Grappling competitions have had an explosion in recent years as new tournament promotions have come up. Gone were the days when the only major competitions one can join in would be either IBJJF, Abu Dhabi Pro or ADCC events. Even tournament formats have evolved with the introduction of submission-only, quintets and round-robin styles.

RELENTLESS, the newest grappling promotion in the Philippines, is the first to introduce a round robin style of competition with cash prizes. This means that a competitor will get to face all the other players to determine who the eventual champion is. I am honored to have the three founders of RELENTLESS: Jan Cortez (Brown Belt under Atos), Mara Rafael (Brown Belt under Origins) and Tanya Lim Llana (Purple Belt under Atos).

In this interview, they will talk to us more about how the event promotion came to be, their respective Jiu Jitsu journeys and their vision for the tournament in the future.

BJJ-ASIA:         

First of all, thank you for joining us in this interview – let’s begin by having you introduce yourselves and sharing your respective BJJ journeys to all our readers.

JAN:       

I started BJJ more than a decade ago during my third year in university. I was a gym rat before spending hours and hours in the gym. I thought what’s all this muscle for, if I don’t use it for something. Then one of my friends was watching Gracie videos and wanted to try it out. We rented some mats (it wasn’t even mats for grappling), then tried it out. We had a blast. One day I saw a sign – “Brazilian Jiu Jitsu” classes in the gym. I enrolled and never stopped training BJJ since.

TANYA:

I started Jiu Jitsu at almost 35 years old. During that time, I was going thru many life-changing challenges and needed an outlet to manage my stress and my weight. I needed a lifestyle makeover – exercise, to start eating right and work on my discipline. After my first class, I was hooked. Jiu Jitsu makes me forget about my problems. It challenges my brain to either think 2 steps ahead or actually be present in the moment to get out of sticky situations. I started competing a year later and won my first competition at age 36. Jiu Jitsu gave me a consuming passion to learn and improve, taught me discipline and most importantly, to pick myself up when I fall and get back on the mats.

People ask me if I regret starting my BJJ journey at such an advanced age. No. Never. JiuJitsu brought new meaning and passion into my life at the time I really needed it. I can grow old with this “gentle art”.  Always remember, it’s never too late to try, start, train, lose, learn and win.

MARA:

I started my Jiu Jitsu journey eight and a half years ago. Initially getting into it to learn self defense, I slowly fell in love with the sport aspect of Jiu Jitsu and the rest is history. I started competing early on but only started to find success after I got my blue belt. My competition journey was put to a brief halt after a serious knee injury I incurred in 2015. I was sidelined off the mats for about a year but really only got back into competition last 2018. Jiu Jitsu has become a huge part of my own life as I now teach kids Jiu Jitsu full time. It has been an incredible journey so far and starting up RELENTLESS with Jan and Tanya has only made it even more exciting.

BJJ-ASIA:

Jan, your two partners have shared their experiences in competition – have you tried competing yourself?

JAN:

My history competing wasn’t as consistent. I did a lot of competitions as a white approaching blue then when I got purple, I sort of lost the confidence and fire to compete. It was probably pride or the fear of loss that held me back. This was the time I met Bianca (who eventually became my wife) who pushed me back into competing again. These days I actually have fun competing (I used to dread it before). I still feel like a white belt who has so much to learn in training and in competitions. Now currently a brown belt, I find it is so hard to get a good number of high quality fights in local tournaments. Thus, when this RELENTLESS thing came up. I was really thinking of myself, on how I can get high level fights here, rather than just flying abroad.

BJJ-ASIA:

Let’s talk about RELENTLESS, what is it all about?

TANYA:

Relentless. Unbending. Uncompromising. As a person? A RELENTLESS person never gives up. And that is exactly what the Relentless Jiu Jitsu Invitational League is all about – a showcase of top grapplers in the country (Philippines) who embody being fierce, unmovable and merciless. They will fight with everything they’ve got and more.

JAN:

Most competitions are hosted abroad. There are a number of tournaments locally but none are truly high level, despite the country being home for a lot of top grapplers already. For some reason, top grappler “John” don’t get to fight top grappler “Ryan”. Maybe they joined different tournaments or the other one just fights abroad.

So why not invite top grappler A to fight top grappler B. Heck, let’s not just make it a super fight. Let us make it a round robin tournament where each elite athlete gets to fight all other top elite fighters of his weight division.

MARA:

Our vision is to see the quality of Jiu Jitsu in the Philippines be truly world class by providing an avenue for the nation’s best grapplers to showcase their skills against each other at a local setting. We already have a huge pool of great Jiu Jitsu athletes locally, but often an avid competitor has to travel abroad to get sufficient exposure to high quality fights, particularly for the higher belts. Why can’t we have those great matches happen here?

Hence,  RELENTLESS – Invitational Jiu Jitsu League for the country’s finest.

BJJ-ASIA:

How did you 3 team up and put on this tournament?

MARA:

Initially Jan and I were just messing around with the idea of coming up with our own tournament (really selfishly for ourselves) and it eventually turned into something real after putting our ideas down on paper. We brought Tanya in and shared our ideas with her and that’s when our plans started to come together even more. The 3 of us complement each other and bring something unique to the table which what makes us such a great team. We all have the same vision in being able to contribute to the local Jiu Jitsu community by creating an avenue for high level practitioners to showcase their skills.

TANYA:

Jan, asked if I was interested to help mount a tournament. The way he explained it was really exciting and a first that I’ve heard of in the Philippines. I was definitely interested. Then I met Mara Rafael and everything just clicked into place. I realized we all complemented each other and work really well as a team. We all want to contribute to the growth of local Jiu Jitsu in the Philippines and we hope that is what RELENTLESS will do.

We also had a lot of help from our teammates, friends and we had a lot of support from other teams as well.

BJJ-ASIA:
What have been your challenges in putting up RELENTLESS?

MARA:

Some of the challenges we faced early on were getting the athletes to commit to our idea. Some were skeptical about our initial set up as it hasn’t been done before. We really believed in our vision and we were committed in getting that across to the athletes.

TANYA:

The biggest challenge for me would be handling the logistics of the event. With only 3 people, there has to be a lot of heavy lifting, talking to security guards, pleading with maintenance crews and all that jazz. It was an awesome experience and seeing how the event turned out feels like a good pat on the back.

JAN:

Aside from those mentioned by Tanya and Mara, we were concerned by how the community will perceive this tournament, especially having a spectator fee of Php 200 (4 US Dollars). There have been different setups of competitions before but no one has actually charged a fee to watch a BJJ event. People might be saying – “Why the hell will I pay to watch BJJ?” To be honest, I am still blown off myself when I recall how the fights went and people’s reception towards it. I myself will gladly pay the fee to witness those amazing fights. Mara and Tanya had to often remind me of my “organizer” responsibilities when they catch me zoned out watching the fights.

BJJ-ASIA:

What is your vision for the future of RELENTLESS?

JAN:

We believe BJJ in the Philippines can contend with other countries not just in Asia but in the world. Access to top-level techniques are easily available online so basically you do not need to travel abroad to train with a world champ. However, having the best techniques is not enough, we also need top-level experience. As far as I know, experience is not available online.

Thus, our vision for Relentless is to give grapplers locally the opportunity to experience high level competitions here at home. We want to provide an avenue where our athletes can really test and push themselves in competition as if they’re joining the toughest and most competitive tournaments abroad. It is just a matter of having our best in the same place and in the same time, in a competitive setting – for everyone else to witness.

TANYA:

RELENTLESS 2 should definitely be more kick-ass than the first. We all wish to see more exciting match ups, hopefully a BLACK BELT division (sigh) and NOGI fights to bring the house down. Looking farther than the next competition, our vision is to be the top-of-mind platform where fighters, not only from the Philippines but even globally, can showcase their skills and fight their hearts out and be deemed truly RELENTLESS.

BJJ-ASIA:
Thank you very much for your time, and we wish more success in the upcoming events of RELENTLESS!

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