Manny Diaz has a golden ticket! The purple belt from Santa Cruz, California, traveled to the Abu Dhabi Jiu-Jitsu Pro Trials in San Antonio, Texas, last weekend seeking to win a trip to Dubai to compete against the best Jiu-Jitsu athletes in the world at the upcoming 2012 Abu Dhabi World Pro Cup. His weekend ended in triumph after winning double gold in both his weight and the open class.
Manny’s road to Dubai has been an interesting one thus far. He was a golf professional before he began training in Jiu-Jitsu. He was trying to become a playing professional, but ended up a teaching professional. “I played golf eight to 10 hours a day for years,” he says, “I dropped it just like that for Jiu-Jitsu. I have barely played golf in three years.”
Manny started training in 2009 at Sandro Batata BJJ. He claimed gold at the Pan and received his blue belt on the podium. He’d only been a white belt for three months. As a blue belt, Manny attended the 2009 Abu Dhabi Pro Trials in Santa Cruz. “I was two matches away from going to Dubai when I lost by an advantage point,” he says, “I knew then that getting to the Abu Dhabi World Pro Cup was one of my main goals in Jiu-Jitsu.”
Manny took silver at the 2009 US Open, the 2010 American Cup, and the 2010 Worlds. He then took seven months off from training Jiu-Jitsu to pursue MMA and his standup, but he still competed at Jiu-Jitsu tournaments, winning the 2010 American Nationals and claiming double gold at the US Open, taking both his medium heavyweight division and the open; he was promoted to purple belt on the podium. Manny then had one MMA fight, which he won.
He attempted competing at the 2011 Abu Dhabi World Pro trials in San Diego, but lost to a referee’s decision in his first match. “I was unprepared,” Manny says, “It was my first purple belt competition, and I’d only trained for about a week.” Then Manny came back, competed at the Pan, and took silver. “I felt like I really shined there,” he says, “I surprised a lot of people. No one really knew who I was.”
His success at the Pan motivated him to continue training hard, but his plans to open his own Jiu-Jitsu school got in the way. He signed up for the Worlds but didn’t realize how much work it would be getting his school ready. “I just had no time to train,” he says, “I ended up having to go up a weight class because I hadn’t been watching my weight. I was so tired from working. I just wasn’t mentally or physically prepared.” At the 2011 Worlds, Manny lost his first match by two points.
Watsonville Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu opened the following weekend and Manny made his academy his main focus. He still wanted to compete, but he had a hard time balancing his priorities. “My training time was cut in half,” he says, “I was trying to train twice on Sundays to make up for it.”
Then over the summer, Manny began driving to San Francisco to train with Antonio Braga Neto until A.B.N. had to leave for Brazil. “It meant a lot to me to be able to train with him,” Manny says, “I hadn’t been exposed to that level of training before. I had never been smashed like that ever. He walked through me. He demolished me! He opened my mind and made me see possibilities I hadn’t seen before. It propelled me forward.”
Manny attended the Las Vegas Open in August and won double gold in his weight and the open. “You can’t beat having a world champion kick your butt,” he says, “A.B.N. made me feel like a white belt. It got me going, gave me my confidence back. After training with him, everyone else felt like air to me. The pressure I felt going against my opponents was nowhere near what he did to me.”
Manny attended the 2011 US Open. He’d won it the past two years in a row and he wanted to win it as a purple belt, which he did. Manny was a double gold winner, taking both his weight and the open class. “I feel like my game has grown to a point where I don’t have to worry about my opposition,” he says, “I can focus on what I’m going to do to them, not what they’re going to do to me.” Manny started training with Caio Terra at the Institute of Martial Arts and says that Caio and his team really helped him refine his game. “They offer me really great support, which has been the most important thing to me,” he says.
In November, Manny flew out to compete in the 202 lbs. category at the San Antonio Trials. He had three matches in his weight. He won the first on points, the second via armbar, and his final with a loop choke to take gold. In the absolute he had four matches and caught three of his opponents in armbars, finishing one of them in just 15 seconds. He won his semifinals match by a referee’s decision, but unfortunately, his foot snapped during the contest. “Everyone heard it and thought I broke my leg,” he says, “I thought I broke my ankle, but I kept attacking anyway. I almost caught him in a couple armbars, but he kept getting out of them.” Manny persevered and won the match to move on to the absolute final.
In his last and most important match of the day, Manny says he tried to pretend nothing was wrong, but everything was wrong. “I couldn’t put any pressure on my foot,” he says, “I pulled guard right away. I worked sweeps… I could hear Samir [Chantre] coaching me to do other things, but I couldn’t do them because of my foot.” Manny started playing spider-guard and ended up tapping his opponent out with an armbar, giving him double gold for the day and a ticket to Dubai in 2012.
“It was very emotional for me,” Manny says of his big win, “I can’t describe it. It still hasn’t set in. I felt like these last three years went into that moment. Seeing all the people who get to go to Dubai… only the best. I told myself if I had a goal in Jiu-Jitsu, other than winning the Pan and the Worlds, this is it. I want to go and be amongst the best. I’ve always wanted to see how I would stand with them.”
Now, Manny is going to heal his foot before his big trip in the spring and prepare himself for his 2012 goals that lay ahead of him. “I want to win the Abu Dhabi World Pro Cup, the Pan and then the Worlds,” he says, “I’m going to continue to move forward and do my best.”