Larissa Paes insists she had a choice of sports to pursue as a child.
But being born into a family of black belt standard jiu-jitsu stars meant the mat was always calling her.
And despite the fact she had a lot to live up to with both parents rising to the second-highest ranking in a country where only football is considered a more popular sport, Paes has done pretty well for herself.
She has already emulated mother Daniela and father Paulo Flavio by becoming a black belt – aged just 22.
She currently sits atop the world rankings for female adult brown/black belt fighters and holds a huge 620-point margin over second-placed compatriot Thamara Silva coming into the biggest event of the season, the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship 2018, which begins on Saturday at Zayed Sports City’s Mubadala Arena.
Paes has won 11 gold medals in 2017/18 – six more than anyone else – and also has six silvers and one bronze for a total haul of 18. That is 10 more than any other competitor in the top-10 globally ranked athletes.
Jiu-jitsu has its origins in the Far East, first established in Japan. But it is a big deal back in Paes’ homeland, where Brazilian jiu-jitsu has become its own recognised combat sport.
It is the fastest growing martial art in the world and only football outranks it in a nation of nearly 209 million people – the sixth largest populated country on earth.
إليكم بعض اللقطات من المعسكر التدريبي المكثف الذي أقيم للاعبين الناشئين في مبادلة أرينا إستعداداً لمنافساتهم القادمة في النسخة العاشرة من بطولة أبوظبي العالمية لمحترفي الجوجيتسو. pic.twitter.com/TqjWtPlqrQ— UAEJJF (@uaejjf) 4 April 2018
Paes reveals she was told as a child she didn’t have to pick jiu-jitsu, but she did have to pick a sport to follow.
“My mum was a black belt and my dad too, so it’s a family thing,” says the smiley-faced South American.
“They tell me I need to train. There was no pressure. They said I could choose but I needed to choose a sport. I chose jiu-jitsu.”
Paes admits she placed any pressure to live up to the family legacy on herself.
“I like that (pressure). I try and live up to their name,” she adds.
“Some people tell me I look like or fight like my parents and they both help me, they’re very good to me, and they’re both my professors. My dad helps me every day. If I have problems and can’t do a certain position I call him up and he says ‘ok, come here’ and we train.”
Although she declares there is no pressure on her shoulders in living up to the family name, there may be more pressure to live up to her own name with the season the 62kg star has been having.
She hasn’t had the perfect approach to this tournament – celebrating its 10th anniversary – as she lost an epic contest to Germany’s Charlotte Von Baumgarten at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam Jiu-Jitsu World Tour in London three weeks ago.
Paes opened up an early 5-0 lead but her opponent clawed her way back to claim gold with a bow and arrow choke for a 6-5 win.
Paes celebrated her 22nd birthday on Tuesday and has nothing but victory in her sights in Abu Dhabi.
“I’m 22 today so it would be very special to win this year, it would be a nice birthday present,” she says.
“To win a medal, more than one. That’s always the aim.
“It will be very hard, there a lot of girls with a lot of experience in my category but I keep training hard and I will do my best. I don’t really think of any of my opponents and who may challenge me most, I just think of myself and believe in myself.”
Paes will have a kind of home advantage at the two-week tournament, having lived in the UAE capital for over a year.
She works for Palms Sports, a UAE-based company that creates sports training programmes, particularly geared towards jiu-jitsu, mixed martial arts and combat sports.
It’s an arduous task balancing work and training, with only time in her day to train once. But she combats that by training intensely.
“I came here to work but I’ve kept training and fighting because I love this sport,” says Paes, who has been practicing jiu-jitsu since she was five.
“It’s not easy but we can work in the morning and train in the afternoon and evening. It’s a little bit hard because I have work from 08:00 to 15:00. I can train only once per day. I need to do my best in that training and train hard.
“I live here so it’s easy for me competing here this month, and my family lives here too so that is a big help.”
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