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Jonatas Novaes : World # 1 BJJ No Gi / IBJJF Referee & MMA Fighter (Interview)

"So I learned to keep working hard, training hard, and I firmly believe that god will provide a blessing in my life in his own time"

Jonatas Novaes is a successful Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitor, referee and MMA fighter. His BJJ achievements include being ranked number one in the IBJJF Master 1 NOGI Division, and he has an MMA record of 11 wins and 5 losses in the Lightweight Division.

You are currently ranked number 1 in the world of No Gi – which is an amazing achievement, how long have you held this rank for? Which do you prefer Gi or No Gi and why?

“To be ranked # 1 in the world even as Master 1 NOGI Division Absolut is a huge blessing for me. Everyone who knows me since I was little knows where I came from and to get to the top was amazing, I still don’t believe that it happened. I know I am not the best, but I competed a lot in the past 4 years and I have been doing well at my division and sometimes also in the Open class. Its great to see my name on top of many big names, names that I was always inspired by. I have been ranked # 1 for 2 or 3 years. I prefer NOGI, I always did well at competitions, I won the Worlds in 2011 and 2013, got second in 2012 also because of my MMA fights, but I was training more with the GI, and I believe that the training with the GI makes me more technical.”

Which fighters do you see as your main competition in No Gi these days?

“This past weekend I had a great fight against Robson from GFT – he has been doing great. He is #2 and we had great match, all those matches were very close – he is one my biggest opponents at the moment in BJJ competitions and I like that, it makes training harder. Of course there are many others, a Black Belt has no easy fights, a little mistake and you are gone!”

You tried for TUF Brazil twice, but never qualified, even though you have a 11 and 5 MMA record – presumably the standard is very high. What are the UFC looking for during the trials from those wishing to participate?

“Yes, I’ve tried twice, the first one was in Vegas. I knew that I wasn’t going to pass because I had an MMA fight one day before the trials, I was so sore, my face was badly swollen. I also had a broken jaw (laughs) but I still participated. I did the grappling and striking test and failed at the interview I guess… The second trial was in Brazil, I was in Europe teaching seminars and I cancelled the seminars, and bought a last minute flight back to Brazil – it was so expensive! So…. this time I passed all the tests and I really thought that I was in The Ultimate Fighter Brazil. Unfortunately there were supposed to be two divisions at that time, (155lbs and 170lbs). I tried for 155lbs, but that same night, the UFC cancelled my division! It was so frustrating. I was really disappointed. Anyway, I still hope to participate in either the TUF or UFC one day.”

You moved to Chicago from Brazil and spent a lot of time training at the Comprido BJJ Academy. Is Chicago still your base, and if so, how is it living in Chicago and getting to train with your good friend Comprido?

“Yes, I have trained a long time with Comprido, I also teach at his gym. He has helped me a lot, and training with him has improved my game – I’ve helped him train too, but unfortunately we are not part of the same team now and I wish him luck.”

You have a very active career refereeing BJJ competitions as well as competing these days. Do you believe refereeing and competing at the same event has affected your performance on the mat or how you approach a fight?

“I am not the only person to do this, but being a BJJ/MMA fighter, I think I am the only one who does it constantly. I like to referee, because it keeps me up to date on all the new Jiu Jitsu techniques. I see so many fighters, and I learn a lot too. It also makes me more comfortable when I step back on the mats to fight. I used to be very nervous before competing, but now I am always comfortable. I would like to thank the IBJJF and the main team of referees for trusting my judgement as a referee.”

Does BJJ run in the Novaes family? How old were you when you started training BJJ and where?

“BJJ really does run in my family. My brother started first: he is 8 years older than me and he was living in a different city. Whenever he came back home on vacation, he would always teach me some basic techniques. After that, I started training in my small home town when I was16 years old. My first coach was a white belt (laughs), and everything that he learnt from his coach, he taught us – a group of 15-20 teenagers. It was a great time, because in my city – Conceicao da Barra, ES, Brazil, there is nothing to do during the year and Jiu Jitsu kept me occupied. I stopped doing all the others sports that I practiced at that time, to train BJJ and I have never stopped.”

You are sponsored by Grips. What does it mean to a BJJ fighter to get this sort of sponsorship and how does a fighter get sponsored?

“I love the support that Grips gives me, and I do my best in return. Its very important for us fighters to have the support of a great brand or company like Grips – we really need it. Competing is what we do for living, and we could not survive, keep training and winning, without the sponsors. For a fighter to get a sponsor, I believe he has to be seen to do well in BJJ. Its completely up to him – he has to dedicate his life to the sport, win competitions, people have to know who he is, and sometimes good connections help.”

Outside of BJJ, how do you keep fit and healthy? What have you introduced into your training to improve your BJJ game?

“I constantly work on my conditioning. I run, lift and try to be healthy most of the time, I will not lie that I love chips and ice cream sometimes (laughs). My trainer is Steve McCarthy; one of the best guys that I have worked with – his training programmes are great and I feel excited to step in the cage again having worked with him. This past weekend I competed at The Chicago Summer Open and I felt amazing, I felt power, explosion and speed in all my fights. I recommend Steve McCarthy Systems any day.”

What does the rest of 2014 hold for Jonatas Novaes and going into 2015?

“I am very excited for my upcoming trip to Europe, starting 18th August. I have around 5 seminars in Finland, 2 in Italy, Norway and Germany, and I may be fighting MMA in Europe during this trip – news about this fight coming soon. 2015? I really don’t know yet. I am almost 33 years old and many times I have made plans that just didn’t happen, – this is always frustrating. So I learned to keep working hard, training hard, and I firmly believe that god will provide a blessing in my life in his own time, not when I think it’s time – because he knows what I feel in my heart. I hope one day to be invited to compete at the ADCC. I am confident that I could do well there against the big names in grappling. I think that my grappling and MMA record is good enough now for a possible invite for the next ADCC event. I would like to once again thank god for my win this past weekend at The Chicago Summer Open; my family in Brazil for the support they have always given me, my friends, fans, students and training partners, Grips Athletics, Steve McCarthy, and Randori Jiu Jitsu. Video courtesy of Kevin Fitzpatrick.”