Edwin ‘Junny’ Ocasio: “I’m Ready to Shock the World”
On Saturday, October 21, more than 250 grapplers competed in KASAI’s inaugural amateur tournament – The Elite Grappling Championships. Fighters of various weight classes and belt levels traveled from academies across the tri-state area to test their mettle in attempts to bring home the gold.
Edwin ‘Junny’ Ocasio was no different. A kid from East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, who fell in love with Jiu-Jitsu at the age of 23, Junny perceives Jiu-Jitsu as more than just a pastime, hobby, or extracurricular activity. For ‘Junny’, the sport is a calling, a future, and an opportunity to defy the odds.
That’s just what ‘Junny’ did. As a purple belt, Ocasio submitted four black belts en-route to winning the ‘KASAI Pro’ qualifying tournament and cementing his place in the KASAI World Lightweight Championship tournament scheduled December 9. Representing Unity Jiu Jitsu, Ocasio will compete against seven world-class grapplers, each boasting a wealth of accolades to their name. ‘Junny’ may have his work cut out, but we caught up with the EGC’s MVP in a rare moment of downtime to learn more about his life, aspirations and mindset going into this landmark event as the underdog.
KASAI: First things first, how was the rest of your weekend? How does a champion celebrate following the EGCs?
“It’s not over, it’s just the beginning.”
Junny: You know; I’ve been fortunate enough to be successful throughout my career. I’m no stranger to winning, but when I realized I had earned my spot in the KASAI World Lightweight Championship tournament, I think I was honestly in shock. It was something I had wanted so bad and it took an hour or two to really soak in.
After every tournament, win or lose, I like to just disappear. That night, I went to Dallas BBQ and just sat there alone, ate some bad food, took it all in. The next day, I was right back to it.
KASAI: What was your impression of the talent at The Elite Grappling Championships? Any surprises? Anyone you found particularly difficult?
“I assumed everybody on that mat would be the most dangerous person I’ve ever faced.”
Junny: I knew going into the tournament that I wasn’t the favorite. I knew the odds were stacked against me, but that’s how I like it. That’s where I thrive. I train with heavier people every day in practice, I’ve fought in higher weight classes and done well, and I’m used to a certain amount of pressure based on how good my training partners are.
I took everyone seriously and did exactly what I do in the gym every day. I think the competition itself and my respect for the quality of opponents here in New York really brought out my A-game.
KASAI: Take us back. How did you get started in BJJ?
“I put everything into that plan A, and it’s paying off.”
Junny: I’ve been doing Jiu-Jitsu for just under five years. I grew up in Pennsylvania and started out with freestyle wrestling. I was good my first year but had a rough time growing up, so I needed to step away from wrestling for a while. When I revisited combat sports years later after recovering from an ACL surgery on my knee, I liked the taste and knew I wanted to pursue mixed martial arts. I trained in all different aspects of MMA, but the one discipline I fell in love with was Jiu-Jitsu. Now, in 2017, my passion and commitment are really starting to pay off and bear fruit.
KASAI: How long have you been training at Unity? Who were some of the most influential coaches or teammates behind your success?
“Being surrounded by so many hard-working people, it’s difficult not to work hard yourself. It infects you!”
Junny: I was good friends with Murillo Santana before he ever formally opened Unity. He is by far one of the biggest influences in my life. Seeing Murillo work reinforces just how much further I have to go on this journey. He’s been the greatest mentor and phenomenal professor I could ask for, taking me to levels I never thought I had.
In addition to Murilo, I’m fortunate enough to have a whole stable of influential teammates. All these guys are champions, man. I’m working with the likes Paulo Miyao, Devhonte Johnson, Felipe Cesar on a regular basis, plus we now have Mansher Khera too.
Unity is a great place. If you want to do Jiu-Jitsu as a hobby, you’re welcome to train with us, but we learn it our own way and are expected to fight hard for growth and success. If you do want to be a world champion, if you really want to be the best, Unity is the place to be. We don’t cut corners. We put ourselves through pain, but whether it comes fast or slow, you’re eventually going to see dividends.
KASAI: So, what does a typical day of training consist of?
“If you’re not there to better yourself as a competitor, you probably shouldn’t be in the room.”
Junny: It varies by person. Everyone’s goals are different, but personally, I’m practicing some form of Jiu-Jitsu every day. Monday through Friday it’s non-stop work, the weekends tend to be a bit lighter. In addition to competing, I’m also an instructor at Unity, so the downtime is few and far between.
My morning starts at 5:45am. I instruct a class from 7-8:30am, nap for 40 minutes or so before diving into pro training. I’ll come back home, get a bite to eat just to get some fuel in me, and then it’s off to lifting, which consists of strength, endurance and conditioning routines. In the afternoon, I usually teach a personal training session then end my day with technique drills or an active rest session. I really enjoy swimming, which lets me stay active but also allows my body to heal. In total, I spend anywhere from 4-7 hours a day training.
Our professional sessions at Unity are known for their intensity. One session typically lasts anywhere between 2-3 hours and it’s all geared towards the competition setting. Those repetitions on the mat help me keep a fierce pace during fights, for sure.
KASAI: Sounds intense! What motivates you to maintain that pace on a daily basis?
“If I fall, I have no one to pick me up. No one to save me.”
Junny: I’ve been working hard since I was a kid. I was an “adult” at a very young age, busting my ass just to get where I’m at. There were no cutting corners, this grind is all I know. I’m destined to do this, and I love it. I love the challenge, the pain and pushing myself.
One of the biggest motivators for me was my upbringing. I was constantly told I wouldn’t amount to anything. People doubted me, they didn’t give my any breaks or encouragement. So, for me, part of this drive comes from proving those people wrong. I use that negativity, that hate from the doubters, as a catalyst to get me where I need to go.