ABU DHABI: At the age of 24, Haidar Abbas has quite the jiu-jitsu CV.
A call-up to the French national team, a national championship, and a third-place finish at his first ever IBJJF (International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation) World Championship in 2015. The following year, he finished second.
But his most prestigious win was yet to come.
Abbas, who was born and raised in Paris, said: “At the 2017 World Games, I took first place. It’s like the Olympics, takes place every four years, and is organized by the Olympic committee. Basically, it’s all the sports that are not in the Olympics but are pushing to be.”
He was the only Frenchman to bring in a jiu-jitsu gold, an achievement he is immensely proud of.
That win as a 21-year-old was followed up with another third-place finish at the 2018 World Championship, and in 2019 he also took third at the World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship event in Abu Dhabi (ADWPJJC).
Now he is back in the UAE capital for the Abu Dhabi Jiu-Jitsu Pro (AJP), and on Saturday will take part in the black belt under-77kg category. Not bad for someone whose first love was football.
“I had a friend in my class who had been practicing jiu-jitsu since he was a kid, he was maybe doing judo at four and jiu-jitsu at eight or nine. So, he was the one who introduced me to jiu-jitsu,” added Abbas.
Over the last year, the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic caused major disruptions to most athletes’ schedules but Abbas’ jiu-jitsu status in his home country meant he was given special dispensation to train.
“For me it was okay. In France we have status for high-level athletes which you can get depending on the criteria of your federation. My federation required that athletes make a podium at the world championship. The judo or wrestling federations might be different,” he said.
Recent months have been spent training under the eye of Aurelien Broussal Derval, the French national technical director at the Federation Francaise d’Haltérophilie-Musculation (FFHM), the country’s bodybuilding federation.
Being in a limited category meant Abbas was allowed to train with fewer restrictions than others.
“You won’t get in trouble with the police. He (Derval) is a good friend of mine, and also there is a gym only for high-level athletes, Fit Health Station in Charenton-le-Pont. So basically, for me I was training normally. The only problem was that when I say training normally, that applied only to conditioning not jiu-jitsu,” he added.
Finding someone to fight, within France’s lockdown laws, was a different matter, and required some creative solutions.
“In France there are only two guys who have high-level athlete status in jiu-jitsu, me and another guy who weighs a lot more,” Abbas said.
“So, I ended up training, legally, with other guys who were training illegally, everybody was doing this in France. For conditioning it was very good because I was training with the best guy you can train with in France for physical preparation. But for jiu-jitsu it was a bit complicated.”
Having landed and trained in Dubai after a year out of competitive action, Abbas is now itching to get fighting at the AJP Tour event, a tournament, which alongside the bigger ADWPJJC, has made Abu Dhabi a global jiu-jitsu hub.
“Services in the Middle East are amazing. For me, competing in Abu Dhabi is the best thing I can do as a jiu-jitsu athlete. For us, it is the center of jiu-jitsu. They are pushing so hard for the sport to enter in the Olympics, they hold so many competitions, they have big prize money. For the last 10 years, everything has been in Abu Dhabi,” he said.
Though in terms of size and longevity the Abu Dhabi World Pro by the UAE JJF remains marginally behind the IBJJF World Championship at the Walter Pyramid in Los Angeles, Abbas believes the Emiratis have surpassed other hosts in several areas.
“The competition level, the organization (elsewhere) is not even close to Abu Dhabi,” he said.
A year out of competition, as well as outside business ventures, meant that Abbas had to multiply his training efforts in recent months.
“The last competition I did was in March 2020. I’ve been training really hard for this. After the World Games, I opened a nutrition shop at the end of 2018. But because of COVID-19 I had to close it. So, from September I was back to training twice a day.
“I’ve been training really, really hard and for this competition and I actually prepared as if I was preparing for the World Championship IBJJF or Abu Dhabi World Pro,” he added.
When he steps onto the mat on Saturday, only one thing will be on his mind.
“I’m aiming for the gold medal for sure,” he said. “There are 10 guys, I start in the quarter-finals, and then I have a semi-final and final if I make it. I’m prepared really well and aiming for gold.