Jackson Sousa talks WC gold, defeat to Keenan at open

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Jackson Sousa (blue gi) in the 2013 Jiu-Jitsu Worlds. Photo: Erin Herle/GRACIEMAG

For Jackson Sousa, shining at the 2013 Worlds took a lot of sweat from the start. The brown-belt first beat the odds to get his U.S. visa. Then, on June 1st, he won the heavyweight class in an even final against Arnaldo Maidana. And he even took bronze in the open as he lost the semi to Keenan Cornelius. “There was an annoying hand on my lapel the whole time,” he said, recalling the duel with Keenan, who took silver as he was beat by Paulo Miyao in the final. The CheckMat fighter spoke of what he’s learned in a chat with GRACIEMAG.

GRACIEMAG: How was it to step on American soil for the first time and come back a world champion?

JACKSON SOUSA: It was rewarding, after so much training. I gave up a lot of things and in the end things turned out great. In the U.S. I made new friends, met some people who like my game and took a lot of pictures. I want to go back there this year, and certainly next year for another World Championship.

How was your training? Is it true you relied on the power of love?

That’s right. I lived with my girlfriend Verena Brahler in London for three months after the European Championship held in January. I was training at Luiz “Manchinha” Ribeiro’s gym. For three months I practiced a lot with the guys over there. Since most students were blue-belts, I kept my focus on the WC by drilling a lot of positions and working out. I came back to Brazil to get my visa sorted out and I had one month to prepare with my professor Ricardo Vieira and my coach Henri Lime.

In the heavyweight final you faced Arnaldo Maidana. How was it?

I got an early takedown and some advantages. He managed to sweep me and we fell in 50/50 guard. I hate that position [laughs]! It’s part of the game, but I had to fight to keep things under control there. At the end I achieved a foot lock, but time ran out. Arnaldo is tough; last year I fought him in three tournament finals, one of them in the Brazilian Nationals.

And how about the open?

I wish I had fought my division the way I fought the absolute, where I was able to display a different Jiu-Jitsu, loose and daring. In the division there were a few ugly fights where I resorted to playing off my opponents’ errors, something I usually don’t do. But at the open I was able to impose my rhythm. Thank God I got third place in the open, where there were only giants on the podium, highest of which was the “giant” Miyao. He deserved it – he fought amazingly well.

In the open’s semifinal, you fought American star Keenan Cornelius for the first time and lost by advantages. What did you think of that bout?

Many people were waiting for this fight, even my mom, Simone Hilário [laughs]. It was an eventful fight, the way I like it. At the beginning I tried my usual takedown, but I couldn’t get the points and he pulled me in. I kept trying to pass his guard the whole time, but there was an annoying hand on my lapel. Keenan has a very strong guard; I exposed myself too much to try and pass, until I fell into his berimbolo, but I defended well, according to Ricardo Vieira’s teachings. This time he came out on top.

What would you do differently for a future fight against Keenan?

There was nothing missing from this fight – I fought hard the whole time. I was trying to get to his side the whole time but couldn’t. I had a good shot, but I couldn’t stabilize the position or kill his legs, because he has great flexibility and hip movement. Keenan was able to do his thing against me and applied a strategy controlling my lapel to stop me from moving. It’s the Worlds, nobody wants to lose. Everyone has their own game. He’s a terrific athlete with a different type of Jiu-Jitsu – a great champion. I really enjoyed fighting him.

What did you learn from your first WC?

To dream is necessary. I dreamed of this title for years, since I watched the last WC held in Rio back in 2006. There, I believed one day I would be a champion, and through all the hurdles I never stopped believing. My visa was denied four times, and still I got there. The lesson? Don’t stop going. Jiu-Jitsu learning happens day in and day out, but the big victory comes at the right time.

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