ABU DHABI // The world's top jiu-jitsu fighters have converged in Abu Dhabi, primed and ready to take part in the sport's biggest event, the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship. The tournament will mark its fifth year when it begins today at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (Adnec) with more participants and greater prize money than any previous year.
Over the four days nearly 1,400 competitors of all size and ages are expected to be involved; at the business end of the tournament, which begins with the senior male and female categories from tomorrow, Dh1.45 million in prize money is up for grabs, the largest pot since the tournament began in 2009.
In the headline open-weight black-belt category, the winner stands to receive US$30,000 (Dh110,000); but there are 45 categories in all (across nine weight divisions and five belts) for males and 25 for females, besides a Masters competition for competitors over age 35.
Yesterday, organisers marked the start by arranging an exhibition fight between the UAE's top two fighters, Faisal Al Ketbi and Yahya Al Hammadi, atop the Capital Gate building, on the helipad 160 metres above the ground.
The UAE national team coach Maiky Reiter is confident both can pick up medals this year, and expects an 18-person UAE contingent to double last year's medal haul to 10.
But this will be about as tough as it gets because they will be up against the world's leading fighters in a 750-fighter field, including the leading black-belt champions such as Rodolfo Vieira (the reigning Abu Dhabi open weight champion), Taris Humphreys, Claudio Calasans and Gabrielle Garcia, a seven-time world female champion.
"We are very ready for this," Al Hammadi said at an event on Monday.
"We've had great training in the build-up to this tournament, we've won medals before and we are confident we can do so again here."
Proceedings kick off today with the World Jiu-Jitsu Children's Cup, with 650 schoolchildren from 28 schools across the country participating, again more than any previous year. Schoolgirls are also taking part this year, for the first time, fruits of the UAE federation's push of jiu-jitsu throughout schools.
Earlier this year, during the Gulf Cup, the federation organised a successful children's tournament in Al Ain, which "was key in raising awareness throughout the Emirates," said one federation official at the time.
The fruits of those initiatives may become clearer over the next few days.
"There are more schoolchildren involved than ever before," said Sameera Al Romaithi, the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation's acting chief executive. "There are over 650 and for the first time in this particular tournament, we have schoolgirls competing as well, from eight different schools. There are also 50 kids from around the world taking part.
"For me it is truly a sport anyone can get into, male, female, young and old. It isn't like other Mixed Martial Arts where there is chance of injuries. There are no strikes in jiu-jitsu, so less chances you'll get hurt. There is a far greater emphasis on mental preparation and strategy."
The main-event fighters will go through their weigh-ins today.