Erberth Santos: “There’s no shortcut to becoming champion”

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Erberth on the mount that gave him the title. Beatriz Lina

After ending up as the absolute runner-up in his black-belt debut in 2016, Erberth Santos had a prolific season before arriving at the 2017 edition of the BJJ Worlds.

The Almeida Jiu-Jitsu athlete, who represented Atos in the teams’ race, had to overcome losing the top spot in the IBJJF ranking and getting eliminated from the open division in order to shine at super-heavyweight.

He had three matches there, against Fernando Reis (Alliance), Mahamed Aly (Lloyd Irvin) and finally Bernardo Faria (Alliance), whom he beat 9-0.

Graciemag got to talk to Erberth about all of it this week. Here’s the interview. You came through with your promise to win your first world title in 2017. How does it feel?

Erberth Santos: Last year I came to fight for gold in my weight class. I ended up reaching the absolute final and getting knocked out from my division in my first fight. I learned that it doesn’t always go the way we want it to. I worked all year thinking about the Worlds, and, when I lost the fight, I was extremely sad, to the point of not even wanting to fight in the absolute final. But I got support from everybody and went to fight. For this year’s Worlds, my goal was to become champion at my weight, and thank God it worked out. It is gratifying to know that the work that my team and I are doing is correct, but this is just the beginning. The title serves only as motivation to soar higher — that’s why I’ll dedicate myself twice as much so that I can conquer more world championships.

You always talk about your hurdles in reaching the black belt and your victories. What was the biggest obstacle you faced to become world champion?

My life has been tough; it’s never been easy, like everybody knows, but I sought to open up with the right people, who gave me advice and a direction to follow. I’m doing that, and the result is appearing. Maybe that was hardest; I didn’t know what it was like to be applauded. In my life I was always criticized and booed — often for my actions, I’m aware. But today I’m no longer that youth from yesteryear — I don’t respond or fall for rude taunting. I set my fights on fire with respect; that I can do, and I think the public likes it as well.

What was your toughest fight in the super-heavy division?

They were all hard, from the first to the last, but the first one was more complicated, because I had already lost last year in the first one, and the last one for the possibility of getting frustrated — swimming and dying on the beach. The final had enormous pressure. Bernardo is a multichampion with a very efficient game, both on half-guard and passing. I knew there that I could not afford to make mistakes, so I was very focused; I knew I could not blink at all, especially at the end, when he called me to fight. I was only thinking about the title and my dream, my son, my family and everything I went through to get where I got. After the win, I shut down; I thought I was going to celebrate like a madman, but I was so focused and numb, that my celebration was minimal. The feeling of being a world champion is surreal.

This year you fought under Atos, in an association with Almeida JJ. How was it to you to score points for the team of André Galvão, who has become a friend and won a world title alongside you?

It was very good for both teams. I didn’t know André the way I’m beginning to know him; he’s a very good guy, a technical leader with an enormous heart. We’ve struck up an incredible friendship. It’s gratifying to have good people around you. That guy is an example. At the time we fought, I lost on the mat, but won off it. It was a bigger motivation; André was an athlete I knew through magazines and videos, and one day I got to fight that legend of the sport. Today I have the honor of being a friend of the guy.

Do you have a message for young competitors?

There’s no shortcut to becoming champion! There is no such thing as easy path; you’ve just got to work. Run away from excuses, whether it is a lack of money, time or for being on small teams. If you really want to be champion, nothing can stop you! I want to give another valuable tip: Be around good people; that will make you very different.

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