Three years ago, Jeff Cuthbert took his son Owen Cuthbert-Mayrhofer to his first jiu-jitsu practice, wanting to get him into the sport. However, today, Jeff is a world champion.
The soon-to-be 52-year-old won gold in the Blue Belt Men’s Super-Heavyweight category and silver in the Men’s Blue Belt Absolute division at the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation’s Jiu-Jitsu Con in Las Vegas, Nevada over Labour Day weekend.
When Cuthbert first thought about getting his son into the sport he didn’t know it was his own life that was going to change. He was taking Owen to his first jiu-jitsu practice at Lake Country Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and wanted to learn more about the program. But when they arrived, Lake Country Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu owner and black belt Donavin Scott had equipment ready for Cuthbert as well and he instantly became addicted.
“I loved it the first day,” said Cuthbert. “It was pretty fast, right away I was hooked on it, Owen as well. It’s such an amazing sport.”
Working and training over the last few years, Jeff became obsessed with the sport, working himself up quickly to be a blue belt. One of the elder statesmen of the club, Cuthbert trains a minimum of six times a week as well as putting just as much time in on his cardio, recovery, and nutrition. He’s been in jiu-jitsu for three years now but he says he’s probably put about five or six years of training in that time. He’s got to a point where he helps assistant coach kids’ classes as well.
As he kept working his way up, Jeff was approached about competing at the world championships in Vegas.
“I competed a couple of times at local tournaments and then I didn’t compete for a year and a half, two years,” said Cuthbert. “I’m really scared to put myself out there but this tournament has people my age I get to compete with. As soon as this Masters tournament came about in Las Vegas, because it’s so far away, I was like ‘yeah I’ll do it’. The more I thought about it, you know how you push yourself to do things that are uncomfortable? I wanted to do that, I can do this, I can push myself.”
Cuthbert, his girlfriend Piera Chiola, who also trains at Lake Country Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and Owen all went down to Las Vegas together to compete in the Jiu-Jitsu Con championships.
When it was Cuthbert’s day to compete, he kept winning and won four matches to win the gold in the blue belt men’s super-heavyweight division.
“I just wanted to win one match and I just kept winning and winning,” laughed Cuthbert.
After the competitor’s medals, they can sign up for the ‘absolute division’, which is where he would face all other blue belts that medalled, no matter the weight class. Cuthbert took the silver there.
“The third match (seventh of the day), I was so tired,” said Cuthbert. “The guy I faced in the finals for the absolute, that was his fourth match (of the day), I was on my seventh.”
Because it’s the world championships, more than 10,000 people compete at the event. Cuthbert fought against people from the United Kingdom, Brazil, and even a former member of the U.S. Marines.
In seven matches, totalling 35 minutes of fighting, not only did he go 6-1, but he also never had one point scored against him.
“I set my mind to doing it, I train three hours a day. I put so much time and effort into it,” said Cuthbert. “The hardest part is the anxiety, adrenaline dump but in this tournament, I had this thought in my mind ‘I’ve done everything possible that I could do, to do the best I can do’.”
Cuthbert’s coach, Scott, wasn’t able to make it to Vegas, so Gregor Burton went down as the acting coach for the club. To Cuthbert’s surprise, after he became the champion, Burton, with the approval of Scott, rewarded Cuthbert with a purple belt, meaning he’s moved up a level.
“He (Scott) always tells the kids ‘I believe that every one of you can become a world champion if you put the work in.’… I’m his first world champion,” said Cuthbert.
@lakecountrybjj Lake Country Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is proud to announce the #IBJJF Master's 5 Superheavy Blue belt Champion Jeff Cuthbert!!! I am so proud of you! #bjj #worldchampion #bluebelt ♬ The Champion - Lux-Inspira
This hasn’t been an easy road for the Kelowna-born and raised Cuthbert, who credits the sport for changing his life.
“I used to struggle with alcoholism and addictions and I’ve turned those into this jiu-jitsu thing, sometimes when you have these issues from before, you can turn it into something good and now I’m obsessed with it, I turned it into something healthy. It totally saved my life,” said Cuthbert.
“It isn’t just a sport, it’s a lifestyle and for some reason, everything to do with life relates so well to jiu-jistu.”
At the worlds, both Chiola and Owen brought home silver medals from their divisions. Chiola is a blue belt while Owen is a yellow belt with a black stripe.
‘There’s nothing that can match competing with your family,” said Cuthbert. “When I first started with Owen, and just training with him and there’s something special about it.”
Both in their early 50s, Cuthbert and Chiola got into the sport around the same time. Chiola said her son used to compete and she missed being around the sport.
“I turned 50 and thought to myself, why not? Why would I waste my life not doing it? What prevented me before?” said Chiola. “I used to admire the sport and then thought I’m going to do this for myself. For me, it’s about power and strength and trying to learn new skills.”
Out of the 10,000 competitors in the worlds, about 80 were from the Okanagan.
“We’re kind of like a big family,” said Cuthbert. “Even the other clubs, you compete against them, but there’s no animosity towards anyone, we’re all great friends.”
Now that Cuthbert is a world champion blue belt and has been upgraded to purple, he has a new goal — to be back next year and become a world champion purple belt, which poses a whole new challenge.
“It’s going to be hard,” said Cuthbert. “Most of the time when people compete, they’re at the top of their belts, ready to be promoted.”
Before next year’s championship, Cuthbert and Chiola are going back to Vegas in December to compete in the No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu world championships.
“It’s an individual sport but everybody had their part in training me to win,” said Cuthbert.
“It’s an individual sport when you’re competing but it takes a team of people to prepare you for it.”