London club riding the MMA Wave

By Chris Montanini

When Fateh Belkalem immigrated to London in 1993, the world of mixed martial arts was about to be turned on its head.

With a judo black belt around his waist ¬– which he earned after years of following in his father’s footsteps in Nigeria – and aspirations to achieve a second black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ), training partners were hard to come by.

“The first thing I did – it was just natural for me to look for a judo club,” said Belkalem, who also held a degree in sports training from France.

He found one on Dundas Street and remembers seeing two others inside training. Belkalem ended up teaching judo there while he traveled to the US to be graded in BJJ before opening London Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in 1996.

Around the same time, the Ultimate Fighting Championship was starting its rapid ascent into the mainstream and a BJJ expert by the name of Royce Gracie was shocking the MMA community with his amazing submission skills.

“When I came here, (during) the first UFC we saw this guy with a judo gi (robe) and black belt tapping everybody out,” Belkalem said. “Everybody said, ‘Oh my God, what is this?’ I was shocked that nobody knew what he was doing.”

Belkalem was familiar with the techniques. “I’ve been doing this since I was six years old,” he said.

Born from judo, BJJ focuses on chokeholds, submissions and technical ground techniques. The Gracie family‘s version of the martial art is widely considered the catalyst of the multidisciplinary movement in today’s MMA and one of the reasons behind the sport’s explosion in popularity.

“All of a sudden, everybody wanted to do the ground fighting,” said Belkalem, whose Highbury Avenue club is now called Gracie Barra London since he affiliated with the organization in 2006. “From my perspective, BJJ started it all.”


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  1. […] Continue reading here: London club riding the MMA Wave « The EvilMaster Report […]

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