Black belt Mikyo Riggs makes triumphant return to competition and earns gold at the U.S. Open!

The crowd chanted MIK-YOOOO, MIK-YOOOOO. Anticipation and excitement filled the air as long time jiu-jitsu practitioner and competitor Mikyo Riggs walked onto the mats.

At this weekend’s U.S. Open in San Jose, CA, Mikyo Riggs, became the gold medal champion for the Black Belt Senior I lightweight division. Riggs, one of Ralph Gracie’s first black belts and head instructor/owner of MarinMMA, made a triumphant return to the jiu-jitsu competition scene after announcing seven years ago that he had retired from competition.

In the finals Mikyo faced a strong & explosive Gil Olivas of Claudio Franca BJJ. Mikyo executed two passes and a sweep, while almost finishing with an armbar, winning the match decisively by 8-0.

In his return to competition, Mikyo showed why he is one of the most technical black belts in the sport with a performance that sought to prove he hadn’t missed a beat since leaving the competition scene.

“Mikyozinho” is a long time supporter, sponsored athlete, and friend of the OTM family & it’s founders.

Congratulations on your win Mikyozinho!!



Post by: Christie Sullivan

Photo by: Marlon Duenas


To read more about Mikyo, his jiu-jitsu journey and preparations for the U.S. Open, check out his Facebook blog post below:


U.S. Open 2011

By Mikyo Riggs, October 17, 2011


When I was young I always wanted to be a fighter.  I wanted to compete in martial arts and test my skills against the best in the world.  I knew that the process of training, the hard work and dedication, and wins and losses would eventually help form the person that I was to become.  I wanted to get my wisdom through hard training and pain and suffering.  I wanted to experience the thrill of victory and rise from the ashes of defeat.  Even before I understood what a true martial artist or fighter was I wanted these things.


When I was in my twenties I put my body through a lot of abuse.  By the time I was began martial arts at 15 I was already a competitive athlete in Basketball, Football, Lacrosse and soccer.  These other sports gave me a lot but I also got injured in my pursuit to be the best at those sports.  As I trained in martial arts I would push myself so hard that I would eventually suffer injuries.  I often would not let myself recover and my injuries would lead to other injuries or become chronic.  An active social and night life also meant that I wasn’t getting the rest and proper nutrition my body needed.  But I never wanted to miss practice so I kept pushing through.  This also lead to me having to get surgery on both my shoulders and my knee in my twenties.


Realizing the clock was ticking on my competitive career, at the age of 29 I made my last big push for competition.  I wanted to really see how well I could do if I applied all that I knew about training.  I got a personal trainer, physical therapist, nutritionist in addition to my Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, Boxing and wrestling instructors.  I was in the best shape I had ever been in and was ready to go.  I won the United Gracie tournament which was a big prestigious tournament in 2004!


Shortly after on my way back from the academy I was in a serious car crash which /compounded the pre existing damage to my spine.  I had 6 herniated discs in my spine along with stenosis, bone spurs and degenerative disc desease.  I saw several doctors, surgeons, and specialists.  I would travel to see experts in physical therapy, acupuncture, prolotherapy, The Egoscue Method.  But everyone was pessimistic and doubtful that I could ever return to training much less competition.  I was in the darkest depression of my life.  My body was everything to me and now I couldn’t do what I loved.


Martial arts taught me to never give up and my parents taught me to follow my heart and my dreams so I kept pushing forward.  Trying to find a different doctor or specialist that would tell me good news instead of bad.  Unfortunately I learned to read the look in these peoples eyes before they even spoke.  No one thought I would ever fight again.


I opened my academy in 2006 and tried to put my competitive dreams behind me.  I would now dedicate my lives to teaching and passing on what I had learned.  I trained my students with everything I had.  I treated my students like they were my own family, loving them and trying to help them in anyway possible.  My students gave me a great sense of pride as they earned titles in major BJJ tournaments  and wins in MMA fights.  I also heard how my training had changed their lives for the better and made them better people.  It was such a great feeling to feel like I had even the smallest role in there success.  My students were my true pride and joy.


Unfortunately I still had that voice in my head.  That unsettled feeling like I wasn’t done with my own fights.  I had aged and was now in my mid thirties.  I was engaged and thinking of starting a family.  My school had already produced champions and my goals had shifted far away from my own competitive career.  Yet I still felt I wasn’t done on the mats!  I wrestled with these feelings quietly and privately.  I just wanted that feeling again to be part of the competitors!  I saw psychologists and tried to work on letting go but I just couldn’t.  


Then in 2011 I made a choice.  I decided that the only way to let go was to try once more.  I didn’t care about winning or loosing.  I just wanted to be working on the process of training myself.  I wanted to be doing what I loved in its purest form.  Find my happiness on the mat tired and beaten up, but satisfied.  Most people didn’t understand that didn’t do martial arts.  Even my BJJ teachers were skeptical when I whispered that I was thinking about competing.  I didn’t care.  I was doing if for myself.  I needed to shut up those voices and doubts in my mind.  I wanted to prove all the experts wrong.  I wanted to believe.  I knew how powerful the mind is and how the universe will help you if you approach something with a pure heart.  I had the fire again.  I was coming back!  


This time I would do it my way.  I would train myself.  I had no personal trainers, therapists or nutritionists.  I was my own BJJ teacher unable with my busy schedule to train with my old teammates, and teachers.  I lacked black belt training partners.  With my chronic injuries I couldn’t work out in the gym the way I wanted to.  But still I believed.  


2 weeks before the competition I suffered the worst personal tragedy I had ever experienced in my lifetime.  My close friends told me it would be ok to not compete.  Perseverance is a value in martial arts and I knew that I was being tested.  It would be easy to not do the tournament now and anyone would understand.  But I am not a quitter and I knew this would be a great test.  I continued training despite being emotionally wrecked.  I did my best and told myself that it was good enough.  I wanted to reach my goal and make it the competition.


The last week of training was the hardest.  I got some minor injuries 5 days before the day of the fight and was still unsure of my weight.  I had all those doubts about my back coming back and I did my best to stay focused.  It would take everything that I had learned to get me to the tournament and I knew I couldn’t give up now.  Fight day came and I was ready.  The training was done.  The mental preparations were done.  The suffering was done.  There was nothing left but to do but fight.


On the day of the fight I was so excited!  I was so happy that I had made it to the competition.  I tried to soak up every moment.  I warmed up slowly and lightly not knowing what to expect of my opponent.  They told me he was strong and explosive.  When the match started and we locked up I understood what they meant.  I dropped to my back and tried to work a sweep.  He stacked me and neck cranked me and I felt my low back spasm in the first minute of the fight.  My back was tightening up but I knew this was another test to see if I would quit.  I would not be denied!  I fought though the pain and believed in my BJJ technique that I worked so hard on.  I scored my points and almost submitted my opponent.  He scored no points on me.  I wasn’t happy with my performance but quickly let go of these negative thoughts.  I believed in myself!  I had conquered my demons!  I had won the title!  I was back and finally at peace.  I did it!


I got to live my dream one more time.  I fought through adversity both physical, spiritual and emotional.  I believed in my self.  I wouldn’t quit even though everything was telling me too.  I represented my team and got to fight in front of my students, my peers, the BJJ world and my family.  I climbed a mountain and made it to the top.  There are always bigger mountains on the other side but today I can stop and enjoy the view.  Life gives us what we need and gives us opportunity to grow.  Life can be challenging but that is the point.  Nothing is easy and rewards come with hard work and dedication.  This experience helped me to be thankful for what I have and to focus on the positive.  Life has a plan you just need to believe.  Believe in yourself and you can do anything.





Special thanks to all my MarinMMA students for believing in me and inspiring me everyday.  You all mean so much to me.  Especially Woolf Barnato who gave me inspiration, motivation, believed, and wanted to see me fight so bad.  I hope I made you proud Woolf!  Thanks to MarinMMA students Jeremy Krames, Sean Gormley, and everyone else that gave me extra training to get me ready.  Thanks to Ralph Gracie who told me if you want to compete now is the time.  Thank you to Kurt Osiander the best coach in the game and for always making my problems seem simple.  Thank you to Trina Mann the best Physical therapist in the world who brought my body back and helped restore my health both physically and mentally.  Thanks to Dr. Pete Goldman one of the best healers on earth.  He also got my spine back to where I could function at a high level and believed in me.  Thank you to all the support from all my friends in the BJJ community.  



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About the author

Christie Sullivan