Most teenagers spend their birthdays with their friends relaxing, but for one young girl from Hereford there was no better way to celebrate turning 12 than defending her title as the Pan American champion in California at the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach. Dali Hopkins, who is a grey belt in BJJ and trains at The Combat Academy in Hereford, was named as the UKBJJA’s top junior of 2015 after she came first in the rankings and received sponsorship to help with her competition expenses. She flew out last week to fight at the biggest junior BJJ tournament in the world, the IBJJF Pan Kids, and face the best athletes in the sport from gyms from across the globe.
A focused Dali warming up before the competition.
Taking the challenge in her stride, the youngster relished the chance to compete on the big stage. Dali said “I enjoyed the experience because it's not every day that you get to go to California and fight in the Kids Pan Ams, it's a real treat.” The Hereford athletes faced some challenging opponents who train at the top gyms in the BJJ world, but Dali defended her title in style by defeating her opponents convincingly with submission wins. She commented “The day finished in the best way possible. I won both my fights by submission - armbar.” She also thanked all the people who helped her achieve her goals, her coaches, her family and her sponsors who include the UKBJJA and fightwear company Tatami, as well as the UK Youth Squad coordinated by Neil Simkin who coached Dali at the competition. She is supported by local businesses Hereford Carpets, Point4, Seating Contracts, S and T Roofing and JMart. Proud couch Dave Coles remarked: “With hard work comes great rewards, and this is certainly the case for Dali. Her effort cannot be faulted, in addition to training in the junior classes, she also joins in with the adults. It is a reflection of her character that she also gives up her time to help me and Ash Amos teaching our Tiny Taz class for 4-7 year olds."
Dali on top of the podium after taking home the gold.
For all the titles and victories, it’s clear that the support that Dali enjoys from her family, friends and club fuels her Jiu Jitsu journey. Dali travelled out not only with her mum Kelly, who trains with her daughter, but also one of her best BJJ friends, Nia Blackman. Fierce opponents on the mat, the two girls are equally firm friends off it and drilled together in the California sun before the competition to help each other prepare. Both came away with golds this weekend in their divisions so there was much to celebrate together. Kelly was also mat-side watching her daughter, going through all the nerves and anxious waits. When the young athlete came off the mat after her final, a fond mother and daughter embrace summed up what an emotional week this had been for Dali and Kelly.
Kelly and Dali after her final.
Dali has grand ambitions and is committed to continuing to work hard to fulfill her dreams. She commented: “I want to go after bigger things in life and become famous, and fight in the Adults World Championship. I will do my best to take people on the journey with me, especially my great friend and opponent Nia Blackman.” Already named Hereford Young Sports Person of the year, she is a star of the future and no doubt there are great things to come for Dali.
The UKBJJA (www.ukbjja.org) is a not-for profit organisation which aims to provide a governance structure for the martial art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, that promotes and develops the sport while allowing individual clubs and practitioners the space and freedom to practice the martial art in the way they enjoy. The UKBJJA is currently in the final stages of submitting a full application for assessment to be recognised by Sport England as the governing body for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in the UK.
The UKBJJA was formed in 2013, and the association’s goal is to foster the development of BJJ at elite, community and grassroots levels, raising the profile of the sport but also providing pathways for development and involvement across communities in the UK. Visit UKBJJA at www.ukbjja.org or follow us on Twitter @ukbjja.