“I was working in a computer room for R$ 400, and there I’d watch the videos of Rodolfo Vieira and Leandro Lo,” Kaynan Duarte said in a conversation with GRACIEMAG in Seoul, South Korea after winning the final of Spyder Championship: King of Kings, outlasting the idols he used to see only on the internet, before facing Nicholas Meregali for the 100kg GP title.
On the same Saturday, November 23, another young fighter would become “king of kings” in the competition. Australia’s Levi Jones-Leary, also known by the Brazilian nickname “Levizão”, went through two world champions to secure the custom gold-plated helmet for the event, along with Spyder’s handsome $ 100,000 prize.
GRACIEMAG’s team spent a week in the Korean capital, and was able to get a close look behind the scenes at the galactic tournament, where the freezing local temperature, which reached minus 5 degrees, was negotiated by the Brazilians as well as anyone can. Several layers of coats were the most common request, or even a very hot tea, as Nicholas Meregali shared with Coach Gabriel Oliveira. Rodolfo Vieira, for his part, forgot his cold-weather clothes and had to get by with a sweatshirt loaned to him for a few days.
Jiu-Jitsu topics abounded. In addition to the traditional review at breakfast, some deep Jiu-Jitsu studies went down behind the scenes, such as the mysterious training of Bruno Malfacine, Murilo Santana and the athletes Rodolfo Vieira, Leandro Lo and Levizão, which at some point turned into deep debate about the use of lapels in several different positions. A priceless class.
On the day of the practice session, a surprise: Demian Maia, a former UFC belt challenger and 6th in the middleweight rankings, unexpectedly arrived in Korea. “I am friends with Ernie, Spyder’s president, and I was here in 2017 to promote one of the first events, which featured only local purple belts,” said the professor after training with Ernie, who is a brown belt, and then show all his technique and class against another Korean athlete, then immediately dive in with Johnatha Alves.
Before the event, though, the weigh-in scared the athletes. In the event’s schedule, one day before the fights, the contestants were supposed to meet at 10am for a series of appointments, such as a press conference and rehearsal for their introduction at the show, with the weigh-in taking place only at 7pm. Matheus Lutes, a 76kg brown belt and one of the physically strongest athletes on the bracket, devised a thorough strategy to make weight without scares. Gabriel Arges, despite making his weight, had to check on his situation at a hospital a few hours earlier, but was allowed to remain in the show.
On the day of the tournament, the event vans took the athletes for the approximately one-hour ride to the KBS Arena. Nicholas Meregali, Erberth Santos and their coaches were together, with no changes along the way — unlike during the show. After Nicholas and Erberth defeated Tim Spriggs and Claudio Calasans, respectively, the internet rivals met on the mat, and a curious move ended the contest prematurely.
“I thought Nicholas intentionally hit me with the knee,” said Erberth. “I spoke to Nicholas right there and he said it wasn’t that. I looked at the referee, because I was a little dizzy with the move, but he punished Nicholas and me because we were standing waiting for his intervention. After the fight, the referee told me that from the angle he was in, he couldn’t see his knee.” After that, Nicholas, who was already in side control, mounted and attacked with an americana.
With the second win, Nicholas arrived in the final feeling good. However, on the other side of the bracket, Kaynan was doing just as well, having beaten the tournament’s favorites: Leandro Lo and Rodolfo Vieira. The final duel was tight, with chances for both sides, but in the decision, Kaynan got the title.
“When the fight ended I didn’t know if I had won, but afterwards I agreed with the decision. Nicholas almost swept me and I almost passed his guard. The difference I think was in the guillotine attack at the beginning of the fight. I think that this may have weighed on the decision.”
In the 76kg division, also full of stars, Levizão faced the world champion Matheus Gabriel in the final. To get to the title fight, Matheus passed Edwin Najmi first, and in the second round managed to beat the tough Johnatha Alves with an advantage gained a second before the final whistle. Johnatha had starred, minutes before, in the best moment of the tournament, as he berimboloed and took the back of featherweight world champion Shane Jamil Hill-Taylor to finish in a fast and precise rear naked choke.
The final between Levi and Matheus was hard-fought, as expected. With three penalties to either side for the double pull, Levi attacked the foot with full force. Killing the opposite sleeve, Matheus prevented Levi from putting all possible pressure on the lock, which made Levi think fast and explode to come up, securing the two points to write 4 to 2 on the scoreboard. The shy Levizão was thrilled with the title and promised to use the prize to buy an apartment for his mother, and perhaps live near his team, Unity Jiu-Jitsu, in New York.
After the fights and awards, the athletes gathered for a get-together dinner. Lots of laughs and toasts for the young champions. Kaynan, 21, and Levi, 22, received hugs and congratulations from Rodolfo Vieira and Leandro Lo — the most decorated on the table. The new generation is guaranteed to impress in the coming seasons.