Faisal Al Ketbi feels he's getting closer to winning World Pro black belt gold after final loss

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A force: Faisal Al Ketbi (right)

He might have had to settle for silver but UAE’s top-ranked Faisal Al Ketbi believes he’s ‘taken a few steps closer’ in his bid of winning a black belt gold at the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship one day.

The 31-year-old was beaten by Brazil’s Isaque Braz in Saturday’s 85kg final as the Emirati’s quest to clinch a maiden black belt gold in the competition continues for another 12 months.

Although it was a disappointing end to the season, Al Ketbi can reflect back on a promising 2017-2018 campaign. Back in July, he won gold and silver at the World Games in Poland before winning double at the Asian Indoor Martial and Arts Games in Indonesia. He also clinched gold and silver in elite UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation competitions.

But despite coming so close on his home patch at the Mubadala Arena last weekend, he believes he’s not too far off achieving one of his major objectives.

“The final was very close and I feel I have taken a few steps closer (to winning a World Pro),” the 31-year-old told Sport360 on the sidelines of the Abu Dhabi Jiu-Jitsu World Awards at Emirates Palace.

“The match was tight and it was one mistake from me that my opponent took advantage of. In sport that happens. Sometimes you think about what you want to do during the fight and your opponent is also thinking what he wants to do, so that means you have to change your strategies during the match which isn’t easy.

“At the same time, the clock is ticking so you don’t have much time. Overall, it was a close game and I lost by two points. Hopefully I can win next time and learn from my mistakes.”

Al Ketbi is competing in the highest tier of jiu-jitsu since being elevated from brown in 2015. It was a division where he had a lot of success in especially at the World Pro.

Yet in his short time at the top, he quickly found out that success in black belt is not purely down to agility or skill but using your mind.

“I knew when I started jiu-jitsu that getting black belt is the pinnacle of jiu-jitsu,” he said. “There is so many people who have been competing in black belt for 10 or 15 years so there’s a lot people who are well experienced.

“When you come from brown belt, you are up against new opponents and you think you know how good they are but that’s not always the case. I feel that I’m not less better than them as we have the same techniques and skill. It’s about being calm and focused.

“Whenever I go into my matches, I try to fix a position and be in that position for as long as I can. It’s more about having a plan and making that work.

“Previously, it was all about fighting, but in black belt it’s about strategies and not just jumping around. It’s about focusing and I learnt that with just one game, the match can end with an disadvantage. It can be quite frustrating especially if you’ve worked so many months for that competition but that’s the harsh reality of being a black belt athlete.”

Al Ketbi will have a few weeks rest before turning his focus on the Asian Games in Indonesia. Al Ketbi will step up his preparations during a month-long training camp in Los Angeles with the UAE national team and the Emirati has vowed he will do all he can to raise the national flag high.

“This is one of the most important competitions for the UAE,” he said. “Jiu-Jitsu is making its debut at the Games and our federation (UAEJJF) are showing a lot of support to the national team to ensure they can be at their best. They put their trust in us and that trust will not go away. Our players know the responsibility and we will push ourselves for this competition.”

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Faisal Al Ketbi and Al Hinaai sisters among the winners at Abu Dhabi World Jiu-Jitsu Awards

Denzil Pinto 30/04/2018
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All smiles: The winners

Twenty-four hours after settling for silver, there was something to smile for Faisal Al Ketbi as he was among the winners at the Abu Dhabi World Jiu-Jitsu Awards on Sunday night.

For the third consecutive year, the end-of-season gala organised by the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation recognised the best Emirati and international athletes during the 2017-18 season at Emirates Palace across 26 categories.

Al Ketbi was beaten by Isaque Braz in Saturday’s 85kg final at the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship. However, that didn’t stop him picking up the Best Emirati Black Belt Award.

During the season, Al Ketbi won gold and silver at the World Games in Poland before clinching double gold at the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games at Indonesia.

Meanwhile, there was a double celebration in the Al Hinaai household. Sisters Maha and Mahra, won the Best Emirati Purple Belt Player of the Year and Best Emirati Blue Belt Youth Player of the Year awards. After a busy campaign, even they cannot remember how many medals they won this season.

“We don’t really count how many medals we have because there are so many,” said Maha, 18, who is a member of the UAE national team. “It’s an amazing feeling to win this prestigious award because it shows you can be rewarded if you work hard. We were both nominated last year but finished second. Inshallah, hopefully we can win again in the future.”

For Igor Silva, he picked up two personal accolades. The Brazilian topped the world rankings to win the Best Player of the Year and South American Player of the Year respectively having won a tally of 18 medals (13 golds, three silvers and two bronzes).

Silva finished ahead of Adam Wardzinski in the world rankings but despite the latter losing his 94kg final at the World Pro on Saturday, he still walked away with the Best European Player of the Year award thanks to his 16 medal tally (eight golds, six silvers and two bronzes).

“It was a tough and busy season for me but the organisation of the UAE competitions are really high in standard,” said the 27-year-old. “It was just a pleasure to compete during the season and it’s great to be part of this. It was a fantastic season for me and to be the top-ranked European athlete while also finishing runner-up in the world rankings. I’m now looking forward to the next season.”

Meanwhile, UAE-based Larissa Paes clinched the Female Player of the Year accolade after a dominant 10 months which saw her claim 19 medals (11 golds, six silvers and two bronze).

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After his fifth Abu Dhabi World Pro gold, Felipe Pena insists his 2016 Absolute win is his most 'special'

Denzil Pinto 29/04/2018
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Absolute class: Felipe Pena (right)

The Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship is proving to be a special tournament for Felipe Pena. Before making the long trip from Brazil, he had already won four golds in three years in the UAE capital and the 26-year-old added to his medal collection with his fifth triumph in the 94kg division on Saturday night.

The victory in the weight division is no real surprise considering that now four of his five golds have come in this class. But while he cherishes every single medal, there’s one that stands out from the rest – his gold at Absolute in 2016.

Back then, he defeated home favourite Jose Junior, making up for his loss in the 94kg that year.

“All the medals that I’ve won here are all the same for me,” he said. “A gold here is the same as anything else but if I have to choose what is the most special I’ve won then for sure it was when I won the Absolute title in 2016.

“That was the first time that I won that category and it was tough because I had to beat the best of the best in the world. So that is something that I’ll remember for a long time.”

He added: “The World Pro is one of the most important tournaments in the world and it’s one I don’t want to miss because it’s an opportunity to see where you stand against the world’s best.”

Having competed in Abu Dhabi every year since 2015, Pena has seen the World Pro go from strength-to-strength on every visit. He lauded the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation for their vision in making the sport grow not just in the country but abroad.

“The UAEJJF is doing great things for the sport and everyone in the world knows about Abu Dhabi and their efforts in promoting the game worldwide which can only attract more youngsters to take up jiu-jitsu.”

For the chairman of the UAEJJF, Abdulmonem Al Hashimi, he declared the 10th edition of the competition a big success. “The tenth edition of the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship has been a great success that we are particularly proud of,” he said. “It has represented the UAE’s deep capabilities in hosting and organising global championships of the highest calibre. This is paving a new path for jiu-jitsu, which now holds the deep interest of Emirati society.

“The UAE has succeeded in drawing global attention, having taken its place at the forefront of the sport. At the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation, we have worked diligently to build a generation of professional Jiu-Jitsu athletes that are capable of taking on the world’s most notable champions and represent the UAE across international tournaments.”

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