Words: Rose El Sharouni
Some of Europe’s finest blue and purple belts are set to fight in the first edition of the Fuji BJJ Challenge, with a total prize money of €3000 in cash lies ahead of them. Three weight divisions (-76kg, -88kg and -90kg) are stacked with great athletes, ready to go. Who to look out for?
Italo Moura (PSLPB Cicero Costha)
Coming all the way from Brazil, Italo Moura is no stranger to the podium. His biggest successes this year are gold at the IBJJF European Championship, as well as gold at the Abu Dhabi World Pro, both in the purple belt division. Being a true Cicero Costha student, Moura’s guard is sophistically made up of new-school berimbolo-style attacks, making for a spectacular view. Moura is known to pull his opponents straight into this dangerous guard, and will fire off attack after attack until he gets the submission.
Alexander Rio (Frontline Academy)
Representing the Norwegian Frontline Academy, Rio has racked up numerous medals during his blue belt career. Now a purple belt, he fluctuates between featherweight and lightweight, making this -76kg bracket perfect for him. Rio likes to attack the back from a berimbolo set-up, but will just as easy settle for a very tight footlock from the double-guard position.
Yaroslav Blazhko (ZR Team Association)
Blazhko’s can-do attitude proved that hard work and dedication make a champion. After a devastating loss at the blue belt featherweight finals of the IBJJF European Championship 2016, Blazhko kept his eyes on the prize and returned to the European podium in 2017, this time as a champion. What’s more, the very same tournament he also conquered a bronze medal in the blue belt absolute division. Blazhko’s mindset translates directly to his style on the mat: whatever his opponents throw at him, he keeps calm and works from a solid guard until he can attack.
Morten Gullaksen (Artesuave/Checkmat)
Fighting in the lightweight division, Gullaksen will be one of the bigger athletes in his division. Based in Copenhagen, Denmark, Gullaksen represents Artesuave/Checkmat. Having also a preference to play on bottom, he combines various guards such as lasso, DLR and closed guard into a tight network that is hard to pass.
Tarik Hopstock (Frontline Academy)
Arguably the most decorated athlete in this bracket, Hopstock seems to effortlessly pick up medals wherever he goes, always with a modest smile on his face. This Norwegian prodigy is unstoppable on his way to the top, with this year’s results including no less than a gold medal at IBJJF Europeans, as well as double bronze at the IBJJF World Championship. Hopstock has a slight preference towards guard, but his style would be incomplete without mentioning his very own signature submission, the “Tarik-o-plata”. This omoplata-like submission can be best explained by watching it, which is very likely to happen this tournament.
Cemil Karahan (Prana/Checkmat)
Karahan made a name for himself when he choked his opponent to sleep in a timespan of just one minute, in the purple belt medium heavyweight finals of the IBJJF European Championship 2017. Fighting for Prana/Checkmat – a gym that is known to produce numerous champions – this purple belt likes to play guard as well as pass, showing an all-round and dynamic style.
Maarten Bauwens (Prana/Checkmat)
Bauwen’s style is most accurately described as an intense, never-ending pressure from top, mixed with relentless passing and wrestling takedowns. His most recent accomplishments are silver at the 2017 IBJJF Europeans, and gold at the Abu Dhabi World Pro this year, both as a blue belt. Living in Belgium but representing the Swedish Prana/Checkmat, he recently received his purple belt.
Alexander Baffoun (Art of Roll/Checkmat)
This purple belt fights for the Swedish Art of Roll/Checkmat, and usually fights as a middleweight. His style fits that division perfectly, having the strength of a heavyweight and the flexibility of a lightweight. Baffoun is a standout when it comes to scrambles: he is excellent at pursuing until he gets to secure the position, and will chase the back at all costs.
Eric Bergmann (Gracie Barra)
Nicknamed “Canelo” (meaning cinnamon, a reference to red hair), Bergmann’s hair stands out when he climbs onto the stage. This German purple belt fights as heavyweight or superheavyweight. To his advantage, his long arms and legs have an unusual flexibility despite the weight division he fights in. He has not left any big stage without a medal: he was crowned the IBJJF European champion as a purple and as a blue belt, and managed to get bronze and silver at the IBJJF Worlds (purple belt and blue belt respectively).
Bruno Lima (Gracie Barra)
Also under the red shield, Lima comes all the way from Brazil to represent the Gracie Barra flag. His results this year results include bronze at the IBJJF Worlds, silver at the Abu Dhabi World Pro and gold at the IBJJF Europeans. Lima also fights in MMA, which explains his preference for takedowns and heavy pressure passing.
Julian Stonjek (Kamikaze Team)
Stonjek is another fighter from Germany. His takedowns are swift and can come unexpected, and he keeps a cool head and strong base when passing guard. He cashed in on a bronze medal at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam in London this year. He is bringing in a ton of experience as he competes in many tournaments all over Europe, yet he always aims to be a humble fighter.
Simon Immerstrand (Prana/Checkmat)
Another soldier of the Prana/Checkmat army, with a very straightforward style, Immerstrand favours a traditional closed guard. Sweeping and submitting from this guard, he managed to secure a silver medal as a blue belt at the IBJJF Worlds 2016 and Sul Americano that same year. Only a purple belt since March this year, Immerstrand will be aiming to repeat his results, if not better them.
The FUJI BJJ Challenge will take place on September 9th in Groningen, The Netherlands. There will be a free live stream available on www.fujisports.eu and on YouTube. More information can be found on https://challenge.fujisports.eu/