It was 17-year-old Elvio Estrada’s last match of the night after four hours of strength training, intense cardio and jiu-jitsu wrestling at Vamos Mixed Martial Arts in Calverton. But as the teen squirmed on the sweat-slicked mat under his opponent last Thursday night, it was clear he was in trouble.
His opponent, a man nearly 10 years his senior, had wrapped his legs around Elvio’s neck as he tried to wrench the teen’s right arm away from his body. Elvio grabbed his own hand, biceps bulging as he tried to prevent his arm from being pulled away.
Then, with a sudden jerking motion, his opponent succeeded. Elvio’s arm was pulled back over his head as the man’s legs wrapped around his head and his arm bent back against his elbow.
It’s a classic Brazilian jiu-jitsu technique known as the “arm bar” — and it looked like Elvio would have to submit.
But he didn’t.
Elvio grunted, then flipped his body around, preventing his training partner from locking in the hold. He ducked under his opponent’s leg, lurched to his knees and leapt onto the man’s back. In less than five seconds, Elvio had gone from the verge of losing to a dominant position. Minutes later, he forced his opponent to tap out.
It’s that raw determination that makes the Riverhead High School junior a Brazilian jiu-jitsu standout, his coach Kyle “The Rev” Watkins said.
“I’m a competitor,” Mr. Watkins, a fighter himself, said. “I see that same gleam in his eye … You’re looking at an individual who has the ferocity of an adult, if not even more.”
That same determination will serve Elvio well next month when he represents his hometown of Riverhead at the World Jiu-Jitsu International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation Championship.
The five-day tournament, considered the premier event for Brazilian jiu-jitsu, will be held in a 5,000-seat multi-purpose arena in Long Beach, Calif.
“This one I’ve been working for since I started jiu-jitsu when I was 13,” Elvio said. “The very elite get together to compete for the world title.”
Elvio, who is the only sponsored jiu-jitsu competitor from Riverhead High School attending the competition, will be facing off in the adult division against fellow fighters between 17 and 29 years old.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a grappling sport similar to wrestling in which two opponents attempt to force each other to “tap out” and forfeit using joint locks and chokes. Fighters can also win by scoring points through takedowns and dominant positions.
Elvio’s love for the sport began at a young age. When he was just 2 years old, he wrestled pigs on his family’s farm, he said.
Despite jiu-jitsu’s brutal appearance, Elvio said the sport is like “playing chess.”
“You’re not using a lot of muscle,” he said. “It’s all technical. You’re thinking five moves ahead of the other guy.”
Andrew Kohn, an assistant instructor at Vamos Mixed Martial Arts school, said Elvio already understands the sport on a deeper level than some of the school’s other students. He’s a double gold winner.
The teen is an aggressive competitor, Mr. Kohn said, but he prefers to remain on his back on the mat, inviting his opponent to attack him before quickly countering.
Even higher-level opponents struggle against Elvio’s grasp of technique.
“I can’t even count the number of times he’s put me in a triangle choke when I’ve been trying to hold him down,” Mr. Kohn said. “Now, I outweigh the kid by 50, 60 pounds and he’s still squeezing out, weaseling his way through and finding openings. Even as the next level belt, I still find myself going ‘How’d you do that?’ ”
Elvio credits two keys to his success, and the first is hard work. Every day, he wakes up early to run, then spends hours in practices to hone his techniques.
“There’s nobody in his division who works as hard as he does,” Mr. Kohn said.
The other is self confidence. Elvio has kept the same motto throughout his jiu-jitsu career: “All you have to do is believe.” He loves the saying so much, he had it emblazoned on the back of his uniform.
It’s a confidence he also instills in the children who take classes at the mixed martial arts school. Elvio assists Mr. Kohn as an assistant instructor for the class, helping to design lesson plans for the elementary school kids and working one-on-one with them to learn self-defense and wrestling techniques.
“He’s really been a blessing to have here,” Mr. Kohn said. His coach added that other students are inspired by his work ethic to train harder.
With one month left before the big tournament, Elvio is still leading the pack. As other students began to fade during a grueling workout in the steamy gym last Thursday night, Elvio was still doing jumping jacks, push-ups and more, faster than anyone else.
“He’s got the heart and the brain of a champion,” Mr. Kohn said. “Now he just needs the belt.”