João Gabriel, 18 golds in Brazilian Championships, reviews success and setback in Barueri

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João Gabriel goes for the foot of Leonardo Nogueira, in the super heavy final of Brazilian 2013. Photo: Rafael Carvalho

With all his weight and absolute medals, João Gabriel Rocha (Soul Fighters) reached the incredible mark of 18 titles in 20 years at the Brazilian National that the CBJJF has held since 1994.

The young black belt from Rio, a champion since he was four, has gold medals from his years at yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, brown and now black belt with an epic final over one of Alliance’s aces, Leonardo Nogueira.

“If I’m not mistaken, he didn’t win only two times. One he lost while a yellow belt. The other, at orange belt, he didn’t take part because the championship was on the belt examination day at our gym,” says Bruno “Tanque” Mendes, a leader of Soul Fighters.

In the final, João beat Leo. He opened the score of 2-0 by attacking Nogueira’s foot (photo). Then he passed the tough guard of the Alliance ace, took the back, scoring 9-0. Leo defended his back and swept, but then the champion swept back, 11-2.

“And he didn’t want to fight the weight after losing the absolute, Tatu and I pressured him to go. That classic Jiu-Jitsu psychology worked,”  says Tanque.

The pupil of Leandro “Tatu” talked to GRACIEMAG about his best moments in the championship in Barueri, and also the worst. Check it out:

GRACIEMAG: After 17 gold medals at the Brazilian National at all belts, you finally win a gold at black belt. Was the feeling any different?  

JOÃO GABRIEL ROCHA: It was unforgettable but I think in the end I went to fight very relaxed, as in all belts. I took all the pressure of having to win and trusted a lot in my game and myself. And it is not easy to fight with a good mind after losing the absolute. I fought on Saturday against Roberto Tussa (GB), a great athlete, but I think in the end I lost to myself. At the time of the match I didn’t do the things I trained for and he used his experience to his favor. After this fight, however, I learned that in the black belt division you have to be patient. There aren’t seven or eight minutes, it is ten minutes now.

What was your biggest mistake in defeat, and the big lesson?

I think I learned to pace myself during a Jiu-Jitsu match, and to play with time in my favor.

How was the feeling of getting to the final of super heavy and looking at the double world champion Leo Nogueira on the other side?  

Needless to say, Leo is a great athlete. He is very complete, plays well on top and bottom and is very dangerous. I knew that the fight would be complicated. The solution was pacing myself throughout the fight, and always putting him in danger. I couldn’t focus only on his half guard; I had to pay attention to everything because he is such a complete fighter. I attacked a lot, but I also defended myself when he got his sweep, which worried me. But everything worked out. Before the final I just thought I got what it takes to be the champion. It only depended on me.

What was the main factor of your victory?

The mental part. I changed my mind completely from the absolute on Saturday, to the weight division on Sunday. Competing since I was very young helps a lot, I didn’t get lost. But the coaching is key. (Leandro) Tatu was on me all the time. He believes in me more than myself.

What goes on in your mind after winning the Brazilian National at all belt levels since you were 4 years old?

It is a complete cycle. There were many years of learning and hard training at Soul Fighters in Tijuca to get here. For the next championships, however, I will be the same João, always playing forward to submit.

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