By the time most people have trained for four years in jiu-jitsu, they’re usually at the blue or purple belt level. Depending on how often and how hard they train, they might’ve won a few significant tournaments at their belt level, but chances are they’re still a few years off from being able to consider themselves a real threat to black belts or world-class athletes. But the thing is, Oliver Taza isn’t like most people.
The 24-year-old Renzo Gracie/ Tristar athlete has gotten a lot done in a relatively short amount of time. He’s an EBI vet, an IBJJF Worlds and Euros medalist, and has won the Jiu-Jitsu Kumite and Sapateiro 190-lb division… and that’s just part of his highlight reel. This year, Taza took another giant step forward in his career when he won the ADCC European Trials, securing himself a spot at the prestigious ADCC finals in Finland at the end of September.
Even for a talented, successful athlete like Taza, though, making it to ADCC was no easy task. He had to attempt the feat at four Trials — a process he described as “discouraging.” But he credits the power of persistence and a solid team to finally helping him reach such a significant milestone. “Setting a goal, having a plan to achieve that goal, making it a priority, and lastly, surrounding yourself with the right people — for example, high level competitors, top notch instruction (Team Renzo/Tristar), [and] more experienced grapplers to look up to” were, for him, the keys to finally getting over that hurdle and qualifying for one of the most elite grappling competitions on the planet.
Like many of his teammates, Taza has established himself as a serious force in the sub-only game. In fact, just days ago, he won by unanimous decision over Roger Gracie black belt Ross Nicholls at Polaris 5. But as his record suggests, he doesn’t chain himself to any specific organization or ruleset. In fact, until he reached purple belt, he stuck mainly to point-based competitions, only later switching his focus to submission-based tournaments. For him, ADCC’s mix of both styles is a big part of the reason why it’s such a draw for him. “ADCC attracts the best grapplers in the world and combines both no points and points which is why it is very appealing.”
The fact that Taza’s been training for less than five years makes his accomplishments that much more impressive, especially when you consider that when he first started, he never even considered that he might come this far. “At first it was a hobby and I was horrible at it, but it’s addictive, so I decided to make a living from it and it’s slowly becoming a reality,” he says. Now, the former soccer player gets to travel the world pursuing his dream, making money, and facing some of the top grapplers in the world in the process.
Indeed, he’s hoping that he’ll get to face one of those legends at the end of September — Taza originally had his fingers crossed to face the 2015 77-kg champion, Davi Ramos, but Ramos’ MMA career has prevented him from competing at ADCC his year. Instead, the second-place winner, Lucas Lepri, was invited to return this year, and Taza’s itching to be able to get the chance to see what he could do against him. “I’d love to get the opportunity to surprise a lot of people,” he says.
Taza, Lepri, and everyone else in the 77-kg bracket aren’t likely to be unimpressed with anyone they’re paired up with, though. In addition to all the other Trials winners who qualified (which include Mansher Khera and Vagner Rocha), they’ll also have to consider the impressive roster of invited competitors, which include Gabriel Arges, JT Torres, Giblert Burns, DJ Jackson, and fellow Renzo Gracie athlete Garry Tonon. Taza and Tonon will join multiple other Renzo Gracie members — including Eddie Cummings, Tom DeBlass, Gordon Ryan, Jake Shields, and Ethan Crelinsten — in the pursuit of ADCC gold, and Taza is excited at the possibilities presented by having so many of his teammates fighting for victory at the same event.
“We could have had even more athletes to be honest. [We’re a] very young team in terms of experience at the highest level and age for most of us, so next time I believe we’ll have more athletes in it. Of course, I strongly believe that we will bring back gold medals in every division because the team is correcting last ADCC’s mistakes, and the improvements will be put on display on the 23rd and 24th of September.”