World Pro: reencounter of finalists, on Abu Dhabi’s royal mats

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Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 9:47 pm on Saturday. Just a few hours after locking horns in the final of the World Pro No-Gi absolute division, Rodolfo Vieira and Rafael Mendes are again side by side on the mat, decked in shorts and lycra rash guard provided by their sponsors, and ready to train.

No, they weren’t looking to settle their differences after the abbreviated zero-zero match that defined Rodolfo as the grand champion a bit early. They were guests of His Highness Sheikh Tahnoon Bin Zayed and awaited the arrival of their host, who came straight from a weight-lifting session, with me and Renzo Gracie tagging along.

The two were smiling, excited, and they didn’t train with each other. Rodolfo opted to summon this scribe, who had only disembarked in the capital of the Emirates with Renzo in time to drop the bags at the hotel and shove off to meet the two stars of the World Pro there on the white mats at Tahnoon’s villa.

Sheikh Tahnoon after another Jiu-Jitsu session, between Rafael Mendes and Zé Mario Sperry / Photo: archives - 2010

Just 21 years old and carrying a solid 95-kg frame, Rodolfo took it easy on me for some 15 or 20 minutes, while our host, Tahnoon, practiced with Rafael and then Renzo. Tahoon and Rodolfo were up next, and the champion was impressed by the sheikh:

“It’s a good thing he wasn’t in the absolute today,” said Vieira, half joking half serious.

He studied Jiu-Jitsu for another hour, Tahnoon bringing up the subject of reverse triangles and anaconda chokes, not to mention foot locks and an assortment of other chokes, all interspersed between a lot of defensive guard work.

Until the sheikh politely asked that his guests train with his local students, before calling a close to the session and bidding farewell. There were still hours in the evening for the traditional game of paddle tennis and a supper thronged with superfoods – all outdoors, in the refreshing desert air.

Now it’s already past midnight in Abu Dhabi, and the athletes are already back at the hotel. But they will be left with the lingering remembrance of a night where winning a championship didn’t mark the end of their Jiu-Jitsu lesson.

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