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From Flood Victim to World Champion: Jose Rinaldo’s Redemption on Las Vegas’ Mats

John Danaher BJJ Escapes

In March 2019, a flood reached São Paulo and the ABC Paulista. Around the region, there were casualties, devastated roads, as well as homes and commercial buildings completely taken by the water. Many people lost everything they had that month.
One of those families was that of Jose Rinaldo, who lives in São Bernardo do Campo with his wife, two daughters and his mother-in-law. During the floods José was stranded at his home, on his own as the water fastly rose and entered his house — he could not get out. He was safe in the attic, but he was not able to tell anyone he was OK.

The following day, afternoon time, some of Rinaldo’s friends went to his rescue with a surfboard. A television channel reported the event live as his family watched. When Rinaldo finally reunited with his wife, José proudly pointed at the bag in his hands and said, “I saved my gi”.

During her Tv interview, Ana (Jose’s wife) glorified her husband’s jiu-jitsu victories, and rightfully so: Rinaldo is a National Champion, South American Champion, he won the Paulista State Championship countless times and now, he is the new World Champion Master 3, heavyweight and open class in the brown belt. More than that, he received his black belt on the podium from the hands of Professor Paulo Satoshi Ono.

Representing Atos Jiu-Jitsu/Ono Dojo, 42-year-old Rinaldo has practiced jiu-jitsu for 7 years now. Before the flood, Rinaldo wanted to compete in the Worlds, in Las Vegas. However, as it happens with many athletes, there is was a financial barrier. A Physical educator, Jose was fired while he planning the trip. But he did not give up.

The flood happened in the same week as the Paulista State Championship, in Barueri (São Paulo), and he could not compete. The passport he had issued to start the visa process to the United States was caught between his furniture and muddied up together with clothes and food. Oh, and he had to rebuild most of his home.

With people close to Jose helping him rebuild his life, Rinaldo kept doing his part: He continued to train hard and found temp-work as a chauffeur to raise money and support his family. Even so, the Las Vegas goal seemed a mirage. A broken car, the loss of his house, unemployed … The odds were stacked against him until he found a patron that sponsored his plane ride to the Masters World Championship. He still had to deal with every expense of the trip, including the unflattering exchange rate between the dollar and the real – Brazil’s currency, but things were on the up.
More expenses came in: The visa and the registration. To get funds, Rinaldo created an online crowdfunding page and made a raffle.

Rinaldo attends the Bola de Neve church in São Caetano, who mobilized the community behind Jose, to make his dream come true. During the run-up to the tournament, a few teammates joined in on his dream and decided to compete in Vegas as well, namely Fabio Borsato, and Alex Heleno – though Alex had his visa denied and was unable to make it all the way through.

At the Masters World Championship, on Wednesday (21) Rinaldo had eight matches in the heavyweight division and four in open class. He submitted his opponents in both finals matchups with triangle chokes. The redemption was there: In eight fights, he did not take any points or advantages.

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Campeão do mundo… Oss

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Rinaldo is the first World Champion from Douglas and Paulo Ono team and he is also one of only 10 students to make it to black belts under Douglas Ono. The gi he saved on the flood was not the same he used in those fights, but his strength, physical and mental was in full display during the competition in the Las Vegas Convention Center mats.

The challenges will continue as he prepares for whatever life has waiting for him – now as a black belt.

Guard Passing Instructional by Lucas Lepri

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