While watching worlds a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t expect to be a little bored with the black belts, and wowed by the purples and blues, but that most certainly was the case. One particular competitor stuck out like a sore thumb, showing grace, calmness and a whole lot of technique on the mats in the purple belt featherweight division; Gianni Grippo. I caught up with Gianni to quickly discuss his success this year in competition, and a few other things to help us get to know the Renzo Phenom.
JR: First off, congratulations to you on your victory at worlds!
Gianni: Thank you man. I really appreciate it!
JR: How was the competition in your weight class this year?
Gianni: The entire competition in my weight class (purple belt, featherweight) was simply a battle all day long. It was easily the biggest and most stacked division I have ever been a part of, with plenty of guys coming in with really impressive credentials and previous wins, just thankfully I came out as the best on that day.
JR: Anyone in particular that you faced stand out to you?
Gianni: The last three guys I fought in my final three matches really pushed me to my limit and forced me to stick to my strategy I went into the competition with. The final three bouts were decided by only two points or less, so I knew I couldn’t afford to give any openings to anyone of them. My final match with Alliance’s- Pedro Torres was one that stood out to me most though. He probably has one of the best overall games I’ve competed against and it was a real challenge to get through someone as well-rounded as he is.
JR: It was great watching you compete at worlds this year. Everything looked very natural for you and you seemed to be really balanced and calm. Tell us what you’ve been working on the past year in preparation for your gold medal run.
Gianni: Well, thanks for the compliments; I’m glad to know you enjoyed watching the matches. In the last year I’ve been working a lot on my defense and my base when fighting on top. Last year I lost my final at the Pans and semifinal at the Worlds because I allowed my opponents to sweep me too easily, and now I’ve come to realize how important those two points are, especially against top competitors. So in training, I’ve been working my butt off at finding my balance and no matter what, not giving in to the sweep, while still attacking as well.
JR: You seem to have a natural talent on the mats. Tell us a little about how you first became involved with Jiu-Jitsu.
Gianni: Let’s just say that it took me a long time before I ever looked like a natural on the mats. I became involved in Jiu-Jitsu basically because my dad helped find it for me. My dad is the kind of guy that would jump at any opportunity he can for his son to try something new that he might enjoy, and as soon as he heard about Jiu-Jitsu and Renzo Gracie Academy, he believed that it would be perfect for me. At the time I was involved in amateur boxing in the 9 and 10-year-old, 70 pound divisions but after a short time training at Renzo’s, there was nothing else I’d rather be doing than training Jiu-Jitsu.
JR: How did you come to training at Renzo’s school? Was it merely location or was there something more that drew you to train under Renzo Gracie?
Gianni: At the boxing gym I was going to at the time, someone mentioned Renzo’s academy to my dad and as I was saying before, my dad didn’t hesitate to have me check it out. Actually, we were going on a whim to this place because at the time I really didn’t even know who Renzo was (since I was 10 at the time) and the academy was also in New York City while I live in New Jersey, so the location wasn’t the easiest for us to travel to. But once I got there, and became acquainted with the place, it really drew me in; meeting people like Renzo and John Danaher helped me fall in love with the sport, and having the academy in the city just made it even better. Now, I can never complain about the commute because I love being in the city every day, it really is dream.
JR: What do you think of people calling you “Renzo’s Protegé” or the “Renzo Phenom?” It seems that this would be a great honor, and definitely setting high expectations for you.
Gianni: That is definitely a great honor, especially with someone as talented and as classy as Renzo is, hearing that certainly means a lot to me. I like it because of the high expectations it puts on me because no one has higher expectations for me than myself. Hearing a name such as “Renzo Phenom” only makes me train harder and work on taking my game to newer and greater levels. I believe I thrive under high expectations, I don’t shy away from it, I love it.
JR: What are your future plans with Jiu-Jitsu? Any MMA plans for you, or will you focus more on completing your BJJ?
Gianni: Right now, I currently have no plans to do MMA, but that’s never something I will set in stone. But first, I just want to accomplish everything I can in the Jiu-Jitsu field. I have dreamed since I was ten years old of being a World champion at black belt and an ADCC champion and I truly believe MMA will only get in the way of seeing those dreams through.
JR: Who would you like to thank for your continued success?
Gianni: I have to thank my parents first and foremost. They have given me everything I could’ve asked for in life, and it will certainly take many years to repay them for everything they’ve done for me. They spoil me with love and support and I would not be where I am now without them. I also want to thank all my training partners for pushing me daily and continually kicking my butt, forcing me to go back to the videotapes and notes. My wins are also my teammate’s wins for how much they’ve helped me! Lastly, I’d like to thank my girlfriend for always being by my side no matter what during these last few crazy months of training and handling my attitudes I may get because of all the dieting. I love you, Tahani!