The first taste of ADCC for black belt world champion Romulo Barral was in 2002 when he competed in the Brazilian trial for the 2003 event as a blue belt. Although he didn’t win an invitation, it pushed his goal into motion: win ADCC.
In 2007 he made his first attempt at the championship but only made it to the quarter-final match, just shy of the podium. Two more tries in 2009 and 2011 ended the same way but his drive to win never faded. Even after winning all the biggest gi championships as a black belt, he was still missing the prestigious ADCC title until now.
After four matches in Beijing, he accomplished his goal and became the -88 kg champion.
The difference between the Romulo in previous ADCC events and the one seen this past weekend was strategy. “Before, I tried to fight Jiu-Jitsu but this time I didn’t play Jiu-Jitsu; I played ADCC,” he says. When competing in every other Jiu-Jitsu event, his game is more open and he can adapt to situations. If an opponent pulls guard, he’s okay with working the pass. In the event that an opponent stays standing, he may play guard or try for a takedown. This time, he wanted to force others to make mistakes and then capitalize. Since ADCC takes points into account only after the first half of the match, he waited and defended takedowns and let others attack or give away penalties (which can still be counted when points don’t). His patience paid off and because he was able to counter any takedown attempts made by Kim Dong-Hyun, Lucas Leite, Keenan Cornelius and Rafael Lovato, Jr. and even come back with wrestling of his own, he dominated the matches.
His mindset never changed throughout each match and he played much smarter this time. If it came down to overtimes, like with Lovato, he didn’t care. In the past he just wanted to get in and get out but instead he waited for points. He wasn’t going to let the past repeat itself and so he had to make changes in his training and mind.
Wrestling makes the difference
The changes in training came from the addition of wrestling twice a week with Jacob Harmon, head wrestling coach of Calvary Church Wrestling. The Church Boyz Team works with UFC names like Wanderlei Silva, Renato Babalu, Mauricio Shogun Rua and Rafael Dos Anjos. Proof of Jacob’s coaching extended well into many other ADCC champions this weekend: Marcus Almeida who won the +99kg division, Joao Assis who won the -99kg division and Otavio Sousa who took home silver in the -77kg division.
Romulo preaches, “it makes 80% of the difference in ADCC. [The wrestling training] made me so confident to stay standing.” Confidence was key when standing with wrestling aces like Lovato and even when the takedown attempts were good, he was able to defend. Only when a bad takedown attempt was made that he could counter or even defend enough times for his opponent to pull guard and accept a penalty like in the case of Keenan which became the determining factor in his victory in the semi-final match.
Life after the gold
“Life didn’t change much,” he says. Even though he wanted the gold more than anything and focused on his training for four months prior to the end, it won’t change who he is as a person or athlete. The fame and praise is not the motivation for him but the personal challenge and success that came with the gold. “This tournament was very important. It was unacceptable for me to lose.”
The gold medal now sits in the pink-themed room that awaits his first baby due in a matter of weeks. When asked about whether the ADCC win correlates with his new chapter about to begin in his personal life, he says no. The victory this past weekend was the most happy he has been after winning any tournament but that moment will soon be replaced by the birth of his baby girl.
“I can’t wait! Everyone says it’ll be a big change in my life but that’ll be good for me.”
On to the next challenge.