He wasn’t an ADCC champion or UFC fighter, but BJJ black belt Paul Moran was a different kind of martial arts celebrity. The Open Mat Radio podcast host was very good at jiu-jitsu, yes, but he was also an inspiration — a positive, optimistic, and resilient beacon of hope that motivated others in our community to keep fighting even when the odds were stacked against them.
On February 28, his 38th birthday, Paul passed away after a long battle with cancer.
Paul was first diagnosed with rectal cancer in 2012. Despite treatment, the cancer then spread to his liver, then his lungs, then his lymph nodes. He was open about his journey with the illness and spoke about how it had changed his perspective on life in a 2018 interview with Bernardo Faria.
Paul used his work with Open Mat Radio to highlight what he believed deserved to be highlighted in jiu-jitsu — the people working to make the martial art (and the world) better. Not long after his initial diagnosis, he connected with Jon Thomas of Tap Cancer Out (which was in its infancy) and featured the organization on his podcast. TCO has now raised over $1.4 million in its efforts to help those affected by cancer.
Tap Cancer Out shared a moving post highlighting Paul’s impact:
“The BJJ community and the world lost a great man last night in Paul Moran.
You may not know Paul. Though he was a black belt, he wasn’t a world champion. He didn’t run his own school and you didn’t see him competing much. But he likely changed the world far more than any household name in #BJJ.
There’s many of us in the BJJ community who did know Paul, though for many different reasons. I got to know Paul through the Open Mat Radio podcast, one of the earliest and most influential BJJ podcasts out there, which he hosted. Paul was one of the earliest supporters of Tap Cancer Out. Back in 2012, after hosting our first tournament ever, Paul invited me onto his podcast. We worked out a time where I happened to be in Las Vegas, Paul’s home, so we could do a live recording. Paul picked me up from my hotel to bring me to Sergio Penha’s gym. It was on that ride when he revealed to me that he had cancer. Paul welcomed me to his podcast at least 3 more times, chronicling our growth and helping us grow awareness in the larger BJJ community. He even hosted a Grapplethon in support of TCO in 2017. His support never waned, even when his health started to.
Paul seemed to know everyone, and everyone knew Paul. And you’d be hard pressed to find someone who had a bad thing to say about him. He was constantly connecting people within the BJJ community. He was literally a beacon. Everyone was drawn to Paul and his insatiable appetite for all things BJJ. He was a leader among leaders. We all look up to him and how he was able to unite so many in the BJJ community.
Paul passed away last night, on his 38th birthday. Just a few weeks earlier he had set up a birthday fundraiser in support of Tap Cancer Out. I won’t link to it because that’s not the point of this post. But that goes to show just how selfless he was. In his time of need, as his own birthday approached, he wanted to help others.
He will be dearly missed not just by me but by so many others. Thank you, Paul. You truly changed the world and will never be forgotten. ❤️🙏🏻😥“
Particularly throughout his battle with cancer, Paul motivated countless other people to fight through life’s obstacles, often citing his instructor Sergio Penha’s quote, “Just another lion to kill.” He explained the meaning behind the mantra in a 2016 interview with the Jiu-Jitsu Times:
“Sergio got his black belt in 3 years and was never able to spend time at brown. Going from purple to black doesn’t happen often in jiu-jitsu. Osvaldo Alves, who many believe to be the Encyclopedia of Jiu-Jitsu, was Sergio’s coach. Day after day Osvaldo would send killers after Sergio to break him. Sergio’s mantra was ‘Just another lion to kill.’ He saw each opponent as a unique lion that he had to conquer before anything else. Sergio’s mindfulness and respect of his opponents (he could have called them sheep or ants but no, they were lions as lions deserve your respect) is awe-inspiring to me. Some days he would pile “lions” 10 deep sometimes it was 20 or more. Age, belt, weight, experience, number of training sessions that day never mattered. All that mattered was there was a lion that needed killing and Sergio had to find a way to accomplish that. I adopted the mantra for my battles with cancer. Every dose of chemo, radiation session, surgery or setback was ‘just another lion to kill.’ No bother living in the future or past. We can only kill the lion in front of us.”
The jiu-jitsu community is mourning Paul’s loss as they celebrate his life, and as they share the tributes of their friendship, one-off encounters, or internet-based admiration for him, the sentiments are consistent: Paul was strong, but also relentlessly kind and positive. Even as his time on Earth drew to a close, he started a birthday fundraiser on Facebook to raise money for Tap Cancer Out, ultimately raising nearly $2,000 for the organization (nearly 10x his original goal). His effect on the jiu-jitsu community and the world as a whole will be felt for years to come, and we would all do well to carry on his legacy of compassion and strength in the face of adversity.