‘One of the best students I’ve ever had’: Mark Zuckerberg impresses in BJJ tournament win
Marc Raimondi, ESPN Staff WriterMay 11, 2023, 09:14 AM ET
The gravity of the situation didn’t dawn on Vijay Hanumantha Raju until hours later when he was talking with his friends.
Hanumantha Raju competed Saturday in his first Brazilian jiu-jitsu competition. His opponent was also making his competitive debut in the grappling art: Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder of Facebook, chairman and CEO of Meta and one of the most influential people on the planet.
After several seconds of surprise when he saw Zuckerberg across the mat, Hanumantha Raju said he settled in and it became just another match. But afterward, having some time to reflect, he realized he would have been all over the news if something out of the ordinary happened, like a Zuckerberg injury.
“It was only later that I realized, ‘You know what? Oh, OK. What if something did go wrong?'” Hanumantha Raju told ESPN.
Zuckerberg beat Hanumantha Raju to win the no-gi white belt, 149-pound division at BJJ Tour Silicon Valley. The two competed in the Master 1 division for athletes in their 30s. Only Zuckerberg and Hanumantha Raju were in their bracket, so they had three matches. Zuckerberg won the first via disqualification and the third on points, Hanumantha Raju said.
Zuckerberg, 38, also took second place in a gi category the same day. He has been training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu for about one year under Dave Camarillo, who was once the head Brazilian jiu-jitsu coach for American Kickboxing Academy, mentoring former UFC stars Cain Velasquez, Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck, among others.
“He’s amazing,” Camarillo said of Zuckerberg. “He is an extremely hard worker, as everybody knows. But a lot of people have a business and they’re successful and they have that side of their life, and rarely do they dip into the physical side, especially with something like jiu-jitsu and MMA, and have the same amount of success or even go past Day 1 or Month 1. He’s not that kind of guy. I think he has a good balance between what he does with his business and what he does in the physical realm. And he excels. He’s one of the best students I’ve ever had.”
Zuckerberg said on the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast last September that he used to run and surf, but he got into MMA during the pandemic. Through surfing friends, who also grappled, he found Camarillo. Very quickly, Zuckerberg said, he fell in love with Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
“The crazy thing is it really is the best sport,” Zuckerberg said. “From the very first session that I did, like five minutes in, I was like, ‘Where has this been my whole life?'”
Zuckerberg posted about his first BJJ competition on Instagram (also owned by Meta), and a host of MMA luminaries commented, including UFC champions Alexander Volkanovski, Brandon Moreno and Israel Adesanya. Zuckerberg and Volkanovski have “sparred” together in the virtual reality Metaverse.
Camarillo said he has no expectations when students come to train with him at Guerrilla Jiu Jitsu in Northern California. He has coached other high-profile people, such as actor Keanu Reeves. But one of the things that impressed Camarillo most about the “appreciative” Zuckerberg is his willingness to be physical and be humbled in training.
“I think this is a mindset that he had before I ever started working with him because most people are put in that situation and they’re dominated and it’s difficult to handle because it’s something new,” Camarillo said. “When you do something recreational — whatever it is, tennis and or basketball or surfing — there’s no major drawback to losing. Even though you can still be competitive in jiu-jitsu, you could get choked. You could have your limbs bent backwards and you can be held down, which sometimes is worse than submissions — being held down and not able to get out and having that natural tendency to feel claustrophobic kick in. He’s handled it so well.”
Camarillo said people were in “disbelief” that Zuckerberg was competing. He was registered under the name “Mark Elliott,” using his middle name, so people were unaware of his participation until he showed up on the mats.
“It was like a 100% positive environment and that’s just a good thing to see,” Camarillo said. “I think it’s cool to see high-profile people like Mark and then maybe [actor] Tom Hardy and others do this, and then even people in high-end business. And I think if there are people out there looking for that edge, I really think it’s with jiu-jitsu and mixed martial arts.”
Zuckerberg is worth more than $80 billion and could, frankly, do anything he wanted. But he’s choosing to sweat and push his body physically in the jiu-jitsu gym. Hanumantha Raju said he was impressed with Zuckerberg’s grappling game.
“He was pretty good, pretty strong,” said Hanumantha Raju, a senior software engineer at Uber. “Had pretty good grip. He had the ins and outs of the basics going. Again, we’re all white belts, so you need to make sure your basics are right. So yeah, definitely someone who has been practicing a lot, for sure.”
Hanumantha Raju said he got to talk with Zuckerberg a bit after the match and discussed other martial arts disciplines they train in. Both also have some experience in striking arts. Hanumantha Raju posted photos of Zuckerberg and him on Instagram, calling it an “unforgettable experience.” And Zuckerberg replied in the comments.
“Those were three hard rounds, but so much fun!” Zuckerberg wrote. “I’d be up for a rematch sometime or maybe just some training together since I’m not sure when I’ll be able to pull off just rolling up to a BJJ competition again. Lots of respect for you!”