Gilbert Burns on his dad offering a free car service to a jiu-jitsu coach in exchange for lessons

With sensational grappling and an unrivalled will to win, ambassador, Gilbert Burns, has cemented his place as one of the best fighters on the planet. But his success wasn’t achieved overnight, with his journey dating back to his childhood when his father offered a jiu-jitsu instructor a free car service in exchange for teaching his sons.

Living in Rio de Janeiro, times were hard for the family, with Burns’ dad desperate to give his children the opportunity they deserved. Therefore, when he spotted his chance, he struck, and to his delight, the instructor agreed to the deal, and Gilbert hasn’t looked back since.

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The gifted athlete has gone on an incredible run, all the way to winning the IBJJF World Jiu-Jitsu Championship (gi and no-gi), the CBJJ Brazilian Championship and the UAEJJF World Pro Championship, as well as fighting for the UFC title.

And despite how far he’s come, Burns can still remember the day it all began like it was yesterday.

Gilbert Burns’ dad exchanged a car service for free jiu-jitsu lessons

In an exclusive interview with Sporf, he said: “I was 12 years old. It was a tough time financially. We were not doing good. My dad was fixing the inside of the car, changing the seats, and we were helping him out. We were going to school just in the afternoon, so we were helping my dad the whole morning. And it just so happened that one of these cars that came to get fixed belonged to a jiu-jitsu coach.

“We saw the gi as we were helping my father; my dad saw that we had so much energy. We were helping him, but then we had problems in school and on the street. So, my dad saw an opportunity. When it was time for him to get paid, he asked instead of money for the guy to start training us in jiu-jitsu. The coach agreed, and we got three months of free lessons. But after that, we had to pay. But my dad had no money. He said, ‘If you guys really like the sessions, you have to train very hard because if you aren’t good enough, you’ll have to stop training’. After three months, my dad asked if we could keep training, and the guy said, ‘Make sure you go super hard’. We got the scholarship and never stopped.”

Gilbert Burns’ inspirational road to jiu-jitsu world honours

From a boy in Brazil to one of the greatest jiu-jitsu practitioners of all time, Burns’ journey has been nothing short of remarkable. Blessed with an incredible fighting spirit, the sportsman never let defeat haunt him, always using his losses as fuel to his fire, and eventually, after giving blood, sweat and tears to the sport he holds so close to his heart, he finally reached the pinnacle.

He beamed: “I was 12 when I started. After one month, I did my first competition, and I lost. I liked jiu-jitsu, but I loved competition. One month later, I competed again and beat the guy who’d beaten me in the previous tournament. Then, I kept competing every month.”

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He continued: “When I got to 15, I began really committing. I started doing strength and conditioning, running and competing more. I got a couple of sponsors, then won the state championship, and then I was making the newspaper, and I liked that.


“I remember when I was 18 in 2004, I got a big sponsor, and he was paying for every single tournament they had in Brazil. He didn’t care if it was three hours flying or a different city. So, that year, I was living in Rio, but I became a state champion in seven different states. I competed in Sao Paulo, north Brazil and south Brazil.

“I was doing very good, but I wanted to start doing MMA. However, my goal was to become a black belt world champion. I followed that route. In 2007, I got my black belt, I was second in the brown belt twice, and in 2011, I became Brazil national champion and a 3x world champion and then I moved to MMA.”

Gilbert Burns on his relationship with God

Away from martial arts, Burns is a Christian, attributing a great deal of his achievements to God. With ‘Christ Follower’ at the top of his Instagram bio, he explained how his relationship with the Lord has helped him become the man he is today.

The 37-year-old said: “He helps me a lot. I grew up in a Catholic family. In 2007, when I left Rio for Sao Paulo to start training more jiu-jitsu, one of my coaches introduced me to it. I knew a little bit about God and Jesus, but not the way he showed me. They were praying and getting baptised. It was in 2009, when I became a Christian and really started praying.

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He continued: “Everything changed for me. Life didn’t get easier, but my perspective was different. Whenever bad things happened, I accepted it was part of the process. That made things easier to deal with. I’m not religious, but I have a good relationship with God, and I pray and I serve. I try to follow his way. I make mistakes. I’m not perfect. But I ask for forgiveness and try to do my best. I try to teach my kids, not just preaching, but showing how to be a good example. I’m a Christian. The first thing that I follow is Jesus, and I try to express through showing, not just preaching. I’m just a normal Christian family guy, who grew up in Brazil out here trying to become a UFC champion and show a good example.” 

Featured Image Credit: Getty / Gilbert Burns