Black belt Zaid Mirza talks to the Fighting Photographer
Carl Fisher: Firstly, let me say congratulations on your recent promotion to black belt. How did it come about? Did you have any idea about the award? Who gave you the award and how do you feel about the promotion?
Zaid Mirza: Thank you. To be perfectly honest I kind of knew already because I was supposed to have gotten the black belt last year from my instructor Cassio Werneck but he preferred to hold me because I was going to compete in the Europeans. I got a fever two days before the Europeans and couldn’t get out of bed. During my 4 years of teaching here in Jordan, I was offered the black belt from numerous renowned instructors and schools, however, I preferred to keep loyal to my life long instructor and wait until he thought it was the right time. As I said on the day of the promotion, it feels like I graduated from university with a PHD.
CF: You took a team out to the Mundials this year; I believe this was a first for Jordan?
ZM: Yes, actually it was the first organized Middle Eastern team to compete in the Mundials. I expect to take at least 20 athletes next time.
CF: How did your students do in the event? What levels did they fight at?
ZM: Our team did pretty good. We competed with 5 athletes and took home one bronze medal by Black Belt Jonatas Gurgel. The three other blue belts passed to the second stage and lost by advantages. It definitely was a great experience for everyone!
CF: Did you compete there? How did you do?
ZM: In my weight class I lost in the second round to paulista Champion Gustavo Junqueira by one point, and in the absolute I lost in the third round to Camerone Diffley (Las Vegas Combat Club) as I got caught with a clock choke as I was trying to escape a position outside the red line. I think it was the participation that counted, as I had arrived in LA less than 24 hours before my fight. All excuses aside, I felt that the level of athletes was very high and everyone did a great job.
CF: How long where you there for? What did you do after the competition? Did you get any training in whilst you were there?
ZM: I stayed an extra week where I trained in my instructors (Cassio Werneck) academy in Sacramento. I also went to Las Vegas where I was corner of my friend Rani Yahya title fight at WEC.
CF: Cassio Werneck gave you your black belt? How did you meet Cassio and where?
ZM: I met Cassio while I lived in Brazil in 1992. Cassio used to train with us at one of the best local Gyms in Brasilia (Classe A) under instructor Ricardo “Tanque” Reis. When Cassio was still a Blue Belt he got offered to teach at a new gym (Stadium 8) which was closer to my house and that was when I moved with him for good.
CF: Did Cassio give you all your belts?
ZM: Yes all my belts came from Cassio
CF: When did you start teaching in Jordan and what city?
ZM: I moved back to Amman in 2002 and I started one year after in 2003.
CF: How popular is BJJ in Jordan?
ZM: BJJ is becoming huge not only in Jordan but the whole Middle East and the region. My classes are full and people don’t stop coming in. Last year I passed the 1000 member mark.
CF: What competitions have you entered?
ZM: As I have been away from the Brazilian Competition arena, I have competed in Brazilian nationals about 14 years ago when I was still a Juvenile. Lately I competed in the Mundials 2007, Abu Dhabi Cup and Emirates Cup 2004-2006 where I also won two super fight titles.
CF: Did you compete in the Emirates Cup?
ZM: Yes for three years. Carlao Santos who is the organizer of this event is doing an amazing job as he is now doing the Super Asian Cup in December 2007. I encourage everyone to compete in this tournament as it pays very well and the organization is becoming great. This is the first time I won’t be competing there since there is no Black Belt division yet, but perhaps if we have more Black Belts interested we can have that chance.
CF: Have you been to the ADCC events?
ZM: No. Not yet. But I hope to fight their one time too.
CF: You are the Consultant to the Jordan Armed forces. What do you do in this job?
ZM: Mainly what I did is set up a system to introduce the art of BJJ and now I work for keeping it on track. I with the help of a competent team designed a training program that will be incorporated in the army for the next 7 years. The plan took over a year to be prepared and finally approved this year. I am also responsible for all trainers, training methods and all aspects of the army BJJ training.
CF: You also train the Royal Guards in BJJ. How did this come about?
ZM: I was initially asked by His Majesty King Abdullah to train the Royal Guards BJJ and they love it. The Royal Guards are getting really good as they train BJJ for 2 hours every day.
CF: You are having a new academy built. Where is it going to be and will you be teaching anything else apart from BJJ?
ZM: I am starting to build the first centre for martial arts in Amman. It will be located in a prime area and on a very busy street. It will be around 600sqm and will have BJJ, Boxing, Wrestling, Kickboxing, Judo, Yoga, Pilates and the exotic Capoeira for the first time in Jordan. I am also thinking of installing a Cage for MMA training. The academy will also have a small Fightwear shop as well as a cafeteria that will serve all types of healthy meals and Acai imported straight from the Amazon.
CF: You have a number of black belt instructors helping you out in Jordan? Who are they and how long are they there for?
ZM: My team consists of 6 qualified instructors. My friends Pedro Galiza and Jonatas Gurgel have both been recruited and joined my team. Both of them are from Brasilia, my hometown in Brazil. They have just settled in Amman and have been making things so much easier on me. You can say that they practically execute everything in regards to teaching and maintaining all training sessions on track. In addition to them, I have 4 other Purple belts that teach along with the black belts (Mohammed Armouti, Zaid Abu Soud, Mohammed Mirza and Yazan Salhab). This team of trainers assures everything is on track when I’m busy planning the next stage at the army headquarters.
CF: What are your long term plans for your new academy?
ZM: My plan is to re-live the BJJ epidemic in Brazil in the early 90’s. I think this academy will attract a huge number of students as it will be giving them the chance to learn old school BJJ and find out more about the history of BJJ and Brazilian Culture in general. After growing up and living in Brazil for over 14 years, I believe Brazil has a lot of healthy manias to export to the world. For those that can’t take on the vigorous classes of BJJ, Capoeira will be a great alternative. I think Capoeira will be a great success in Jordan as well.
CF: Do you do any MMA training and competitions in Jordan?
ZM: I only teach MMA for students who have a purple belt and up. The reason is many people watch UFC and come to my academy asking to learn to fight in the cage when they don’t have any background in any martial art whatsoever. So far, we don’t have any MMA tournaments but expect one next year!! Perhaps we will have a “style vs. style” challenge event to show the people the effectiveness of our superior art. The name “Desert Fight” is already there and we are already talking with some organizations and closing sponsorship deals.
CF: When did the Jordan BJJ Federation form and who are the main people behind the organisation?
ZM: After being an Association under the Judo Federation for 3 years, we were able to split and create our own BJJ federation this year. The BJJ federation today is under the umbrella of the Olympic Committee and is presided by His Highness Prince Hussein Mirza. His Highness Prince Hussein Mirza has been a great supporter for the establishment and stabilization of the “Gentle Art” in Jordan. The federation consists of seven members: HRH Prince Hussein Mirza, H.E. Alshareef Nasser Bin Jamil, Mr. Tarik Awad, Mrs. Noor Kabariti, Mrs. Noor Mawla, Mr. Sattam El Fayez and myself.
CF: What are the aims of the Federation?
ZM: To make sure all instructors are qualified and to maintain a good standard.
CF: Are there any BJJ events held in Jordan? Are foreigners welcome to attend the events?
ZM: We have had 2 international events in the past two years. Jordan cup was held in 2005 and King Abdullah Cup was held in 2006 with participation of 100 athletes from all over the world. This year we had the first Kids BJJ tournament in the Middle East which turned out to be a great success. I don’t believe we will have time to schedule an international event this year but in 2008 we are planning the 1st Dead Sea BJJ Circuit. It’s an idea I have always had to make a yearly international circuit in this magnificent part of the world. I definitely encourage everyone from all over the world to take part in our tournaments. We’ve been awarding winners with great money prizes in every competition. But besides that, coming to Jordan allows foreigners to experience all we have to offer, from Petra, now one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, to the Dead Sea, there’s quite a lot to witness.
CF: Is there anyone you would like to thank?
ZM: First of all I would like to thank His Majesty King Abdullah II for his continuous support and sponsorship. I would also like to express my gratitude for His Majesty’s complete trust in assigning me in charge of such a huge project which is to launch and train BJJ to the Jordanian Army. It’s a great honour for me to carry such a responsibility and the chance of building BJJ into one of the greatest sports in Jordan. I would also like to thank HRH Prince Hamzah Bin al Hussein, HRH Prince Hashem Bin al Hussein and HRH Prince Hussein Mirza for all the assistance and ongoing support. I owe a big part of all the success BJJ has experienced in the kingdom to our Royal Hashemite family. Many members have been great supporters by taking an active role in participating in the sport on the local, regional and international level.
CF: Any final words?
ZM: I would like to thank you Carl for this interview and for always following BJJ news around the globe. Finally I would like to thank our sponsors KAIF, KADDB and the Greater Amman Municipality for all their support and funding.