Usually more at home in the bustling Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro or the spiritual hills of Japan, jiu jitsu is swapping its traditional roots and setting up camp in the UAE.
The first tournament to pay prize money, the World Professional Jiu Jitsu Cup takes place this weekend in the capital, with an opening ceremony and qualifiers on Thursday followed by two days of competition.
Fighters from across the world have competed in World Qualifiers in Brazil, the USA, Canada, Europe, Japan and Australia to book their place in the tournament. More than 30 different countries will be represented across all divisions (black, brown, purple, blue and white belts) including competitors from the Emirates Jiu Jitsu Team in the blue belt division.
With a prize purse of US$111,000 (Dh407,700) up for grabs, the tournament marks a new era for jiu jitsu, which until now has been a mainly amateur sport.
The tournament is the brainchild of three-times jiu jitsu World Champion, Brazilian Carlos Santos, who is intent on bringing jiu jitsu to the masses in the UAE.
“Before this jiu jitsu was amateur, after this tournament it will be professional,” said Santos.
Santos said the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, could help the sport develop in the Emirates.
“Now we can bring tournaments like this to the UAE and develop jiu jitsu further across all levels – from schools to the national team,” he said. Santos has worked to develop jiu jitsu in the Emirates since arriving in Abu Dhabi nearly seven years ago. As well as bringing the World Professional Jiu Jitsu Cup to the capital, Santos has also worked with the Abu Dhabi Sports Council to introduce jiu jitsu to schools, culminating in a inter-schools tournament.
Among the big names of the jiu jitsu world competing in this weekend’s tournament, at Zayed Sports City Tennis Complex, are the Brazilian fighters Marcelo Garcia, Brauilo Estima, Rubens Charles and Robson Moura.