Zayed Al Katheeri, the first Emirati to win a gold medal as a black belt at the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship, is confident he can replicate that success at this year's event and says he is ready to take on all comers.
The championship, popularly known as the World Pro, has drawn over 7,000 entries from 127 countries to Mubadala Arena from November 1-10. This year's total prize fund is Dh3 million.
Al Katheeri goes for gold in the men’s 56-kilogram weight division and hopes to use home support to his advantage.
“I’m competing in familiar surroundings and in front of my home fans, I should be more pumped up for the title defence,” Al Katheeri told The National during the launch ceremony of the event on Monday.
“I was thrilled when I won it last year and I’m more confident this time around.
"But I have to be realistic, too. It’s hard to predict the outcomes in this game but I’m fully prepared to take on anyone as I did the last time.”
Also competing is the UAE's most decorated jiu-jitsu athlete, Faisal Al Ketbi, who holds the distinction of taking part in all 14 editions of the World Pro to date.
Al Ketbi is the first Emirati to receive a black belt in jiu-jitsu but has never won a gold medal at black belt. His previous gold medal performances came in blue and brown belts.
Al Katheeri describes his compatriot as a "role model" for others to aspire to and said the entire UAE jiu-jitsu fraternity was rooting for him to win.
“Faisal is an Emirati jiu-jitsu legend and a role model to the emerging generation of fighters,” Al Katheeri said. “The championship is celebrating 15 years and Faisal has competed in all. It will really be great if he can win the title as a black belt. I think the entire jiu-jitsu fraternity will be behind him.”
Julia Alves, 22, returns to the UAE capital to defend her women’s black belt 69kg with the Brazilian looking to round off an impressive 2023.
“Winning it last year for the first time as a black belt was something of a surprise but this time I am contesting as the champion and want to enjoy every moment,” she said.
Alves made a successful debut in the championship by winning gold in the blue belt in 2019 and won bronze in the brown/black in 2021.
“Those visits have been only for the championship and for the prize monies. However, this time I want to spend a little time traveling around the UAE, take photos and fill my bedroom wall as memories.”
The UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation (UAEJJF) said that this year's tournament would be the grandest in its history.
“We celebrate fifteen years of success and excellence that have significantly elevated the global jiu-jitsu landscape,” Mohamed Salem Al Dhaheri, vice chairman of the federation and chairman of the Championship Organising Committee, said.
Fahad Al Shamsi, general secretary of the UAEJJF, added: “The fifteenth edition of the championship witnessed a record-breaking level of participation, with an unprecedented number of players from across the globe, representing a 40 per cent increase compared to the previous year."
The championship kicks off with a festival event for kids from aged four to 16 in the first two days, followed by the events for the para division, youth, amateurs, and masters, followed by the elite practitioners for the last three days.