When it comes to jiu-jitsu, then Wellington ‘Megaton’ Dias is definitely one of the greatest to have taken to the mat. Coached by the ‘Master’ Helio Gracie in the renowned Gracie Humaitá jiu-jitsu school in Rio de Janeiro, the black belt athlete went on to enjoy an illustrious career, winning multiple European, Pan-American, US Nationals and World titles.
So it’s no surprise the 49-year-old Brazilian-born American was invited to compete in the Jiu-Jitsu Legends as part of the Abu Dhabi World Pro Jiu-Jitsu Championships on Saturday.
He spoke to Sport360 about his best moments in life, the profile of the sport in Abu Dhabi and thoughts on whether his daughter Mackenzie Dern should compete in UFC one day.
You’re here for the Jiu-Jitsu Legends this weekend where you will face Helio ‘Soneca’ Moreira at the IPIC Arena. How are you looking forward to competing here?
It’s a great opportunity and it feels great to be fighting again after 22 years. When I was asked by the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation, I asked who my opponent would be and when they revealed it, I said ‘yes for sure’. It is good to be here and I enjoy competing. It will be a different crowd and I will get a chance to be part of a prestigious tournament.
Abu Dhabi is now considered as the capital of jiu-jitsu. How impressed are you with the UAE’s vision in promoting the sport?
I’m very impressed with the organisation of the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation (UAEJJF) and the way they implement the sport is fantastic. If you want to raise the profile, then that’s the way to go. Maybe in 10 years time, there will be a lot of black belt world champions for the UAE. For sure, I think this sport has really grown. At the World Championships you would only see Brazilians win. But now there are players from different countries which is good for the sport.
You’ve achieved a lot of success in your career. What would you say is your highlight?
I really don’t know. It’s hard to say. I had won all the titles that you could imagine. Okay, I did not have the World Championship title but to win golds in the US Nationals, Pan-American Games and European Championships is pretty special.
You had also been practising judo. What was the reason to move to jiu-jitsu?
Both sports are very popular in Brazil. There are a lot of Japanese people in Brazil so judo was pretty big when I started it at five-years-old. I gradually learned all the techniques and then switched to jiu-jitsu when I was around 12. As a kid, it’s very usual for someone to start in judo and then do jiu-jitsu when you’re older.
Since you first started jiu-jitsu, how has the sport changed?
It has grown rapidly. In my generation, you would only have like one tournament per year. Today, there are so many tournaments around the world and that has improved the level of the players. Not only that, there is a lot of media coverage which can only raise the profile of the sport.
You worked with some of the great practitioners in jiu-jitsu. What are your memories to train with the legendary Helio Gracias?
It was something very unique. To learn the sport from a ‘Grand Master’ was a real privilege. He really embraced the sport in a way and showed you how to compete. It was very good to have him pass on his experience to me which helped me win in tournaments.
Your daughter Mackenzie Dern has also followed into your footsteps and is now a multiple gold winner. What have you made of her progress?
I couldn’t be more happier. Her progress is amazing and it’s great that she loves the same sport that I do. I enjoy coaching her and we have some good times even though there’s some ups and downs. Majority of the time, it’s all good and she’s on the level where we can exchange ideas.
She is also competing in MMA. Dana White, UFC president, has admitted earlier this year that Dern could be signed up in the future. What are your thoughts on her competing in UFC?
As a father, I would be a little bit concerned that she would get a broken nose or suffer an injury. She’s a pretty girl and you have to understand that she’s my only daughter. Maybe she should go on to be a model and not do MMA. As a professional, for sure I would love to see her compete. If she can get to UFC, I think she could be one of the top in her class. I hope she can be bigger than Ronda Rousey.
If she starts focusing more on MMA, would you like to see her continue practising jiu-jitsu?
It’s a hard decision. Mackenzie has won quite a lot of trophies in her career and if she went to MMA, she would focus more on that and I think it would be quite difficult to do both full-time.
Jiu-Jitsu isn’t on the Olympic programme yet. Do you feel it’s only of matter of time before it is included?
I don’t care if it’s at the Olympics or not. I think it’s difficult for it to be included. One reason is that it would need sanctioning with all the federations. Plus each nation would need to send a black-belt team which would be difficult as only Brazil and possibly the US are capable of sending a team.
I also think the Judo Federation is very strong and they wouldn’t like jiu-jitsu being selected as it’s very similar to judo. That’s just the way I think.
Sheikh Nahyan bin Zayed Al Nahyan (third l) with medalists at the Abu Dhabi World Pro Jiu-Jitsu Championship.
Omar Al Fadhli showed why he’s so highly rated by the UAE senior national team’s coaching staff with an outstanding display to claim gold in the Abu Dhabi World Youth Jiu-Jitsu Championship.
Al Fadhli, who at 16 became the youngest member to represent his country last year, defeated compatriot Hamad Nawad in the Blue Juvenile 55kg division.
The manner of victory was even more special considering his final was watched by Sheikh Nahyan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, chairman of the Board of Trustees of Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Charitable and Humanitarian Foundation during the official opening ceremony of the Abu Dhabi World Pro Jiu-Jitsu Championship (ADWPJJC).
“It was a very good fight and thank God I ended it in one choke from the back,” said Al Fadhli, 17.
“It was an amazing win and all my focus was on the fight. To win my first world gold was really special and it will be something I will remember for the rest of my life.”
Meanwhile, for the Al Hanaei family there was real reason to celebrate after sisters Mahra and Hana shone and Maha still to compete.
Mahra, 16, needed just 56 seconds to overcome fellow countrywoman Sharifa Mubarak for the 52kg female blue belt gold. She followed in the footsteps of younger sister Hana, who won on Sunday, while her eldest sister Maha will be aiming to complete a hat-trick in the adults division.
“I fought with Mubarak before and so I knew how she would compete,” said Mahra. “Hana and I managed to clinch gold and Inshallah, it will huge for our family and the UAE if Maha goes and wins gold in her category. We will be behind her all the way.”
Meanwhile, on the first day of the ADWPJJC, there was disappointment for Khalifa Al Nassrati, who had to settle for silver after being beaten by his “good friend” Gilgamesh Blanch for the second consecutive year.
The 18-year-old lost on advantage point by the Australian in the 56kg blue division but he had no complaints in defeat.
“The best man won,” said Nassrati, who has deformities with his fingers on his left hand. “I lost to my friend and he’s a good fighter and an awesome guy. I respect him a lot and it was a pleasure to have fought against him.”
For Blanch, it was strange to compete against someone he has known now for a long time.
“It’s difficult to fight someone who is your friend,” he said. “You want the best for them and all the challenges he’s gone through is incredible. We stay in touch on social media and whenever we meet in the future, we’ll continue to be close friends.”
In other results, Roosevelt Sousa ensured he had a triumphant return back to Brazil after claiming 110kg gold in the blue belt division.
“It’s absolutely incredible to win here on my first international competition,” he said. “I hope this will be the start of more.”
Luiz Medeiros and Rashid Kaitmazov of Russia won the blue 69 and 77kg categories respectively.
The final day of Abu Dhabi World Youth Jiu-Jitsu Championship came to a close Monday at the IPIC Arena, Zayed Sports City.
Part of the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship which runs until April 22, the championship was held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
The second day of action saw boys aged between 10 -17 years old take to the mats of the IPIC Arena.
It followed on from the Abu Dhabi World Jiu-Jitsu Festival that all last week welcomed hundreds upon hundreds of young players through the doors of the IPIC Arena.
Here, we share with you some of the best pictures from the week-long action in the UAE capital.