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.”
The UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation has announced a programme to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Abu Dhabi Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship, which will be held in Mubadala Arena in Zayed Sports City from April 16 to 28.
The championship coincides with the Year of Zayed, which celebrates the life of the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the UAE. The UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation was inspired by Sheikh Zayed’s principles and values, and his vision to preserve the customs and traditions of his people, while having an open world view based on tolerance, cooperation, and peace.
To mark this occasion, the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation has launched “Champion Within”, an initiative that aims to inspire people to find the hero inside them through discovering their true potential and, in doing so, positively motivate the next generation of Heroes.
Abdul Moneim Al Hashemi, President of the UAE and Asian Jiu-Jitsu Federations and vice-president of the Jiu-Jitsu International Federation, said: “The essence of this initiative reflects the success story of the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation itself, which began years ago, when we still had no headquarters, and our training sessions and meetings were held at homes or in training areas.
“We are grateful for the support of our government and passion and commitment of everyone involved to not only lead us to establish the UAE Jiu Jitsu Federation as an official entity, but help it grow into the highly-respected authority that it is today – on both a local and international level.”
He added: “Everyone who has worked with the Federation since its inception is a champion. Every player who believed in this sport, overcame their challenges, and contributed to putting the name of the UAE on the global map for Jiu-Jitsu is a champion and a role model for the next generation. These champions have had the determination to train consistently no matter what, and overcome obstacles such as fatigue, to reach their goals – and they continue to do so. Now, we invite everyone to support and encourage them from the stands, so that they can aim for gold at the 10th Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship.”
The 13-day tournament will see various top players from around the world with a prize money of $1 million.
Al Ain Club retained the President’s Jiu-Jitsu Cup for the second year in a row after the fifth and final round in Abu Dhabi.
At the Mubadala Arena, in Zayed Sports City, the Garden City topped the round with 3,376 points, while Al Wahda were second with 2,535 points. Al Jazira finished third with 1,982 points.
Khamis Obeid Al Kaabi, president of the Al Ain expressed his delight in the achievement. He said: “We dedicate this valuable win to His Highness Sheikh Hazaa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and to all board members. It is a valuable achievement for us, especially that we started our preparations all the way back last year. We are very proud to hold the title of the President’s Jiu-Jitsu Cup, and we look forward to further achievements.”
Abdulmoneim Al Hashimi, president of the UAE and Asian Jiu-Jitsu Federations and Vice President of the International Federation of Jiu-Jitsu, added: “Year after year, we see major improvements in this tournament. We are witnessing a rich Jiu-Jitsu season, and with the new rounds that have been added, and the new format the championship will take next year, we are looking forward to more success.”
Mr. Khalid Al-Hinai, Chairman of Al-Wahda Sports Club, and Mr. Mansour Al-Dhahiri, Board Member of the #UAEJJF, crown our winners at the Final Round of the #JiuJitsu President's Cup. pic.twitter.com/0AUDk8JrP0— UAEJJF (@uaejjf) March 24, 2018
On the new format, Al Hashimi explained: “The championship will take a first and second leg format next year, where clubs compete against each other in various rounds. A club needs to gain more medals and points in the two legs to qualify for the next stage. This will make the tournament more challenging and exciting at the same time.”