This Is What It’s Like to Lose a Jiu-Jitsu Match to Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg has lately gotten deep into combat sports. The Facebook founder and Meta CEO attended a closed-to–the-public UFC fight card in October. He talked about training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu on the Joe Rogan Experience. He posted pictures of himself training under Dave Camarillo, the former head BJJ coach at the American Kickboxing Academy, known for producing UFC champions Daniel Cormier, Cain Velasquez, and about a million other stars. And Zuck’s love of “the gentle art” seemed to culminate this past weekend, with his one gold, one silver medal performance at the BJJ Tour Silicon Valley tournament in Woodside, California.
Imagine showing up to your first BJJ tournament and finding one of the world’s richest men standing across from you, ready to roll. That was just the situation that Vijay Hanumantha Raju, a 33-year-old software engineer at Uber, found himself in. Hanumantha Raju ended up on the wrong side of their three-round match: he was disqualified from the first round for attempting an illegal submission, dominated round two 8-0, but gassed out and lost the deciding bout in the final minute. That was that—until Zuckerberg posted pictures from the match on his official Facebook account and Hanumantha Raju soon saw his face going viral.
Maybe it just naturally follows that a person accustomed to dominating financially would want to dominate physically—that’s an easy read for those who don’t really “get” combat sports. Yet martial arts have always had that split personality: both an outlet for misfits, artists, and the bullied to discover their strength and express themselves, and a frequent source of fascination for authoritarians and bullies. (Karate Kid, at the very least, got that conflict right.)
Zuckerberg himself is an almost perfect prism refracting both takes—a sort-of nerdy guy by appearance, but a billionaire social engineer and inventor of a radicalization machine by position. Where it’s easy to cheer when a “cool” celebrity publicly takes up BJJ (Anthony Bourdain, Jonah Hill, and Tom Hardy, just to name a few), Zuckerberg might inspire more complicated feelings. Jiu-Jitsu is like any other skill; mastering it takes time to train, good coaching, and personal attention from partners and mentors. And who has more access to that than a literal billionaire? Forget celebrities, Vijay Hanumantha Raju is just like us.
But when GQ got the chance to pick his brain about it recently, the Bangalore-born San Francisco resident had only good feelings. Just as he was smiling in the pictures Zuckerberg posted, his thoughts about “losing” to a tech titan seem to have been more than eclipsed by the feelings of exhilaration that come from completing in his first tournament.
GQ: What do you enjoy about jiu-jitsu?
Vijay Hanumantha Raju: It’s obviously a good workout. Other than that, you meet people from different walks of life. In the gym it doesn't matter who you are or where you came from—sort of like what happened at the tournament.
For me there was a personal side to it as well: I've found the BJJ community in the gym to be amazing and made quite a few great friends—which was especially important to me since I was going through a breakup, from the most amazing person in the world who literally changed my life. Going from being the happiest ever to the other end of the spectrum was tough, and just being around my BJJ training partners was helpful. I know a lot of men don't talk about the emotional or mental facets of their lives but I know for a fact that BJJ and all my training partners definitely helped me with all that stuff. It just sort of takes you away from everything else that's happening around you and for a couple of hours
So was this your first tournament?
It was my first tournament. And I was actually skeptical about competing. We were talking about it for quite a few months at the gym, and one of my training partners—she said she would compete, and then a few weeks later a bunch of other people signed up, so eventually I was like, okay, sure. I’m glad I did.
So the match with Zuckerberg was your first match ever? At what point in the day did you realize it was going to be him?
When I was looking at the list of competitors before the actual tournament, I tried to figure out it out a few days before and I couldn't come up with anything. He had used his middle name—he was under “Mark Elliot.”
It was literally about two, three minutes before the actual match that I realized.
So he wasn't there warming up? Did he have a special entrance or something?
He was not in the common warmup area, for sure—I'm assuming that he was more in his own secluded section where he was warming up.
Was there a big crowd for it? Did people know when it was going on that it was going on?
I guess, yeah, there was—but obviously during my match I don't think I was able to figure out what was happening. But there were definitely a lot of people.
Did he have coaches there that were shouting advice at him?
Oh yeah, he had quite a few people, and I realized later they are top-tier people. I think one of them was Dave Camarillo. Obviously, they were shouting instructions during all the matches.
Do you think that helped? Did you hear them yell anything that you could tell you was trying to do?
Yeah, a couple of things. I was going for a lot of takedowns, single legs and double legs. And that's something that they wanted him to do as well. So the first round he didn't do it and the second one they kept saying, “Okay, fake the take-down!” But I was like, okay, I can hear that.
Once it was over and you realized that he'd won, were you're like, “Oh no, I'm going to hear about this from my friends?”
Not really. I was just excited! Even if you look at that picture that he posted, I was literally smiling at the end. So even though he had his hand up, obviously I knew that I won the second round and was pretty much in control. That's what I felt, and that's what a lot of people who watched the whole match felt as well. He basically turned the day in the last few minutes and won—it is what it is.
But just being there, that being my first tournament ever? It was exciting. So I guess I didn't feel anything negative. And afterwards I definitely got a lot of messages from people that I've known for a long time—catching up, saying that's pretty cool.
Did you guys talk afterwards?
We did. We just talked about what other [martial arts] that I do, because I remember one of his coaches was pretty much like, “Oh, have you been wrestling for a while?” Because I was able to get a couple of takedowns, I had the collar tie quite a few times on him and had a bunch of control. And I was like, no, I've never wrestled before. All of this is something that I just practiced in the gym. He obviously has been doing a bunch of MMA training. It was pretty much just that.
Did you have any takeaways from the experience?
In general it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience–not only to actually compete with someone like him, but that being the first tournament. Maybe in another couple of months I might end up doing another one.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Originally Appeared on GQ
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