Cole Abate shocked almost no one in the grappling community when he bulldozed through his division at IBJJF Europeans 2023 to claim his final gold medal at purple belt this past January – along with a podium promotion to brown belt. The teen phenom has been giving trouble to seasoned black belts since his blue belt days, and many heaved a sigh of relief that the color of his belt now better reflects the seventeen-year-old’s spectacular level of skill.
However, despite the many accolades he’s already earned in his still-young career, Euros 2023 was the first time Abate has received the honor of a promotion on the podium. “Receiving my brown belt on the podium was a bit of a surprise,” the ever-humble Abate tells the Jiu-Jitsu Times. “Professor Gui told me months in advance that he had a few more skills he wanted me to develop before getting the next belt. So that’s what he pushed me to work on these last few months, and I think the experience I gained really showed in this competition and that’s what made him believe I was ready for the next phase.”
While Abate says he “couldn’t be happier” to earn that podium promotion, he’s already hungry to dive back into competition. “The goal at brown belt is clear: get to the black belt level as fast as possible and the titles at the brown belt will come on their own,” he tells us.
Which isn’t to say that becoming a color belt Euros champion is exactly easy either. In his final competition at purple belt, Abate was thrown into the largest division at the tournament, at a whopping 72 athletes total. Abate whittled his way down through the competition by submitting five opponents before taking a 4-0 victory on points in the finals.
“The biggest challenge in the event in terms of opponents was for sure the finals match against a tough athlete from Brazil that had been winning a lot of the major tournaments in the purple belt lightweight division,” Abate shares. “This would be our first match against each other, due to the fact that he had always competed in the weight class above me.” The silver medalist, Rômulo Diniz of Alliance, was also the only opponent that Abate was unable to submit – an impressive victory for Diniz in its own right.
One of Abate’s major keys to success is his willingness to do his homework off the mats. “I personally like to do lots of studying before competing,” explains Abate. “When I’m not physically doing the work of training, I like to keep my mind focused on my jiu jitsu and mindset heading into the competition. I usually sit down with my professor and analyze the people we know in the division and set strategies for each of my fights.”
The cerebral side to Abate’s jiu-jitsu approach has also arguably contributed to his development as a mentor and coach, despite his relative youth in comparison to many of his teammates. “Aside from my work in becoming a better competitor, I’ve been working on my skills as a coach and leader within the academy for a while now,” says Abate.
Currently the team lead on the no-gi program, as well as the AOJ kids’ coach, Abate has a real love for mentoring up-and-coming athletes. “Teaching is another passion of mine, and I am happy to see the results of the students’ work shining in the competitions,” he enthuses. “Competitors like the Niwa brothers and the Funegra sisters have been dominating in the recent adult tournaments, while the younger kids such as Mick Whelan, Ícaro Moreno, and other rising stars from the youth program at AOJ continue to add medals to their promising futures. I look forward to more opportunities for the team to show all the improvements they’ve been making.”
So what’s the secret sauce at AOJ that’s produced athletes of Abate’s caliber – along with phenomenal up-and-comers like the Funegras and the Niwas?
According to Abate, it comes down to the leadership at the top. “I think that training at AOJ helps make the path of getting to where you want to be a lot easier to see, and map out,” he explains. “Professors Gui and Rafa are prime examples of how it’s possible to become successful competitors, instructors, and business owners.”
“[The Mendes brothers’] goals are to make the process that they went through smoother for people of the next generation that have the same passion and discipline they had when they were coming up,” Abate elaborates. “The people that give the most effort, are more engaged, and show more desire to learn are the ones that will get the opportunities.”
Don’t miss out on Cole Abate’s upcoming brown belt season – follow him on Instagram.