This weekend, Arian de Melo will be competing against some of the biggest names in jiu-jitsu at 3rd Coast Grappling: Kumite 6. But although the brown belt is now making a name for himself in his adoptive home of Texas (and beyond), he comes from humble beginnings.
“I grew up in a small neighborhood back in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil called Gardenia Azul,” he told the Jiu-Jitsu Times, describing his time living in a favela. At nine years old, he got involved in the Projeto Drive-In: a social project that allowed de Melo and the other kids to train as long as they kept their grades up in school. “The main reason that I started to train was to build more confidence and also lose weight,” he says. “I was told by the doctors that I had to do some exercise, so I decided to give jiu-jitsu a try.”
Though jiu-jitsu provided an outlet for de Melo and let him interact playfully with other kids, he still had to grow up quickly. “When I was ten, you would think about the life of a normal kid when he would go to train his jiu-jitsu, school, play with friends outside. But my dad lost his job and we never had the perfect financial condition, and he decided not to help at home,” says de Melo. His father developed an alcohol addiction, and de Melo realized he’d have to do something to support himself, his mom, and his older brother.
“I don’t know what crossed my mind to get my first job. I had a friend that still owns a fisher market, so I asked if I could work with him. I had my first job at 10 years old, and my routine was to literally go to school, work, and train jiu-jitsu. So I started to learn what it was to be an underdog at ten years old, which I never complain about. I just had two choices: I would go after and do something, or I would sit back and complain. I just went after it with what God gave me, and I conquered what I hadn’t even dreamed of.”
De Melo’s goals moved with his progress. At age ten, after he’d been training for a while to lose weight, his first professor Paulo “Drive-In” Cezar signed him up for a tournament. “I was like, ‘Alright let’s see how this goes…’ So I went into my first match, and the other kid armbarred me in less than one minute. I was super shocked, so I decided to train more because who likes to lose? I asked my professor to sign me up for the next tournament, then I went on the next one and won.”
The athlete says he became “addicted” to the feeling of winning, and he later went on to win Worlds in the juvenile blue belt division. “After that, I just started to believe more in myself, then I never stopped, grateful for all my professor that never stopped believing in me: Paulo ‘Drive-In’ Cezar, Jeffeson Moura, Flavio Almeida and Vinicius ‘Draculino’ Magalhaes.”
The climb to achieve any semblance of success was a hard one, but de Melo blocked out all the doubters and focused on turning his dreams into goals. “Since I had my job at the fisher market, I saved a little bit of money and I bought the tickets [to the USA]. I remember I only had $500. I was 17 years old and I came to America to fight Pan Ams in LA and stay six months, but I didn’t have any plans or place to stay. It was a bit crazy…
“That’s was when Professor Ana Laura helped me out a little. She kinda showed me a little about how America works, and I remembered she had a student going to Phoenix to compete. That was also when I got closer to Professor Flavio Almeida, and I ended up doing my camp and staying there with him in Phoenix. Later on the next year, I moved to Phoenix, where I lived for years and trained under him and professor Paulo Eduardo Freire (Piu). They both showed me how jiu-jitsu can be a huge tool to change people’s lives. I learned more about business with them and how not just to be a champion inside on the mat, but outside the mats as well.”
A lot has changed since then. A little over a year ago, de Melo switched things up by moving from Arizona to Texas, where he now trains with Draculino alongside athletes like Lucas Valente, Andressa Cintra, and Pedro Marinho. He’s now 23 years old, and though he acknowledges how much he struggled, he says he wouldn’t change anything about the process even if he could. “Seventeen years old leaving my country for another country with another language… it’s like living a dream that I hadn’t even thought about,” he says.
Though injuries have hindered his progression in the competitive scene, de Melo says that he doesn’t complain about it. Now, he’s looking forward to proving his own skill against names like Roberto Jimenez, Victor Hugo, and his own first-round matchup, Fellipe Andrew. “I definitely worked hard my way out here, and of course I’m proud of what I’ve done. I think I’m the lightest one and just a brown belt, but don’t blink — I respect all my opponents, but there can only be one winner. I’m excited for this!”
All these years later, living a life that has been shaped and changed by jiu-jitsu, de Melo is still focused on his competitive goals (which he says will eventually include a world championship title as a black belt), but he also wants to use his knowledge and experience to help have the same impact on other people. “In the future, near or not, I want to have my own school and keep changing people’s lives thought jiu-jitsu and be a good example not just for the adults, but kids as well,” he says.
3rd Coast Grappling: Kumite VI will take place Saturday, September 12 and can be streamed live on FloGrappling.