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Stuart Cooper is one of the most prolific and respected filmmakers inside of jiu-jitsu, and many of you reading this today have probably combed through his stellar youtube channel more than a few times.
But what you may not know is that Stuart himself is also a monster grappler - and he's looking to ramp up his competition schedule.
Read on to find out more about the man behind the lens ahead of his superfght at GrappleFEst 8 Feb. 29.
Stuart, you're quite the globe trotter, but when we ran into each other at third Coast Grappling you III you mentioned you had recently relocated to Vancouver, Canada and had newly opened up a gym - how's that all going?
STUART: So I've been living in Asia, between Singapore and Thailand since 2012; I've been spending quite a bit of time out there and was teaching at Evolve MMA in Singapore, which is one of the biggest gyms in the world,
After that, I became head jiu-jitsu coach of Tiger Muay Thai in Phuket's Island, which has really developed and it's one of the biggest, well known MMA gyms in the world.
But an opportunity came up September last year.
A friend of mine, a former King of the Cage, flyweight champion, Ryan Diaz. He opened up his own MMA gym in Vancouver about four years ago and in the short period since then, it's probably the biggest MMA gym in Vancouver.
He basically reached out to me and said that he didn't have a dedicated black belt there, the jiu-jitsu program is not the best and he needs someone committed.
So I went out for a month trial last year. And yeah, I really enjoyed myself in Vancouver; my friend Ryan Diaz said, "Look, if you join up, if you come over here, it'll be your own team. It will be Stuart Cooper Jiu-itsu inside of Diaz Combat Sports."
It was going to be my own team, my own brand. it was a big opportunity.
Things have really picked up over the last few months. And Diaz Combat Sports and Stuart Cooper Jiu Jitsu is really going to grow over the next few years.
You were obviously at ADCC and 3CG3 filming for those promotions, but have you got any other projects in the works?
STUART: One project I'm working on at the moment is with former UFC WEC lightweight champion Benson Henderson.
Ryan Diaz (owner of Diaz Combat Sports, part-owner of the MMA Lab in Arizona) invited me out to train and teach some classes.
And when I was there, I had the opportunity to meet and train with Benson Henderson – I even got the opportunity to teach a class alongside him! – which was a very surreal moment for me.
During this process, I took the opportunity to film him training jiu-jitsu and picked up an in-depth interview with him.
Benson's an interesting guy because he's one of the few MMA fighters that actually competes in jujitsu, gi and no gi as well. So the video I'm doing on him is all about his jiu-jitsu competitions.
I think it would be fair to say Your Film making career took precedence over your own athletic goals – was that a difficult choice to make? Has spending so much time filming jiu-jitsu benefited your own athletic pursuits?
STUART: Well, when I started jiu-jitsu, that was what I wanted to do full time, but I got into film-making by accident through sustaining an injury to my arm and I couldn't train.
That led to me making films and those started to really take off!
However, that was never my intention, and when I was traveling the world and making all these videos, filming people training, but the whole time I was filming I wanted to be training! (laughs)
In 2016 I decided to stop focusing on making videos and direct my energy towards my own training and teaching. I love making videos, I really do, but it's not something I can do full-time. Training is what I'm really passionate about.
You spent a years living and training in Thailand – can you shed some light on what your experience was like, the jiu-jitsu scene in Thailand, and any noteworthy stories you’d like to share?
STUART: I first went out to Thailand in 2012, and when I first went out there, there was a fourth-degree black belt teacher called Fernando Maccachero who's a really good friend of mine now to this day.
But the level of jujitsu was not good out there. There really wasn't too many high-level guys to train with.
But Fernando was an amazing teacher.
Eventually, we had formed a good little group of guys; I was regularly training with Roger Huerta, a former UFC contender, and you always had good high level MMA guys coming through.
Another good thing about training out in Thailand is I had all those Dagestani wrestlers to train with. I've known about these guys for a long, long time; I always told everyone, wait till these guys get in the UFC cause they're going to take over. I experienced getting molded by them in the wrestling back in 2012 but since then Tiger Muay Tai and in Phuket in general, the jiu-jitsu has really grown.
You can get world-class training in Thailand now. It's a great place for anyone who has like aspirations to go far in MMA.
We actually had a Josh Hinger out there a couple of years ago. Lucas Barbosa also came out to do his fight camp against Fabrice Werdum.
When I would be teaching my class, my jujitsu class, I never knew who was going to be there. I turned around one day – Kevin Lee's there – another day Craig Jones walks in, and so on.
What I liked about training at Tiger Muay Thai in Thailand was just a constant change of like different body types and different styles. I'd be rolling with Sambo guys, wrestlers, MMA guys, jujitsu guys, it was really good training with all those different body types.
You’ve mentioned in the past that you’re looking to make a run at the ADCC trials – is that still the plan? What would it mean for you to qualify for the prestigious championship?
STUART: My dream is to compete in ADCC.
I think the first European trials are set to take place in Moldova this October.
I'm really going to get myself ready for that. There's a lot of things I need to work on leading up to the trials. But it's just a dream of mine to go from filming ADCC back in 2011. I remember that. I was filming Braulio Estima at the time, he was the superfight against Jacare Souza.
Back then I never even thought I would be able to compete at that level... It didn't even enter my mind competing at ADCC. But over the years, just traveling the world and constantly training....I felt like I've reached a place where I can, I can actually make a run at the ADCC trials and qualify.
So yeah, that would be a cool story to go from filming, making the ADCC 2011 highlight the 2013 and 15 and then to go compete in it myself, but obviously, I have to win the trials first.
Hopefully, I can make that happen.
Your opponent this weekend at GrappleFest 8 is Santeri Lilius, a solid Finnish Grappler based in Spain who recently took home a bronze medal at the European Championships - how are you feeling ahead of this match? Will we see you in anything else coming up soon?
I have a really tough opponent tomorrow night in Santeri Lilius.
I've actually watched him before on Polaris. I've tried to study some of his matches, but all I can find is Gi matches, he does seem more of a Gi competitor.
I know, recently, he had a very close match with Adam Wardzinski – I think it was 12-10, or something at the end. So just the fact that he had a war with Adam like that lets me know that this guy's really good.
It's taken me a while after the knee surgery to kind of get back in the shape that I wanted to be in, but I feel like I've just reached that point in the last couple of weeks. I feel like my cardio is there now. I've got that timing back.
So yeah, I'm really excited for this match tomorrow. I've got a lot of respect for Santeri; If I get this win, I think that's a big victory for myself because he's a very well respected name on the grappling circuit.
After GrappleFest 8 I'm also scheduled to be on one of the biggest cards in the year, actually. Third Coast Grappling in Houston, Texas, March 14th. I was set to take on Sam Snow, but I think he just dropped out yesterday with an injury. So, I'm now going to be taking on Hunter Newton, I believe. It's not confirmed yet.
Ryan McGuire (OF 3CG) is currently trying to find me a replacement and that's possibly the replacement.