By Patrick Lujan
Gerson Atoigue reached the pinnacle of the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world as a new blackbelt was wrapped around his waist by Professor Arthur Ruff Sunday in Mesa, Arizona.
The former Yona resident culminated eight years of BJJ training into this moment with a lot of emotion during the promotion.
“It’s like all your hard work and dedication you put in all balled up,” Atoigue said. “It’s such a rush.”
The 23-year-old grew up in Yona and went to M.U. Lujan Elementary and Inarajan Middle School before moving to Arizona with his parents Joe and Lou Atoigue. He’d only play basketball on Guam before moving to the states.
While in high school, Atoigue’s cousin Curtis Tenorio introduced him to BJJ and he hasn’t turned away from the sport since.
He moved up the ranked quickly and eventually won the 2011 Arizona State Championships lightweight brown belt division against none other than UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson.
“It felt real good (to beat him),” Atoigue remembers. “I fought him twice before and he beat me both times. When I beat him the last time, I felt real good. You win so much more in defeat than when you win.”
He went on to win his division in the 2011 American Nationals later that year.
Atoigue says that where ever he goes, he tries to represent Guam well.
“Every tournament I go to, I always try to make sure the know where I’m from and that I’m proud to be from a small island.”
Usually on weekends, he would train with young Guam phenom Robert Maloney who lives an hour away in Arizona.
“He’s a great ambassador for the sport. He has all the tools to be a great champion.”
The last time Atoigue was on island was for his grandfather’s funeral in 2007. He said he remembers how welcoming the local BJJ community was when he was back home for a short while, specifically Gabe Baker, Mike Carbullido, Stephen Roberto and Terrance Aflague. He said Aflague is his favorite black belt in the world because when he met Aflague, “he made me feel at ease. Guys like him make the people from Guam that much better.”
NOTES: Atoigue trains seven days a week, about 2.5 hours a night…his 10-year-old step son Damian is a two-time Pan Am champion…he said it would be ‘a dream’ to come home and compete on Guam.
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