Michael Zuckerman and Edward Zuckerman
The 2018 International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation champ, Michael Zuckerman, with his first wresting coach, his dad, Edward Zuckerman. (Zuckerman family photo)
  • The 2018 International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation champ, Michael Zuckerman, with his first wresting coach, his dad, Edward Zuckerman.
  • A late start with his training was no deterrent for Michael Zuckerman, who finished on top of the podium at the 2018 International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation competition in Anaheim.
  • Yvette and Michael Zuckerman at the world championships.
  • A photo opportunity for the Zuckerman family: Yvette, Michael, Jameson and Bradley.
  • Between them, Fabio Leopoldo, left, and Michael Zuckerman hold 10 jiu-jitsu world championships.

Two years removed from a less-than-stellar second-place finish, Michael Zuckerman wasn’t sure what to expect at the 2018 International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation competition, held last weekend at the Anaheim Convention Center, near Disneyland.

He aimed high, as usual …

But up until four months ago, he really hadn’t trained on the mats in nearly a year.

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Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a martial art and combat sport system that focuses on grappling with particular emphasis on ground fighting.

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Life had accelerated quickly for Zuckerman: a new leadership gig as director of enterprise sales and branch administration for a local financial institution … his second son, Jameson, was born in March … and his young family purchased a new home and he is busy tackling a list of DIY projects.

So, in August, when he got a “the itch” to compete for his fifth and, perhaps, final world championship — well, the odds of winning were not exactly in his favor.

But, as they say, “Don’t underestimate the heart of a champion.”

First was securing the blessing of his life partner, Yvette, who selflessly agreed to make special family accommodations for his increased training and conditioning time.

She was still on a break from her registered nursing college studies after Jameson’s birth — their other active son, Bradley, just turned 4.

Zuckerman tweaked his diet. Immediately gone were sugar, dairy and occasional favorite microbrew(s), replaced with mostly protein shakes, chicken and beans.

Leaning on his many years of wrestling experience (twice named an All-American at Sierra College in Rocklin, outside Sacramento, he knew how to “make weight.”

New target: “Medium-Heavy 188-Pound Division” in the 35-40-year-old age group.

And at 218 pounds, he had 30 to lose, along with building muscle and greatly increasing stamina.

Training at Mad Fitness Santa Barbara exploded beyond the usual 5 a.m. workouts with two pals, and he added another hour of circuit training, plus an hour-long spin class.

Three hours each weekday morning, before very full days at work.

Then, three nights a week, after his sons were asleep, two hours of sparring and mat training at the Morumbi Academy, near his Ventura casa.

Saturdays were for grappling and cardio, while Sunday focused on family and rest.

Zuckerman had discovered jiu-jitsu about 10 years earlier when he curiously walked into Gracie Barra Studio near his downtown Santa Barbara office. He introduced himself, signed up for an introductory course — and liked it!

He found it similar to wrestling, a sport he always loved, especially as his dad, Edward, had coached him and his three brothers as a high school wrestling (and football) coach over an award-winning 35-year teaching career in Willows.

After a while, Zuckerman decided to enter his first jiu-jitsu competition in 2011, and won.

Going forward, there were more age- and weight-class world titles, plus two additional championships in the Open Division (no weight restrictions).

“Matches are six minutes running time and scoring is similar to wrestling,” Zuckerman said. “The difference is that, in wrestling, you are trying to pin your opponent, whereas in jiu-jitsu, you are trying to submit your opponent to ‘tap out.’”

The recent world competition in Anaheim started in late afternoon. Then came three matches in relatively quick succession.

In Zuckerman’s first, the final score ended, 0-0. He was awarded a Judge’s Decision (tie breaker) for being the more offensive player.

He won his second match, more handedly, by a score of 6-0.

Then, in the finals against a Brazilian opponent, he prevailed for the world championship, 2-0.

“I’m glad Yvette and my dad were there,” Zuckerman said. “It was his first time seeing my matches after 20 years of wrestling. And I’m greatly indebted to Yvette; she has always been so incredibly supportive in caring for our family so I could compete.”

Asked if he is now planning to retire from sport, it’s here that you catch The Champ’s best evasive maneuver.

In Zuckerman’s own words:

“It’s now about recalibrating with my family and enjoying the holidays … but, my training professor, Fabio (Leopoldo), also has five world championships and he’s nudging me to keep going.

“There is actually another competition — the Fuji Invitational — closer to home in Ventura mid-next-month … and I still got this ‘little itch.’ We’ll see.”

Once again, time will tell …

— WeissCrax columnist Randy Weiss is a longtime Noozhawk contributing writer. In the interest of full journalistic disclosure, he also works for a local financial institution that is a longtime sponsor of the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table Monday Media Luncheons. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.