Michael Zenga is a jiu-jitsu and judo black belt who worked extensively with revered coaches such as Travis Stevens, Daniel Gazoni, João Amaral, Jimmy Pedro, and Bernardo Faria. Although with a fruitful career in judo and jiu-jitsu’s Masters divisions, where he conquered a Pan American title (BJJ), World bronze medal (BJJ), a Pan-Am bronze medal (Judo), and a Massachusetts State title (judo), Michael Zenga is also well-known for his entrepreneurial achievements, particularly his work with BJJ Fanatics, the largest jiu-jitsu instructionals platform in the industry, a company Zenga co-founded with Bernardo Faria and Michael Reardon.
Michael Zenga Jiu-Jitsu
Full Name: Michael Zenga
Main Achievements (Black Belt):
- 1st Pace IBJJF Boston Spring Open (2016** M2)
- 1st Pace IBJJF NY Summer Open (2016 M2)
- 1st Pace Massachusetts State Judo Championship (2009)
- 2nd Place IBJJF Pan Championship (2023 M4)
- 3rd Place IBJJF Masters World Championship (2021)
- 3rd Place IBJJF Pan Championship (2023* M4 Brown)
Main Achievements (Colored Belt):
- 1st Place IBJJF Pan Championship (2010 M2 Brown)
- 3rd Place IBJJF Pan Championship (2023* M4 Brown)
** Weight and Absolute
Favorite Position/Technique: Pressure Passing
Weight Division: Pesadíssimo
Team/Association: BTT, Alliance & Travis Stevens
Michael Zenga Biography
Michael Zenga was born on January 30, 1974, in Boston, Massachusetts, growing up in the neighboring town of Danvers, MA.
Playing competitive sports throughout the school system, Zenga was first drawn to football and basketball, turning towards combat sports during high school when he started karate and boxing lessons. Zenga competed for a number of years in the Sweet Science at the amateur level, having in future WBA heavyweight champion, John Ruiz, one of his sparring partners at the time.
Already a fan of martial arts in the early 1990s, Michael was naturally drawn to No-Holds-Barred from the sport’s early inception in the United States, by way of the very first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) event back in 1993, where Gracie Jiu-Jitsu made its mark in the Northern Hemisphere through the tournament’s champion Royce Gracie.
Attending Boston University at the time, Michael found in fellow Boston U student, Alan Teo, an equal degree of fascination for Gracie’s grappling style. To appease their curiosity, Zenga and Teo bought the famous Gracie VHS Tapes, proceeding to spend countless hours watching the footage and drilling the innovative ground techniques explained using the dorm carpet or at the University’s training rooms. Teo would later become a black belt in jiu-jitsu, like Michael.
It didn’t take too long for Michael to look for a jiu-jitsu gym where he could have a more formal type of tuition, finding what he was looking for at Roberto Maia’s gym in 1995 where Zenga earned his blue belt. Although happy at Maia’s academy, Michael returned to Danvers once he finished college in 1996, a move that forced him to abandon jiu-jitsu training due to the lack of BJJ academies close to his home.
A total of 7 years passed for Michael to find his way back into jiu-jitsu at the Brazilian Top Team gym (Boston branch) with coaches Daniel Gazoni and Joao Amaral, the two instructors who awarded Zenga his purple belt (2006), brown belt (2009), and black belt (December 2012).
MICHAEL ZENGA & JUDO
While reacquainting himself with the jiu-jitsu world, Michael also decided to add judo to his weekly activities, training under the world-famous Olympian and former US Squad head coach, Jimmy Pedro who, coincidently, is also a native of Danvers, Massachusetts.
Zenga trained under the guidance of Pedro for many years, obtaining the rank of brown belt from Jimmy, but would change his judo practice to the Tohoku Judo Club at a later stage, where he earned his black belt (2011). During his time competing in the Japanese art of throwing, Michael conquered a venerable bronze medal at the 2009 Pan-Am Judo Masters, and a Massachusetts State Championship in the brown & black belt division.
THE BIRTH OF BJJ FANATICS
Although well known for his partnership with Bernardo Faria at BJJ Fanatics, the two did not meet until Michael was already a black belt. Zenga was first drawn to Faria after seeing footage of the team Alliance world champion dominating the heavy and super-heavyweight divisions with his trademarked deep half-guard (bottom) and Miragaia style guard passing games. Two techniques Michael believed to be important for his own style of grappling.
After seeing Bernardo compete, and knowing he did not live too far from Massachusetts, Michael invited Faria to visit his school for a seminar, a visit that led to a close friendship between the two.
The idea to start making videos of Bernardo’s favorite techniques spawned from this interaction. The first few videos were sold on an outsourced platform, but after realizing their endeavor’s potential for success the two opted to start their own, this way giving birth to BJJ Fanatics. Joining Michael and Bernardo on their new venture was Michael Reardon, one of Zenga’s closest friends and business associates.
The BJJ Fanatics website quickly developed into the largest jiu-jitsu instructional platform in the sport, reaching half a million customers with close to 1,000 instructors in under 5 years.