Purple belts: when they find their center, there’s no stopping them

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At Fabricio Werdum’s Samurai Pro Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Tournament, Gracie Barra placed first in team points. Their up-and-coming blue and purple belts were the main reason for that big win; many of them taking gold in their divisions and in the open class. Now training hard for the Worlds, they want to make their mark on the world class tournament and show that they are here to stay.

Felipe Pena, Brian Morizi, and Elias Ramirez with Fabricio Werdum / Photos: Deb Blyth

Players like Rômulo Barral, Kayron Gracie, Lucas Rocha, Otávio Sousa, Rodrigo Simões, Philipe Della Monica, and Bruno Antunes are well known on the brown and black belt circuit, but it’s the lower belts who are storming the scene. Guys like Brian Morizi, Elias Ramirez, Felipe Carsalade Pena and Aaron Miller are some of the names hoping to get on the podium at the Worlds this weekend at the pyramid in Long Beach.

Brian Morizi is a middleweight purple belt. This 21-year-old competes nonstop, traveling to different venues and tournaments around the state and nation. He came in first in his weight and in the absolute at the 2011 Abu Dhabi trials in San Diego and won the majority of his matches by submission.

At the Abu Dhabi he placed third in the gi in his weight. Although he didn’t come back with the gold, he was still happy with his performance and the trip overall. “They put mats down in the hotel so I got to train with a lot of different people,” he says, “I had a great time.”

At the Samurai Pro Morizi closed out his division with GB teammate Jeff Shulze and closed out the absolute final with his other GB teammate Felipe Carsalade Pena. Morizi won his divisional matches by submission. In the absolute he won his first match by advantages against an ultra heavy opponent and the second he won by submission. “My experience at the Samurai Pro was excellent,” he says, “It was a great warm-up for the Worlds. Competing at the same place as the Worlds gave me a feeling of comfort.”

Over the course of the last two years in his purple belt, Morizi has amassed over 50 medals. He trains three to four times a day. He says the jump in level of competition from blue belt to purple belt was big, but he feels he adjusted to it well. “I use a lot of technique and not much strength, so I’ve been able to adapt pretty easily,” he says. Morizi’s biggest accomplishments at purple belt include winning the 2011 Abu Dhabi Trials, the 2010 US Open, the 2009 No-Gi Worlds, and the 2009 No-Gi Nationals.

For the first time, he’s going to fight at the Worlds at middleweight instead of at light. “This is the first time in a long time I’m going into a tournament with no injuries,” he says, “The last few weeks I’ve focused only on training. I haven’t been teaching; just training for the Worlds.”

Morizi trains at GB America with the plethora of world class black belts there and for conditioning he trains at Juggernaut with a number of the other GB greats. “I’ve been gaining a lot of strength,” he says, “Chad (Smith, owner of Juggernaut) is really knowledgeable in power lifting and he’s been helping me get a lot stronger. I feel like I’m finally at the same strength as other middleweights. I feel really confident and relaxed. More than ever before.”

Elias Ramirez

Elias Ramirez is another GB purple belt who is training hard for the Worlds and hopes to have a good showing. He closed out his medium heavy division at the Samurai Pro with GB teammate Felipe Carsalade Pena. Pena gave Ramirez the gold. In the open, Ramirez won two fights, but because there were so many Gracie Barra guys competing and winning, Ramirez let Pena pass. Pena ended up closing out the finals with Brian Morizi. Gracie Barra closed out the entire open with Morizi taking first, Pena taking second and Ramirez taking third.

Ramirez is focused on growing Gracie Barra Anaheim Hills, so he doesn’t get to train and focus on competing as much as he would like, but he is training hard for the Worlds. “I want to get the gold, which is what I want every time I walk on the mats,” he says. Although Ramirez’s current dream is to open his own academy, he loves to compete. “I look forward to competing all this year and continuing to compete for as long as my body lets me,” he says, “I love competition and have a great desire to become the best I can be. I haven’t hit that point yet.”

Felipe Carsalade Pena recently moved to the Los Angeles area from Brazil to train with Rômulo Barral. At the Samurai Pro he had four fights in his medium heavy division and closed out the bracket with Ramirez. In the open he had two more fights and ended up closing out the bracket with Morizi. Pena felt really good about his performance. “I had hard fights,” he says, “It was a good warm-up for the Worlds.”

At the 2011 Pan, Pena had six fights and won the medium heavy division. He also won the medium heavyweight and open weight divisions at the Phoenix Open. It’s been a good year for Pena and he’s looking forward to showcasing his talent at the upcoming Worlds. “I’m training really hard,” he says, “I’m well prepared to fight for the gold at the Worlds.”

Pena began his training in Brazil with the help of his professors, Marcelo Uirapuru, Sergio Benini, and Augusto “Tio Chico”. “They’re always supporting me and encouraging me to train hard at Gracie Barra BH,” he says. In the last few months, Pena moved to California and has been training with his friend Rômulo Barral. “He’s helped me improve my Jiu-Jitsu a lot,” Pena says, “I am really thankful.”

Aaron Miller is a GB lightweight blue belt from GB Fullerton who recently won his division at the Samurai Pro. He won both his matches by submission. Miller is an MMA fighter who took a break from fighting to focus on training in Jiu-Jitsu. He was submitted in his last three MMA fights and it didn’t sit well with him. “I decided to take a year and focus on Jiu-Jitsu,” he says, “I’ve been working on defense from the back and attacks from the top.”

Miller has been working with Professor Maycon Carvalho and says he’s taught him patience. “I see things coming now instead of forcing them to happen,” he says. His Jiu-Jitsu training is paying off, as he recently also won his weight and the open class at the Phoenix Open.

As for the Worlds, Miller is looking forward to getting there and hopes to compete against the guys who have beaten him in the past. “Training for the Worlds is like training for a title shot in MMA,” he says, “You train hours and hours, day after day, only making time to sleep and to eat. My mind is focused only on the Worlds.”

Miller says he does not train to lose and he hopes those he competes against feel the same way. “I watch my old matches over and over again so I can see what I can do better next time and how I can improve my game. When I train at Gracie Barra I go against the best and I imagine it is for first place at the Worlds.”

Miller says he only sees gold on the horizon at the Worlds. “My first match is always the hardest because you go in cold nervous and amped up all at the same time,” he says, “But when I find my center, there is no stopping me.”

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