Travis Stevens on Copa Podio: “You’re the only person who decides whether you win”

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Travis Stevens represented America at the Copa Podio Middleweight GP. Photo: Copa Podio

Back in the states after the Copa Podio Middleweight Grand Prix in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Sept. 8, Travis Stevens has collected his thoughts and gathered them for GRACIEMAG to offer. Almost onto the podium, Travis was able to submit Jaime Canuto, defeat Manuel Diaz by advantages and make it into the semi-final match before losing to the winner, Felipe Preguica Pena.  The two-time Judo Olympian did as he said he would in the pre-interview and avoided using his Judo in the tournament but lapsed in the semi’s to which he apologized to his opponent mid-match.

Not many athletes have strict principles when a win is on the line but Travis adheres to them like his mindset of level playing grounds. But we’ll let you hear it in his own words. From his reflections we’re able to learn what it takes for a Judoka to enter into a prestigious Jiu-Jitsu tournament among world champions with a brown belt on his waist and two sore ankles:

GRACIEMAG: Which opponents were your toughest matches and why? Would it be safe to say that a certain type of game was the hardest for you to deal with?

Travis after he defeated Manual Diaz. Photo: Copa Podio

TRAVIS STEVENS: [Renato] Cardoso was my toughest match as you can tell by the result (he was the only guy to submit me). He was also the only guy I was concerned with. He has amazing foot locks, I knew that going into Copa Podio and that’s what made me nervous. I had a severe ankle injury and had ankle surgery 6 weeks prior to Copa Podio. And I wasn’t sure how my ankle would handle itself in that type of position. And three days prior to the event I was training 50/50 at Gordo’s school knowing Cardoso wanted to get there and I hate 50/50 with a passion. While training I popped my good ankle so going into that match both ankles were not at 100%. I was really worried that he would get my ankle and foot lock me and I would have to pull out of the competition. So I ended up holding back and it showed.

You almost passed the guard and took the back of Paulo Miyao which would have granted you access that not many people gained. What advice can you give to those who take on someone who has been seen as a prodigy?

I did almost have his back! I think I would of had it if my judo instincts didn’t kick in and I secured the position. I never should have gone for the choke right off the back take; it really cost me. I couldn’t help but laugh at my mistake. I was smiling at Miyao the rest of the match. I mean the guy who is world champion open weight champion at the rank I hold almost got his back taken by a guy who only trained BJJ for 9 days a month prior to the event.

Playing guard against Felipe Preguica in the semi-final match. Photo: Copa Podio

Prodigy is a funny term that gets thrown around in sports. I truly think that there is no such thing as a prodigy; you only get what is earned. I also truly believe that there is not one BJJ or Judo player in the world that I can’t beat. Having said that, that doesn’t mean that I can’t lose it just means that if given enough time and opportunities I can submit anyone without a doubt in my mind. So when you step out on to the mat and look across at your opponent and you doubt yourself and start thinking “this guys world champ this guy is a black belt, this guy submitted me before” just remember that he hasn’t won the competition yet, he hasn’t beaten you yet. To me every day is a new day just because you won the Pans doesn’t mean you will win the Worlds. So every day I wake up everyone is on the same level. What I mean is Paulo, Xande, Galvao, Estima, and myself are all on the same level along with everyone else who does BJJ. I mean, every thing from white belt to black belt. Because until they’ve beaten me who’s better is just an opinion not fact. This is not ego it’s a mindset. Even if let’s say Galvao walked into Renzo’s and kicked the crap out of me. I would reflect on it study how he did it and wake up the next day with everyone on the same level again because its a new day and if he wants to prove himself and beat me again he can but I’ll wake up the next day with him and I on the same level. Just because I put myself on the same level doesn’t mean I don’t have things to learn. I try to learn things from everyone whether it’s a white or blue belt or the black belt teaching class. I love going to the gym and learning new things. When you put people on a pedestal all that means is you assume that you can’t or won’t win. And you’re the only person who decides whether you win or lose.

In one of your later matches you resorted to throwing your opponent, something you steered away from in your earlier matches. What was going through your head?

Yeah I really didn’t want to do that. But I was down 7-0 and he passed so fast off my pull it caught me off guard. Most guys just settle in, establish grips then start passing. So he scored quickly and about half way through I realized he did not want to play from the bottom and when we stood up I mentally said “—- it” and started working my arms in preparation for the throw. So I spun him around, threw him, he stood up, threw him again. Right when the ref stopped the match to bring us back to the center I looked at him shook my head and said “I’m really sorry but I’m losing” he responded with “no problem”. But once the ref stopped it and brought it back to the center I knew I couldn’t use the throws to my advantage. He recovered and got to reset his grips and think.

You favorite part of participating in the event and your least favorite?

My favorite part about competing was almost having Miyao’s back. Because I was so close yet still made a mistake yet it’s an easy mistake to fix.  My least favorite part of the event was in the final for bronze when I lost to Miyao. I felt cheated. With about a minute to 45 seconds left he went for a toe hold and I was forced to spin out. But when he restarted us the ref never awarded an advantage so we were still tied. I though wow I guess I dodged a bullet. And when time ran out we were still tied, stood up and thought I just won there is going to be an over time period and I’m just going to take him down for the win. Then out of nowhere the ref awards him an advantage for that toe hold 45 seconds earlier. I feel cheated because if he had awarded the advantage when he should have I could have came back.

And when will we see you again in Jiu-Jitsu competition?

I will be competing again! Right now I’m scheduled to do the World Expo brown belt only division. I’m also talking with the guys who run Copa Podio to compete in the heavyweight division. Or doing a super fight. But I told them that if I did a super fight it would have to be no time limit submission only but they don’t think that they will be able to get an opponent for that type of match-up. So we will see but either way I’ll be competing at the event.

Check out this short clip of his throws courtesy of @BJJHacks instagram:

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