The Abu Dhabi Diaries, Day One: A Whole New World (Pro)

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Photo Source: Averi Clements for Jiu-Jitsu Times

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.

I’ve always thought that people were exaggerating when they said that their “jaw dropped” over seeing something awesome, but when I walked into Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Arena on Monday afternoon, I actually felt my eyebrows go up and my jaw go down. The only thing that stood between my slack-jawed self and about fourteen hours of air travel was a shower (you’re welcome, everyone who stood near me today), and before I walked in, I was wondering how I was even going to stay awake. But that all changed when I saw what lay in store at the Abu Dhabi World Pro.

Everything inside revolved around jiu-jitsu, and I don’t mean in the way that you go to a local tournament and know you’re in the right place because of the sponsor banners and people walking around in gis. The venue looked like it was a mix of a tournament and a convention, and it was fancy. Like, “they’re raffling off a Jaguar XF on Saturday” fancy. Whether you’re a competitor, a coach, or a spectator, the World Pro is about as close as it gets to being the Disney World of jiu-jitsu.

Jiu-jitsu (and other sports) are celebrated by leaders and citizens alike in Abu Dhabi, which is why our martial art has not only the UAEJJF, but also ADCC. A lot of time, money, and love has been invested into the World Pro, and it shows: the facility is beautiful and immaculate, the tournament itself is extremely well organized, and the competitors are well aware of what an honor it is to be where they are.

When I’d first arrived, blue and purple belt athletes were competing on the mats. Then came the opening ceremony, which included a tribute to The Year of Zayed — the 100-year mark of the birth of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who founded the United Arab Emirates. After a few more matches that determined the winners of a few of the juvenile blue belt divisions and the purple belt Masters 1 division, the main event of the day began.

Photo Source: Averi Clements for Jiu-Jitsu Times

The first-ever King of the Mats was advertised as an all-star competition between former Abu Dhabi World Pro and Grand Slam champions from the past ten years, and it delivered on its promise. Gianni Grippo, Alexander Trans, Roberto “Cyborg” Abreu, Clark Gracie, Tanner Rice, and many other superstar athletes took to the mats to decide who would be the lightweight, middleweight, and heavyweight King of the Mats. While there was no doubt that it was exhausting for the competitors, the round-robin format was super cool from a spectator’s perspective — no one was left wondering what could’ve happened if This Guy went against That Guy, and they got to see their favorite athletes compete multiple times even if they lost their first match.

Photo Source: Averi Clements for Jiu-Jitsu Times

When it was all over, Charles Santos was the middleweight champ, Alexander Trans was the winner of the heavyweight division, and Leonardo Saggioro claimed the lightweight title. After being presented with their awards, the competitors began to filter out while the blue and purple belt divisions had more matches up to wrap up the day.

This is my first time ever attending the World Pro, so I can’t comment on his this opening day compared to past ones. But so far, this may very well be the most impressive jiu-jitsu event I’ve seen. The King of the Mats tournament was a blast to watch, and although it was a new addition intended to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the World Pro, I’d love to see if something similar could happen every year.

Day two of the World Pro will see even more skilled competitors from the blue and purple belt divisions showcasing the results of their hard work, so make sure you’re following the Jiu-Jitsu Times for updates throughout the day!

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