Images by Lindsay Kagalis

2017 has been quite a year for Kyle “The Rolling Rev” Watkins. As one of our sponsored athletes, we have been beyond proud to watch him win tournament after tournament, even snagging the grand title of WORLD CHAMPION. So we sat down with him to chat all about how Kyle got started in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, his recent successes, being an instructor and his next plans.

How it all Started

Kyle was a Division I wrestler throughout high school. And at that time, there was talk about a semi-underground cage fighting starting to gain traction – called the UFC. Even though at this time the UFC was more of backyard, bare knuckle-style fighting, it piqued Kyle’s interest.

I would go to Blockbuster and rent UFC DVDs with these hard nosed fighters and [I was fascinated]. I noticed they weren’t just striking from the standup position, they were going to the ground and doing this wrestling thing. So I thought ‘I wrestle. I should be able to do that!’ And next thing you know my friends told me, ‘Listen there’s places all around Long Island that teach that ground thing – it’s called Brazilian Jiu Jitsu…you gotta check it out’.

And that’s where things took off. Kyle found a studio called Vamos Mixed Martial Arts and started taking classes with instructor and owner, Alex Vamos. Kyle says he was hooked since then.

For him, Kyle saw moving from strictly wrestling to martial arts as a way to be successful in a quickly expanding field. “There’s [so many] more opportunities”. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) was an opportunity for Kyle to not only broaden his horizons but also open more opportunities for success. And judging by the year that Kyle has experienced, we can safely say that getting into MMA and BJJ was an amazing move for him to take.

Winning Worlds

As we mentioned, this year has been quite the journey for the Rolling Rev. While still in his purple belt, Kyle won countless tournaments including Pan Am, BJJ Pro, the New York Open, Boston Open, New Breed Triple and more (the list goes on and on). With all of these successes, there was a moment for Kyle when he thought “it’s time for me to step up to the big leagues. It’s time to take a risk”. It was in this moment that Kyle knew he needed to take on a larger competition – the 2017 Master Worlds in August. But as Kyle also shared, “it was the success [I had] leading up to that point, but it was also having that ‘ah-ha’ moment” of believing in yourself to succeed at such a large task that pushed him to train towards worlds and ultimately winning it all!

Leading up to Worlds

Before he would claim the title of World Champion, there was a lot of work that Kyle had to put in. He shared with us that “many people become disillusioned when it comes to being a champion”. There’s so much more than just the public success of winning that athletes must go through before claiming a title. It’s about the every day successes as Kyle talked about : “The boring, mundane, habitual behaviors that you put into play. [From] dieting and eating clean, non-GMO and fair trade – all of the wonderful things that [you] offer here at Cornucopia – along with great training.” That’s what makes a champion, and that’s what helped Kyle set his eyes on the prize of being named World Champion.

After receiving his brown belt (the next step above purple), he made a vow to himself to dedicate the time and energy to train for the World Championship. “I would be the first one there and the last one to leave. I would be the one drilling, putting in all the time, strength and condition, eating well…doing everything that the champions do.” By emulating what other champions did to succeed and working as hard as possible for a year helped Kyle prepare for the 2017 Master Worlds in Las Vegas. At the competition, when he realized he was going to claim that champion title, that moment was quite surreal.

In the moment

Kyle explains to how he felt at that as he was named World Champion in Las Vegas:

When it actually happened, that was everything for me. I beat all five of my opponents with submission – it was points, it was just submission, because I wanted to finish and dominate each fight – I didn’t even really feel it. It was just so surreal.

All of the time, sweat and hard work had finally paid off! But more than winning the title, it was a defining moment for Kyle and his career. While working towards this goal, his mentality was always to keep moving and look for the next achievement to conquer. This mentality is continuing as Kyle is now looking to turn his one-time world champion title to a multi-time world champion. Even though he will have to wait a year until the 2018 Master Worlds, Kyle still has his eye on the prize and is working harder than ever to train for his upcoming tournaments. And so far, the Rolling Rev has been completely dominating in his fights since worlds.

Recent Successes + Upcoming Tournaments

Although there’s a year in between the worlds, that isn’t going to stop Kyle from putting in the time and work to dominate at his other upcoming tournaments. Most recently, he competed in the 2017 New York BJJ Pro. While there, Kyle had the chance to win in both his own division and the absolute division. As he puts it, “the absolute division is all brown belts, ALL weight classes – so I can fight guys that are [larger than me or smaller than me].” After chatting with us about this upcoming tournament, the Rolling Rev did just what he set out to do! He won Double Gold in the Men’s Medium-Heavy Brown belt division AND won the Absolute Men’s Brown Belt Division. This victory came with a cash prize and title of champion after Kyle beat five very tough competitors.

Courtesy of Kyle Watkins
Courtesy of Kyle Watkins

Before the year is over, Kyle has one more opportunity to propel his career to the next level: The No Gi Worlds in this month. And Kyle says he’s ready to take it on. “As long as I put my mind to it and put it out in the universe, it’s all going to come back to me and it will work out…for being a two time world champion – one Gi (the one I won in Las Vegas) and one no Gi [would be amazing].” Here the difference between the two championships would be that a Gi is the full uniform and the No Gi is simply rash guard and shorts. But Kyle’s successes don’t stop there. In addition to competition in local, national and world tournaments, he is also a dedicated full time instructor and sensei.

Changing Lives

Teaching others Jiu Jitsu is all about changing lives for the better in Kyle’s eyes. For women and men, it can help them to defend themselves if they have or will experience a dangerous or abusive situation. It is also empowering to children that take his classes, especially if they are dealing with a bully at school. “It’s about confidence. Confidence is everything.” But not only are his classes about learning and mastering the physical moves, it’s also about gaining mental confidence both in and out of the classroom. To Kyle, teaching Jiu Jitsu helps to “teach his students that there’s a better alternate than just physical altercations.” He continues:

We teach them concepts like Mushin, which is remaining calm at all times and never letting the adversary see you sweat. Because as soon as you show some sort of intimidation, it feeds into that factor of fear. All of these intricate [concepts] are what I teach my students and I apply to myself [to make them and me] that much greater, stronger and better.

Using both mental and physical awareness and conditioning helps Kyle’s students succeed in their classes and in the real world. Teaching Jiu Jitsu is a little different from other sports because there is not a major focus on strength and power. Instead, Kyle teaches his students to be continuously thinking about leverage. “Jiu Jitsu shows you how to be comfortable in seemingly uncomfortable positions,” he shares.

At the end of class, Kyle awards a few students with grading stripes to recognize their progress and skill. After receiving four stripes, students are then ready to move up to the next belt level.

Taking a class with the Rolling Rev shows you variables outside of brut strength and power that you can use to have an advantage over your opponent. Students train to understand leverage, along with flexibility, balance, endurance and stamina to help them be sharp and quick competitors. All of these factors, along with mental strengthening, make for a very well-rounded class when the Rolling Rev is your instructor. And don’t feel intimidated to try a class, because Jiu Jitsu is truly for everyone. By putting a focus on mental strength and technique, it attracts students that are moms, dads, retired people along with younger teens and adults.

What’s Next?

With being both a competitor and instructor on top of also being a pastor, the sky is really the limit for Kyle. He just won a world champion title this year, and is already training to get ready for next year. Along with his many successes in the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu world, Kyle also successfully opened his new church this year. And one day, he has hopes to bring the two worlds together. “My goal and dream it to take kids – mostly at-risk teens – off the street and put a Gi on them and teach them BJJ. Maybe I could call it ‘Gis for Gs.’” We can’t wait to see how the future unfolds for Kyle! And we are more proud than ever to have his a a part of the Cornucopia family.

Want to try Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with Kyle? You can find him at Vamos Mixed Martial Arts and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Make sure to follow his journey on Instagram too – @rolling_revrun