other kids can’t.
JJT: Wow! Has he always been this driven, or was it something he developed after starting BJJ?
EM: I think both. He has so much respect for his coaches. Derrick Kennington and Stephen Bontatibus always comment about how coachable he is during tournaments. He has a drive to learn and be the best.
JJT: Back to competitions. How many medals has he won?
EM: He has 33 firsts (some are NAGA and now New Breed swords). Eight swords and 25 gold medals, 16 silver, and six bronze.
JJT: That is amazing! Does he have any heroes in BJJ?
EM: His heroes are the coaches and guys at the gym. He and I will go to support the guys and girls at the gym in their amateur and professional fights if they are somewhat local. All the adult fighters at the gym treat him with such respect and are always willing to stop what they are doing and help him. Including Michael Kelley the gym owner.
JJT: I think that will do it, Erich.