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AJ AGAZARM: If you’re gonna have the courage to stand up for what’s right, sometimes you have to do it alone

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One of the most talked about athletes in jiu jitsu over the past few months is Gracie Barra’s AJ Agazarm. The outspoken Eduardo de Lima black belt came out of a 12 month suspension with the IBJJF (more on that subject here) in March, jumping straight into the most controversial match on the Polaris 3 card, against former UFC middleweight title contender Jake Shields.

The aftermath of their epic battle in Poole, England last weekend  has been well covered by grappling and MMA media streams across the globe, sparking plenty of interest in social media and throughout combat sports internet forums. For this reason we decided to get in contact with the “Florida Boy” to learn his views on the recent match, the world-wide interest generated by it, his favorite grappling ruleset and more.


Q: Looking at the social media the day after Polaris 3, it seems as though some in the grappling community took what you said during the build-up to heart. Is this a new experience for you? How do you deal with the negativity?

AJ: The feedback I’ve gotten from qualified sources has been overwhelmingly positive. One of the unintended consequences of the Internet architecture is a lack of qualification of sources; there’s no way of determining if 100 negative comments attached to screen names that are fictitious come from 100 people, or from one person with 100 different internet aliases, or some combination of the two. So it’s difficult to place a high value on information which is, essentially, source-less.

Conversely, the feedback I’ve gotten via text, email, and, in person, from legitimate, verifiable, individuals in the BJJ/Grappling community, has been very positive including the fans that travelled in great lengths to watch the show.

Q: You are (to my knowledge) the first athlete to take a page out of Chael Sonnen’s book in promoting a grappling match. Why have you chosen this approach, and how much bad blood between you and Jake was actually there to start off?

AJ: Chael Sonnen didn’t invent the concept of mixing brutal honesty and witty banter to promote a fight. And, unlike Chael, I didn’t have that creative partner who thought up the concept of his character, and supplied him with material and an identity for years. You can compare his early career to his later career, and see the exact point where he embarked on that creative arc by getting a guy to help him. That fact, and the identity of the guy who created him, have been an open secret in the MMA/BJJ world for years.

I’m just a guy with the courage of his convictions and a clever way of looking at things. In this case, I was looking at a bigger, more experienced, guy who said beating me was going to be easy, and said I would run away and stall.

I pointed out pre-fight that he was a dope; and, truth to tell, calling Jake Shields a dope should have been as “controversial” as calling the ocean “wet”. He IS a dope, and he was wrong. It wasn’t easy, he didn’t win, and I met him in the middle of the mat and put the notion of him as better than me to shame.

Speaking of shame, that’s the latest feather he put in his own cap by acting like an obnoxious child smashing a puzzle on the floor because he can’t solve it. It wasn’t ME he was angry at after that fight; it was at his own failure to fulfill his prediction. He said he was gonna win, he said it was gonna be easy. He didn’t win, and it wasn’t easy and when it wasn’t easy and he didn’t win, he then took his frustrations out on me.

Q: You mentioned sparring and tapping Shields prior to the event. Did that actually happen, or were you tolling him?

AJ: The people in the room know what happened. They were the ones who told Jake when he woke up.

Q: Looking back, after the match and all that mess that happened in the end. Would you have changed anything promoting your super fight?

AJ: No regrets. Better every day. Learning, growing, improving.

Q: You’ve competed in a variety of grappling rules (Sub Only, IBJJF, ADCC, Berkut, etc), where do you feel your jiu jitsu fits best, what ruleset gives you most enjoyment?

AJ: It doesn’t matter to me the ruleset. And time I’m spending trying to convince the aficionados on which rule set I am better at or which one is more enjoyable is time I’m wasting. I just show up to give my best to myself and the fans no matter what.

Even sports that are judged by computers, records, or scores, even sports where there is a finality to the decision, (In basketball one team scores more points than the other and that team wins, the golfer with the lowest score wins, etc…) I will never get a consensus from aficionados, even when the numbers are available. There are some people that say Jack Nicholas was the greatest golfer of all time because he won more tournaments than everybody. Some people argue that it was Ben Hogan because in 1953 he was unbeatable. Other people say Byron Nelson because he won 11 tournaments in a row and its never been done before since. Sam Snead won the most tournaments of all time…

Now those are all different people using different portions of the data to support whatever they want to believe because they’re aficionados. I’m guilty of it too. I have certain musicians that I like. Playing a guitar in many ways is like Jiu Jitsu. Different people have different styles that match up differently with different people and in different venues.

Sometimes they’re being different rules forces guys to have to adapt to different circumstances and that makes them better competitors. It also gives the fans a better opportunity for some variety inside uniformity.

The people who I connect to are the vulgate, general fans that I want interested in Jiu Jitsu, or who are interested in my career art, or the journey I’m on. For the people who don’t believe in me, no amount of technical data is going to convince them. For the people that do, no technical data is necessary. The people who believe in me are going to. The people who don’t, aren’t.

Talking technical sh*t with Jiu Jitsu isn’t going to help. I’ll leave that to the f*ck*ng blue belts and the brown belts who need that minutia. It’s like the really good rabbis don’t need to carry the torah around, they know what’s in the torah and they can simplify it for people. it’s that mid grade rabbi that keeps the torah with him and reads every word to you every second, because he’s so tied into it that he’s lost sight of the bigger goal.

Q: You had a tough 12 months with the IBJJF suspension and the Metamoris ordeal. Now that the ban has been revoked, what are your plans for 2016?

AJ: Dylan had a tough 12 months after he plugged his guitar is in Newport. Miles Davis had a tough 12 months after he made “In a Silent Way”, John Lennon had a tough 12 months for singing “Hound Dog” while Yoko screeched from inside a burlap sack onstage… OK maybe that last one’s not the greatest example. But you get my point. If you’re gonna have the courage to stand up for what’s right, sometimes you have to do it alone, and hope the crowd catches up to you. Without Dylan plugging in, who knows where music goes? Go listen to that Miles Davis album I mentioned. At the time, people called it heresy. Now it sounds like a blueprint for modern music. Now I ain’t Bob Dylan or Miles Davis. I’m just a kid from the swamps of Florida. I’m not comparing myself to them; I’m emulating them.

I’m jumping right back in! I’ll be at the IBJJF Brazilian Nationals and the IBJJF World Championship before the start of the NoGi season. I’ll also be ready for another Polaris. These guys are vibrant, they are re-energizing the sport and there is a reason why I’m with them. They are getting it done and working for the community!

Q: Where should we expect to see you compete next?

Next up, I have the Abu Dhabi World Pro at 77kg

Cover photo by Polaris Jiu Jitsu Invitational.

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