12 Nov 2010
Alain Guerra Pozo may not know this, but he is a very important man in my BJJ life. For most people who began BJJ in the early 2000’s, Royce Gracie was their inspiration. Not me. I had never heard of Royce before, but Alain was the very first person I ever sparred against. I’d like to say he held my hand and introduced me to the arte suave with cotton gloves, but the reality was a very different story...he tooled me in a way only a Brazilian, trained in the old skool hard core ways could ever do with a raw beginner. I cannot remember how many times I had to tap to him within the first twenty seconds but it was brutal. And yet, that experience, over seven years ago, left a very deep and profound impression on me. Here was a small, slightly built man, not much bigger than myself, giving hell to guys twice his size. Ever since that moment, I vowed that I too could be the small guy who kicks jiu-jitsu ass. It’s also nice to know that Alain, who I see at every tournament, is still giving hell to guys twice his size.
Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you part one of my interview with Mr Alain Pozo where he discusses his BJJ origins in Recife, Brazil where he met and befriended a young unknown talent called Braulio Estima, plus a whole ton on the early history of BJJ in the UK back in the day...
Meerkatsu: Hey Alain, thanks for chatting, let’s kick off with some stats about you - your age, fighting weight, how long training and current BJJ rank?
Alain Pozo: Feather weight, purple belt, 35 :P [Ed: ????] and have been training for a very long time, I started with Ze Radiola in 1996.
Meerkatsu: What? You began in 1996, man the kids you teach were not even born then. How come you are still a purple belt and not a ten stripe black belt by now?
Alain Pozo: Yeah man, I moved a lot hahahha...Studied in Spain, lived in Malaysia for a year, and train in the US no-gi for 5 years. I guess the grading did not come mainly due to the long pauses I had during my travels. I prefer no-gi to gi and unfortunately you don’t get graded without a gi.
Meerkatsu: Ze Radiola was Braulio Estima’s instructor in Brazil - did you two ever train together?
Alain Pozo: Of course! Braulio was about 15 when I saw him getting his blue belt and destroying everyone in the adult divisions. We come from a remote city in Brazil and Ze Radiola was a pioneer in BJJ there...He came in as a blue belt to teach in a small dojo in his backyard. I left the club due to relocation and he was then a purple belt. He made many other fantastic fighters there and that tells you that you don’t have to be a phenom black belt from Rio de Janeiro to create great fighters. Is more about passion, patience, knowledge and having a good attitude.
Meerkatsu: And...is it true you helped convince Braulio to come to the UK and teach and train here?
Alain Pozo: Yeah, I was there in 2003 (I think) for holidays. While I was there training with Ze Radiola, I told Braulio that BJJ was starting to get big in the UK. He said he wanted to come here, but I never thought that he will actually move to the UK. He called me and stayed at my house for a while and even trained at Carlsons at some point. Then Mauricio Gomes offered him a gym in Birmingham. And that was it. He has now one of the most successful gyms in the UK.
Meerkatsu:: Okay so you came to the UK in the early 2000's - tell me what the training was like in those earlier days as I think a lot of readers may not be aware just how embryonic the BJJ scene was 9, 10 years ago?
Alain Pozo: Man, I came to the UK in 2001 when BJJ just started. Ze Radiola told me to train with a young talented brown belt who had just moved to London and that was Roger Gracie in High St Kensington. My first class there I remember training with Jude Samuel, Kathy Gifford and Guy Ritchie. But, I just did not feel like training BJJ anymore and started Wrestling in Kensington leisure center with the Iranians. I even competed in a small wrestling interclub there and injured my ankle. That is when I met Oliver Jones and he said that there were a bunch of crazy Brazilians training in a hotel in Earls Court. I went there and felt completely at home. That was when Carlson Gracie had just started in the UK. It was me, Dickie, Simon, Rob Lawler,Walid, Romel Luistro, Dennis Kelly, Lucca Mengacci- the owner and the guy that started everything - and of course the man, Wilson Jr.
I was fighting in most competitions I could find in those days. And saw the whole evolution of the sport. I fought in some crazy comps too...Like the Grappling Kumite, which had some wild MMA rules, but you had to wear a gi. There was the Londinium Cup that was run by Roberto Atalla where I remember fighting Nicolas Gregoriades as a blue belt. I also remember the first Seni, which was run by Royce Gracie. It almost ended up in a brawl between the Carlson team and Royce. Crazy stuff man... I think the top comp then was the London Open run by BJJ Black Belt Roger Brooking, who was an amazing teacher. But the guy that actually brought BJJ to this country was a “black belt” called Chen... He was a massage therapist in Brazil for a famous kids tv show personality called “Xuxa.” He had a lot of vision, but unfortunately not much BJJ. He used to teach something like traditional JJ and did not have a nice ending in the UK . He moved to Spain and has Anaconda BJJ or something like that. I wish him all the best.
Meerkatsu: Black belt instructor Nelson Solari was teaching in the UK and at Carlsons sometimes back then, what are your memories of him, he’s quite a character right?
Alain Pozo: Nelson Solari gave me my Purple Belt in the boiler room. I got more belt slaps than the passion of the Christ that day. He should write a book, I tell you. He had about 4 jobs, slept in the gym and spent 10 pounds a week!! One time he rode his bike from Brixton to Heathrow to save his bus money...He obviously saved a lot of money and lives in Brazil now. The guy is a legend and a great instructor. His Judo was also amazing. He is certainly a character.
Meerkatsu: Tell me about your time in the States - you fought grappling and MMA - how was the experience for you and what stood out as your highlight from that period?
Alain Pozo: It was my 3rd time back to the US. I moved to sunny Florida where I trained at the F2 Fight Team with Mike Lee (Seth Petruzzelli and Tom Lawler’s coach), Ryan Hodge, Brian Amador, Jimmy Smith (now with Marcelo Garcia in NYC) and some other tough Floridan Fighters. I fought a lot over there...even did a couple of Boxing interclubs. I trained in a few big gyms. But I have to say the most impressive was training at American Top Team.
Fighting NAGA was a great experience. I did a few MMA amateurs, like competition style, just like they had in the UK back in the day. I have got to say that it was an honour to fight black belts like Renato Tavares and Alex Bada (rip). My favourite medal is a Disney medal, in the shape of the mouse, that I won at a Grappling no-gi tournament at Disney Orlando.
Meerkatsu: When you came back to the UK you trained at London Fight Factory, why did you choose that academy?
Alain Pozo: I trained with amazing guys there like Claudio Henrique(a phenomenal fighter), Marco Canha, Eduardo Azevedo, Monstro, Andre Portuga, Ron Alan, Jack Cronin and the one and only Austin Gardner. It was more local for me at the time. There were people there I knew from back in the day- like Austin and Oliver Jones.
Meerkatsu: And then you moved back under the Carlson’s banner recently, why was this?
Alain Pozo: I was always with Carlson Gracie man. Carlson Gracie is in my blood, like Simon Hayes says hahahah. I had to come back home. They support me in every way. I was always on their website and my picture has been hanging at the HQ since day one. I have to say that my best friend is Wilson Jr, their head coach, so it helps with the good vibe. I also been training a lot these days with CGRT BB Demetrius Ramos. A guy I know since the 90’s in Recife.
Coming up in part two, Alain discusses his training, competitions and teaching...