“I proved how technique is what matters most. I felt really proud of what Jiu-Jitsu could do for us.” With that phrase, Royler Gracie analyzed his performance at the 1997 World Jiu-Jitsu Championship black belt open class division.
After winning the featherweight division for the second year in a row, where he fought four times and finally got gold after a battle against Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro, Royler decided to try his luck in the absolute against the big guys.
Luca Atalla reported on Royler’s odyssey on the pages of GRACIEMAG #11. Here is an excerpt:
“With his known speed, Royler opened the fight with a beautiful takedown in Arthur Ignarra, the ultra-heavy runner-up, who then managed to get the top position, but was unable to undo the score achieved by Royler early in the fight. Then he faced Leo Dalla in the quarterfinal. The fight began favorably for Jorge Pereira’s black belt, who was able to keep the top position. Incredibly, Dalla gassed out before Royler. So the Gracie scored with a lot of technique and power to manage a sweep and a guard pass. He kept on going and ended the fight on Dalla’s back, trying to finish.”
The next opponent would be Amaury Bitetti, the previous year’s absolute champion and favorite for the back-to-back title. We go to Luca’s report once again:
“On one side, with 67kg (147 pounds), entering the seventh fight in the competition, Royler Gracie, the black belt who has perhaps the greatest sports curriculum in the history of Jiu-Jitsu. On the other side, with 87kg (191 pounds), Amaury Bitetti, defending the title of absolute world champion. The fight was much anticipated. Royler’s idea was to make it a rematch of the fight the two had five years ago (1992), when Bitetti was decided to be the winner in a controversial decision. Well, the fact is that the Gracie tried another tactic this time. He went for a standing game with the absolute champion. It started badly for Royler, who suffered a takedown and saw two points being scored against him. The two continued standing, and the better opportunities were still Amaury’s, who did not fall at any time and got his spot in the final. Royler said goodbye to the dispute and was highly acclaimed by the public as one of the main (fighters) responsible for the show of Jiu-Jitsu witnessed by the crowd.”
Want to know how much of a big deal Royler’s bronze medal in the absolute was (and still is)? Know that in the 15 editions that went by since that podium, no other athlete as light as Royler was able to equal his performance. The Gracie still stands as the lightest competitor to have ever conquered a medal in the black belt open class in a World Jiu-Jitsu Championship.
And so there was the final, once again a duel between Amaury Bitetti and Fábio Gurgel. It was the same final of the year before, in the first ever World Jiu-Jitsu Championship, held also at Tijuca Tenis Clube, in January 1996.
In fact, the Bitetti vs. Gurgel matches were a classic of early competition Jiu-Jitsu. The two faced each other countless times. The fights were always highly anticipated, as all matches between two great competitors are, but not always thrilling. Being so skilled and having competed so many times against each other, both Gurgel and Amaury knew each other’s games very well and were capable of neutralizing with efficiency.
Here is how Luca described the 1997 Worlds absolute final:
“The confrontation between the two was worthy of the title of a black belt absolute final. Exciting, but somewhat slow. Beautiful, but too tense. Close to call, but with a slight advantage for Amaury, who played on top and actually tried to pass Fabio’s guard, even trying a cartwheel. Gurgel almost got Bitteti out of balance once or twice and the tough job to pick the winner was left to referee Adilson Bita. He eventually drew tears from Bitteti when he raised his arm. The goal for the hard training had been completed. The absolute champion was once again Amaury Bitetti. With strategy, honor and merit.”
Why “one bullet Bitetti,” you may ask? Because earlier that day the soon-to-be champion decided not to compete in the heavyweight division. He said to Luca: “The weight category was not that hard, but I decided to risk it all in the open class. It all went according to the plan. I was full of gas and also very well trained once I trained with everybody for this championship. I trained with my master Osvaldo Alves, with the guys from Carlson Gracie Academy, with Ricardo Libório, Bebel Duarte and also with the people from Nova União, like Vitor Shaolin and Ricardo Charuto.”
To close it up, two videos.
First the full match between Bitetti and Gurgel.
And then the historical celebration of the title with Master Osvaldo Alves’ flight over Bitetti.
After reliving another thrilling chapter of the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship, don’t waste time and register today for the 2013 Worlds.
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