Talib Al Kirbi has competed in every staging of the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship since it was first held in 2008. It is an event he calls "the biggest jiu-jitsu show on earth".
But this year's event, to be held at Mubadala Arena from April 20-26, will be the Emirati's last. And he is determined to make his swansong a truly memorable one.
“When I first took up jiu-jitsu, I never expected it to give me so much joy, fame and success,” the 36-year-old says. “But I have had my share of achievements. I have had a lot of good moments and enjoyed my time in the sport to the fullest."
Al Kirbi also has enjoyed a hugely successful career. Representing the UAE for eight continuous years has to be one of the highlights, but he also won plenty of medals along the way: silver at the 2018 Asian Games, gold at the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, and more golds at the 2014 and 2016 Asian Beach Games.
In fact, his achievements are second only to those of UAE captain Faisal Al Ketbi. He also holds the honour of being only the second Emirati, after Al Ketbi, to achieve black belt status – not bad for someone who only began training in the sport 12 years ago.
But all athletes must call it a day some day, and that day is coming up for Al Kirbi. "I have to be realistic. I’m not getting any younger, and I have a few injuries," he says as he prepares for the 69-kilogram black belt Masters-1 division at the World Pro.
Obviously, Al Kirbi wants to win leave the competitive stage on a high by winning no less than a gold medal. “The last time I won gold in the World Pro was in the purple belt in 2013. I have won silver in the last two years,” he says.
In a tribute to his teammate, Al Ketbi points out Al Kirbi is leaving on his own terms.
“He is a great team man who always is willing to run that extra mile whenever the team needed,” Al Ketbi says. “As a person, he’s very quiet and humble. When it comes to training and preparations, his commitment and work ethics stand out.
“His achievements say a lot about his character."
What is fascinating about Al Kirbi's story is while he may have planned his imminent retirement, his entry into the sport happened entirely by chance; as Al Ketbi says, he "came into jiu-jitsu without any sporting background and now leaves with a lot of accomplishments for his country".
Indeed, Al Kirbi's interest in the martial art was stoked by what he saw on a random day at the gym he used to train at.
“I didn’t play any sport, but I used to do my regular workouts in the gym," he recalls. "Some of my friends were practising jiu-jitsu, and they asked me to try it out.
"I did and got hooked."
This is probably the primary reason why Al Kirbi is so keen to give back to the sport once he stops competing. With the intention to pass on his experience to younger Emiratis, he is already in talks with the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation about a coaching role in the governing body.
But before that, a break.
“I want to spend some quality time with my family," he says. "The coaching role is a possibility, and I have already discussed it with the federation, but I’m not in a great hurry."