Sunday, 2 March 2014

An Interview with Atos Wonderkid - Michael Liera Jr - Part 1

Right then guys, I’m very pleased to bring you guys today an interview with Michael Liera Jr, who today is one of the very best brown belts in the world. It is really an honor to get the chance to interview him as he happens to be one of my most favourite Jiu-Jitsu practitioners, and every time I step onto the mat I try to replicate his style of Jiu-Jitsu as much as possible. So without further ado here is the interview.  

For those who don’t know you, could you please give a brief outline of yourself?

Yes, of course. My name is Michael Liera Jr, and I am 20 years old. I am a brown belt under Andre Galvao, and I compete for Atos Jiu Jitsu. Some of my accomplishments include 2x World champion, NoGi World champion, 4x Pan American champion, Jiu Jitsu Battle 1 champion, and 10x American National Champion.

Source: Preston Smith

So right off the bat, could you tell us about your beginnings in Jiu-Jitsu?

After being invited by some friends, I began doing Jiu Jitsu with my dad at a local academy here in San Diego when I was 12 years old. At first I wasn't too fond of Jiu Jitsu, and if it wasn't for my dad really enjoying Jiu Jitsu I probably would have quit. The first few months of my Jiu Jitsu journey was spent getting my butt kicked in the kid's class by everyone. I had two options: get better, or keep getting submitted by kids half my size. As I began to study Jiu Jitsu more I fell more and more in love with the art and I've become completely addicted to it.

At what point in your life did you realise you wanted to dedicate your life completely to Jiu-Jitsu?

The transition between doing Jiu Jitsu as a hobby and doing Jiu Jitsu full time was very gradual. Ever since I was a white belt, I enjoyed competing, but considering Jiu Jitsu as something I wanted to pursue full-time as a career came to me when I started competing in the IBJJF tournaments.

Was your family supportive with your choice to do Jiu-Jitsu full time?

My family has always been very supportive of my Jiu Jitsu career, and I'm very thankful for everything they do for me to help me in the pursuit of my dreams.

Source: Preston Smith

Tell us a few things about what you love about Jiu-Jitsu.

I love the endlessness of it, especially in the sense that you can never truly master it. I love the friends and family it has given me. I love the adrenaline when competing. I love Jiu Jitsu for so many reasons!

You first started training at Ribeiro Jiu-Jitsu, with Xande and Saulo Ribeiro, what can you tell us about your time training there, and why did you decide to leave the team in the favour of Atos?

Switching teams is always difficult, especially considering the time I spent with Saulo and Xande. I am very lucky to have had the opportunity to train with them they are two of the greatest champions of all time, but at the end of the day I had to do what was best for myself.

In March 2013, you had some new arrivals to the team, these being Keenan Cornelius, JT Torres, and Jordon Schultz. How has their arrival impacted the team?

The guys from Maryland definitely added to the depth of our team, and they also brought with them a unique style of Jiu Jitsu. They are also really great guys and I really enjoy having them on the team.

How often do you get to train at the Mendes Bros academy?

Lately, I have been spending most of my time at Atos San Diego, but I really do enjoy when I get the chance to train at AOJ with the Mendes Brothers. I am planning on training with them more consistently for Worlds this year.

What is it like to have Andre Galvao as your professor and mentor? And what is your relationship like with him?

Professor Andre has been an amazing coach and mentor for me. He constantly inspires me to do my best in everything.

Michael with Andre Galvao

How important is competition to you?

I really enjoy competing, and putting my Jiu Jitsu on display. Competing in Jiu Jitsu is something that I have been doing ever since I started, and I recommend that everyone try it at least a few times.

How do you deal with competition nerves?

I don't get competition nerves very often because I have been competing for so long. Even when I do get the nerves, I just try my best to relax and let my Jiu Jitsu flow when I get on to the mat.

What has been your hardest match to date in competition?

One of my toughest matches recently was in the absolute finals of the Pan Am's this year against Barbosa Jiu Jitsu's Felipe Silva. After a hard fought 7 minutes the score was tied, and I won the referee's decision. It was the second time I've competed against him, and I look forward to fighting him again.

Looking at your weight division, who would you say is your hardest competition?

Honestly, I'm not certain who is in my division this year. The divisions at the IBJJF tournaments are always tough, and I just try my best to come prepared.

What has been your biggest achievement you have accomplished along your career?

My biggest achievement thus far was probably taking double gold at the Pan Am's in 2013 at purple belt. Also, winning the World Championships that year was a very special moment for me.

Michael takes gold at the 2013 World Championships

Will you be looking to qualify for ADCC in 2015?

I currently don't have any plans to compete in any ADCC qualifiers, but it is one of my goals to compete in the ADCC events.

Recently Copa Podio has seen brown belt competitors enter their tournament. If the opportunity presented itself, would you be prepared to enter and fight against black belts?

I'd love to compete in the Copa Podio events. I would most definitely jump on that opportunity!

What was it like to be part of Jiu-Jitsu Battle? And would you be prepared to be part of another?

The Jiu Jitsu Battle will always be one of my favorite experiences. I am always in contact with the WantVsNeed guys, and I am expecting to compete in one of their tournaments again, probably later this year.

Michael wins Jiu-Jitsu Battle 1

Recently, the IBJJF released a series of requirements for people wishing to enter the 2015 world championships as a black belt. What is your opinion on this?

I am in favor of this rule; I think it's good to make people qualify for the World Championships. It will only further the legitimacy of our sport.

Could you talk us through what an average week in your life is like?

Monday through Friday: Training. Saturday and Sunday: Resting.

How did you adapt your game for brown belt?

I feel like my Jiu Jitsu is always evolving, so when I got my brown belt it was just a change in the color of my belt. The only real difference in the brown belt division is that now knee bars and toe holds are legal.

Was it an easy transition?

It was a fairly easy transition because I have always dealt with people attacking my legs in training. The only difference is that now I am focusing on more attacks with knee bars and toe holds.

Source: Mike Calimbus

Who are some Jiu-Jitsu competitors you really admire and look up to?

Andre Galvao, the Mendes Brothers, Keenan Cornelius, and JT Torres are some of the guys I really admire and look up to, I also am very lucky to train with them on a regular basis. I also admire the Jiu Jitsu of Cobrinha, Lucas Lepri, Leandro Lo, and the Miyao brothers.

What people have had the greatest influence overall on your Jiu-Jitsu?

My professor, Andre Galvao, has had the biggest influence on my Jiu Jitsu thus far. Also the Mendes Brothers have influenced my Jiu Jitsu a lot in the past few years.

In your matches you often use the berimbolo, why do you favour this technique in particular?

I started using the berimbolo positions in 2012 when the Mendes Brothers trained at our gym for both the Pan Am's and World's camp that year. I was Guillherme Mendes' drilling partner for most of the camp, and he showed me a lot of the intricacies of the position. It has been extremely efficient for me, and now it is one of my main attacks from my guard.

Why today do you think techniques such as the berimbolo and the 50/50 guard are so widely used in the competition scene?

The berimbolo and the 50/50 guard are used in competition because they are effective. In most divisions, you might not have to utilize these positions to win a match, but you must at least be aware of them to be successful.

Source: IBJJF

Personally do you favour gi or nogi?


Overall, how would you describe your style of Jiu-Jitsu?

It depends on how much caffeine I've taken...

How important is drilling for you?

I feel that drilling is a very important part of my training regimen. When I started implementing drilling into my training schedule, I saw a big improvement in the timing of my passes, sweeps, and submissions.

How many times a week would you say the average person should train to make decent progress?

I think training three times a week is the minimum for someone who wants to see progress in their Jiu Jitsu. 

(Part 2 of this interview can be found HERE.)


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