3CG 5 Athlete Damien Anderson On Rejecting A Future In Finance To Build A Career With BJJ

Achieving greatness in competitive jiu-jitsu is really, really hard. Starting and maintaining a jiu-jitsu gym is also really, really hard. For Damien Anderson, though, the tough work wasn’t the issue — he just needed some direction for his drive to succeed.

Anderson got his first introduction to jiu-jitsu in October of 2015, when he was a freshman at Rutgers University New Brunswick. At the time, his plan was to graduate and then start his career in finance. That, of course, was before he met Garry Tonon, who at the time was the head coach of the Rutgers BJJ Club.

“I was always a hard worker, so the demanding hours never fazed me but when I met Garry Tonon I realized that it was possible to work extremely hard AND love what you did,” Anderson told the Jiu-Jitsu Times. “It didn’t take long before I signed up at his gym, Brunswick BJJ. At the time I still didn’t know that I could potentially pursue this as a profession, but I definitely knew I loved the sport.”

True to his character, Anderson did everything in his power to ensure he could get the quality and quantity of training that he craved.

“By my sophomore year, my schedule was crazy: I’d wake up 5:15 am to catch the 6:09 am train to head to the city to train with John [Danaher]. I’d do school work on the train up to the city, then training from around 8:00 am-10:30 am, then I’d go get lunch and bang out more school work, then we had the noon session. On the way back home I’d do more school work on the train. Then 4 pm-7 pm I’d have in-person classes (I tried to do as many online classes as I could). After that, I’d haul ass to Brunswick for 7:30 pm class and 8:30 pm live training. At the time, I was really involved with my fraternity, Chi Phi, so after training, there was always something going on that I had to do once I got back. Then the cycle started again.”

Like many passionate jiu-jitsu athletes, though, there was a solid obstacle in Anderson’s way of getting in all the training he wanted: money. He was working as a caddy on the weekends, leaving him unable to train Saturdays and Sundays. Here again, Tonon stepped in, hiring Anderson as a manager for his own academy. The change allowed Anderson to train every day, but perhaps even more importantly, it taught him how to run a jiu-jitsu gym. This on-the-job education paid off years down the road when Anderson was able to open his own academy, All In BJJ in Middlesex, NJ.

Following his sophomore year, Anderson had made up his mind about the direction he wanted to take his life. He put his university pursuits aside, instead directing his focus entirely to jiu-jitsu. Once he made his choice, he hit the ground running, training anywhere between two and five sessions every day of the week. But all his hard work was suddenly brought to a grinding halt when he suffered an injury that kept him off the mats for a year and a half. The sudden pause in such an important part of Anderson’s life did damage to his emotional well-being despite his best efforts to continue his BJJ education.

“When you go from peak physical performance to essentially doing nothing, your mind definitely starts to go to a dark place. I’d still come to training everyday and learn what we were working on, but it’s obviously not the same. I wouldn’t say the injury shaped me, but I definitely believe if I wasn’t as mentally strong or had the support of my team/family, I probably would have quit the sport after these injuries. I guess I just want to succeed in this sport so badly that nothing can really hold me back.”

Thankfully, Anderson is back in action, and he’s ready to prove himself against none other than Andrew Tackett at this weekend’s 3rd Coast Grappling V. Their no-gi sub-only match will have no time limit, and though Anderson is well aware of his opponent’s reputation and skill, he’s walking in strategic and confident.

“I’m definitely excited for this matchup with Andrew,” he says. “I walk around 155lbs; I believe he outweighs me by 20-30lbs. His style is relentless, and he keeps coming forward. Fortunately for me, most of my team outweighs me by way more so I’m used to dealing with bigger guys anyway. I genuinely like the challenge.”

“Dec 19th I will be on the main card of @thirdcoastgrappling taking on the rising star, Andrew Tackett. We will be fighting in a no time limit submission only match. FINALLY I get to go against an aggressive opponent who’s looking to submit me with every fiber in his body.
My entire Jiu Jitsu journey I’ve been testing myself against bigger and more experienced opponents. This time I’ll be giving up around 20lbs (his 175-180lbs to my 155lbs). Just to refresh, my last sub only superfight I gave around 30lbs to my opponent.
This is fucking poetry… Two men go out on stage in front of the world and fight their hearts out until one person (me) wins via submission. This match will be THE MOST exciting match on the card, mark my words. Once I win… who do you think I should call out? I don’t want easy matches, I’d prefer to fight someone at least 25lbs heavier than me (if not even more) with way more competition experience. To make it fair for the opponent of course”

While the prospect of a match without a time limit may be daunting for some athletes, Anderson embraces it. In fact, he believes that the format puts him at an advantage. “In my opinion, Andrew’s greatest asset is that he keeps the intensity high throughout the matches. This can be a downfall for him in two ways: with constant forward pressure, you become susceptible to elevations into the legs (the area where I believe Andrew’s weakest); as well as in a no-time-limit sub-only match, you have to be able to pace yourself and not gas out. I regularly fight guys in this format (usually betting my own money against theirs) so I’m used to these types of matches.”

By now, Anderson has learned that with a good plan and the right people behind him, it doesn’t matter what twists and turns life throws his way — he’ll simply adjust and find the best strategy to come out on top. He has joined many of his teammates from Renzo Gracie HQ in moving to Puerto Rico to continue training under John Danaher, maintaining his academy from behind the scenes while his business partner, Andrew Vidal, works as the head instructor and manages the hands-on work that the gym requires.

Though the move was a big one, it was a decision that Anderson deemed necessary to achieve his goal of becoming one of the best featherweights in jiu-jitsu. “I believe my skill level is there, it’s just a matter being able to prove it on the stage against more game opponents,” he says. “Until then, I’ll be working on my craft with the guys every day until I get a chance to prove myself.”

Anderson also hopes to put his MMA training to the test in the “near future” as well. The tasks of making a name for himself in two combat sports, plus growing his gym are certainly nothing to scoff at, but if Anderson has managed to shape his future to his liking thus far, what’s to say he can’t do it again?

3rd Coast Grappling 5 will take place this Saturday, December 19 and can be streamed live on FloGrappling.


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