A good friend of Ex Nba & Euroligue MVP, Igor Rakocevic (who is a blue belt in BJJ), Gabriel Muoneke is a Nigerian American professional basketball player. Despite being born in the United States, Muoneke represents Nigeria internationally. Muoneke has played around the world, including with the Ponce Lions in Puerto Rico, Pınar Karşıyaka in Turkey, the Beijing Olympians in China, Pusan Magic Wings, Seoul SK Knights in South Korea, and Saba Battery in Iran, among other places. In this interview with BJJ Eastern Europe, Gabriel about his love for BJJ, The differences and similarities between professional BJJ and basketball. Check it out:
Hi Gabriel, can you please introduce yourself to the BJJ Community of Eastern Europe?
Gabriel “Nnanna” Muoneke, 36, Purple, Nigerian-American, Gracie Barra Champions, Texas, USA, World NAGA 2012 Mens Heavyweight Champion, Played on ACB Champion Tau Ceramica 2008, 3-Time Asian Club Champion with Saba Battery, Iran, NCAA Big 12 Conference Basketball Champion, All Big 12 Conference and All-Region Player at University of Texas.
How did you discover BJJ and how did you start training?
I discovered BJJ when I was 29 after playing in Korea and watching MMA there for 2 years. I loved it because I had always been looking for a martial art that really worked and at the same time taught discipline. When I first started, with no-gi, I noticed a lot of my basketball nagging injuries started to get better. My flexibility increased and so did my strength. I was much stronger after grappling than every I was lifting weights. It made basketball very easy and I became very strong minded. No one could affect me on the court. It changed the way I interacted with my children and family and strangers. It was changing me so much, I started Gi BJJ in 2011. Before you know it, I was hooked!
You have played basketball at the highest level your whole life and accomplished so many titles. What attracts you to BJJ now?
Just the idea of getting stronger and more healthy with age. I feel more healthy now than I did when I played basketball. There is also a worldwide brotherhood of humility in BJJ. It is awesome! What are the biggest differences and similarities between basketball and BJJ? Everything! In basketball, someone who is not disciplined, not in shape, not humble, not serious can still be successful because there are so many outside things that determine how you are perceived in the basketball world. There is a lot of luck involved in basketball. In BJJ, there is very little luck. I cannot “luckily” beat a black belt or it’s just very unlikely. Worst case, it usually won’t happen twice. In basketball, a guy who is liked by referees, coaches, media can be protected and pampered to a point people will never know he’s not that good. A bad BJJ player cannot be hidden or protected! He will lose!
Please tell us about the academy you train in. How often do you train?
The academy I train (Gracie Barra Champions) is amazing! We have heavyweights all the way to light weights with a growing number of upper belts. I can train everyday if I want but I usually train 5 days a week with daily sparring training and an all sparring 2 hours class once a week. My professor Andres Santos trained under the Gracies in Rio and is the only BB I’ve faced that is much smaller than me that can arm bar me! He’s an amazing professor and is training amazing juniors. He has two junior Texas Champions that will be great BJJ Players and balck belts before 25 years of age.
What can you tell us about the BJJ scene in Texas?
The BJJ scene in Texas is growing daily! I see it being on the level of California in 5 years. Today it’s already crazy! Everywhere you turn, new guys are training BJJ. It’s becoming an epidemic. I see more athletes in other sports seeing the benefit it gives in their other sports. So everyone what to do it.
You are also a Nigerian national. How is BJJ growing in Nigeria? I know only of Babs Olusanmokun, BJJ black belt from Alliance NYC.
If BJJ starts in Nigeria, if the people understand what it is, you will see many Nigerian champions very soon. Wrestling is big in Nigeria and once people see BJJ is a similar style of grappling, it will be like football in Nigeria. I hope to be the next Nigerian BB in a few years. I don’t think there is any Nigerian Gracie BB. I will definitely push for it to expand in Nigeria and all of Africa. I hear it’s big in Angola.
What’s next for you and your team in 2014?
The boys at Gracie Barra Champions, TX are going to compete in as many tournaments as possible this year! Me too!
If you want to thank somebody or sponsors, feel free
As always I have to thank Mstr. Gracie and Gracie JJ for bringing BJJ to us all. Thanks to Gracie Barra Champions, Professor Ted Stikel, Professor Ricky Shivers and Professor Andres Santos!
Thanks Gabe and all the best!