Words: Tom Bell
Welsh black belt Ashley Williams is less than seven days from a potentially life changing opportunity, as he debuts at EBI in their seventh instalment this weekend.
The Braulo Estima black belt received significant backing by fans, which ultimately caught Eddie Bravo’s attention and earned him a spot in on the card.
He is one of 16 men in a featherweight bracket gunning for a $20,000 prize and a significant boost in their marketability, which means more high-profile contests, appearances and opportunities.
The increase in submission-only shows in recent years has seen new stars emerge, such as the likes of Garry Tonon and Eddie Cummings, with the latter being the EBI featherweight champion and a potential opponent for Williams this weekend.
Reflecting on his upcoming opportunity, a buoyant Williams spoke to Jiu Jitsu Style:
“It is a potentially life changing month, I’ve thought about it. That’s what next weekend could be. But when we initially decided to try and get a movement going and people started to campaign to get me on EBI, I thought it was a crazy longshot to actually do it. I just train in Swansea in a small gym, but I had nothing to lose.
In a bracket that holds names like Eddie Cummings, Geo Martinez, Denny Prokopos, Bill Cooper and Baret Yoshida, Williams is aware he wouldn’t be the bookies favourite, but the man behind EBI – Mr Eddie Bravo himself, showed the odds don’t always matter. He did, after all, famously submit Royler Gracie with a triangle, as a brown belt, at ADCC in 2003.
“Eddie is an example that any one on any given day could beat anyone,” Williams declared. “How many times have you looked across the mat and found yourself questioning how one guy beat another? Look at the Worlds just gone, Bernardo Faria got submitted in the semi-finals of the absolute. I don’t think anyone would have put money on that happening how it did, so it goes to show how exciting jiu jitsu is and the exact reason for it being that way.
“So 100%, I’m not going there just to take part in EBI. You can’t look up to guys, you have to take them out so they look up at you instead.”
International fans can be forgiven for not knowing his name yet, but EBI is a competition that encourages the growth of grapplers as a whole. East Coast Jiu-Jitsu Academy head coach, and Ribeiro black belt, Darragh O’Connail competed on EBI 3 in 2014, before then appearing on Polaris in 2015.
Exciting styles and exciting fighters make exciting bouts, exciting bouts make exciting opportunities and Williams could be set for a similar path following a whirlwind fourteen months for the 23-year-old. Not only is he competing for grappling fans, but since the EBI signed a deal with UFC Fight Pass, he could cement a reputation with thousands of casual fans thanks to his dangerous submission game.
Previously ranked as a world number 1 brown belt, whilst being a former European nogi champion and Pan nogi silver medallist, Williams has had a fast start to life as a black belt. It started with an emotional moment at the British Open, when thousands of Jiu Jitsu competitors and fans gave him an iconic, rapturous applause as Braulio Estima tied the black belt around his waist, making him the UK’s youngest ever black belt.
Now, just 14 months later, he’s set to compete against some of the most respected in the submission-only game and he feels as prepared as he’ll ever be.
“Back when I got that ranking, I’d just come off the back of a win at the European Nogi at brown belt,” says Ashley. “I do often think that some guys get their ranking by pumping money into just turning up at every tournament, but that year I won the European Nogi and then took silver in the Pan Nogi, for instance. I was very happy in the manner in which I won some of the matches.
“I am fully confident in my nogi ability. I know my fitness won’t be a problem and it, of course, depends how the rest of the tournament goes but they’re all super tough. That’s what’s exciting though, on any given day the favourite can be caught in something and look like a total amateur. But that’s what’s crazy, a fight could go down a hundred times and the way it went down could only happen once because it’s down to your performance in that moment.”
Watch EBI 7 this coming weekend on UFC Fight Pass
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