Star On The Rise: Vagner Rocha

Vagner Rocha: Bright Young Star Taking BJJ to MMA

Vagner Rocha

Recently, JiuJitsuMania went to visit Vagner Rocha at his Pembroke Pines academy to talk BJJ with one of the brightest and toughest young stars on the circuit. With some very impressive wins on the mat and in the cage, Vagner applies a new level of intensity to his BJJ for MMA.

1. Vagner, what is your background in BJJ?
Even though I was born in Brazil, I started BBJ in the States. I started training with Jorge and Pablo Popovitch at the BJJCENTER in Florida. I am a Black Belt. I have been training for about 12years. I received my Black Belt from Pablo Popovitch. I won the North American ADCC NO-GI Trails 2010 at 77kg and also the Abu Dhabi Absolute World Pro Trails 2011and I have also won every Absolute tournament in the state of Florida, also I won the Pan Ams as a Brown Belt and Place 3th in the Worlds.

2. You recently qualified for the World Pro Tournament in Abu Dabhi. How did that feel as this is highly prestigious tournament? What are your thoughts that experience?
Yes I did qualify to go to Abu Dabhi for the World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Tournament which is the one of the biggest tournaments happening now in the BJJ circuit. I am very happy for winning a spot to compete there against the best of the best. The BJJ world is very competitive and I am looking forward to putting my mark on it and displaying what I do best !

3. How do you prepare for these tournaments? Do you do anything special? Who else do you train with?
I train a lot of BJJ of course! But I think the difference has been the cross training – doing other things like wrestling ,strength conditioning and even MMA. Training MMA is very aggressive, which BJJ is not, so sometimes it helps me put more emphasis on finishing a fight as opposed to just winning. I have many training partners my size range. Here in south Florida I train bjj with Pablo, Cyborg, Marcel, Deninho ,Fred ,Jay and our whole team Avengers. Almost everyday I train with Pablo Popovitch which makes me that much better Also rolling with my students helps me a whole lot.

4. Like other BJJ fighters, you have made the transition to MMA. What do you see as the major differences between the two? What are your biggest challenges?
BJJ, which it is called the Arte Suave is a beautiful sport and MMA is brutal and mean. To have a good transition from one to the other, you have to be vicious and have a “kill or be killed” mentality. I have noticed that most of guys who come from BJJ, work their Jits like they are in a bjj tournaments but that is really not the best way to go for MMA.

5. What advice would you give to advanced belts who want to compete? What should they concentrate on?
They should concentrate on training hard and training hard some more! They should be drilling as much as possible, and trying new things to expand their game so they can grow and improve. You need to have it all – people to beat up, people to beat you up and everything in between so you can get better and to stay hungry motivated.

6. What advice would you give to beginners, where should they spend most of their time and focus in their training?
The most important advice is to find a school that makes you feel comfortable and helps you excel in your training. Whether you’re a guy who is just looking to get in shape or a guy who wants to compete, the key is to a find place that feels like home.

7. You also own a very successful school. Tell us a bit about your school, size, number of students, location, outstanding competitors.
My school is located in Pembroke Pines, FL. It’s about 2500 sq ft.. There are showers and locker rooms and we have about 1500 sq ft of mat space. We have well over 100 students. Our kids program is amazing – a great group of very intense and talented kids from 4 to 16 yrs old. I am really proud of my kids program. I am proud of my kids that are always competing in tournaments like NAGA ,Grapplers Quest and local Florida tournaments . I have some very good adults too, that are training hard to break in to these BJJ circuits – guys like AJ Sousa, Jose Castro and kids like Jonathan Alvarez ,Kris Folks and Christian Gracia. I am proud of these guys. They are here day in and day out train very hard and compete often.

8. What are the most satisfying things about being and instructor? What are the challenges associated with it?
There are many good things about being a BJJ instructor. First of all, I am teaching people something I love to do and I see their brain working to process moves – it is awesome! Second, everyday I come to train with my friends and students. You know what they say: when you do something you love you don’t work a day of your life. Third, I enjoy watching my students roll. I get such a fulfilling feeling of joy watching the kids especially, many of who come to my gym with little confidence and not much athleticism, only to transform into a machine and have fun doing BJJ. The only challenges I have are the same as everyone else, not enough hours in a day for me to do everything I need to do, always a busy schedule between teach, train, etc.

9. What was your most memorable BJJ or grappling match?
I think the turning point for me was a tournament I did here in Florida FGL. I had to fight Edson Diniz World Champion , UFC Vet Danillo Villefort and ADCC World Pro Champion Alexadre Ciconne. Why? Because I knew I could hang with those guys but i did more than just hang – I cleaned house that day. From there I have lost maybe two matches in the last 2yrs of competing.

10. What else would you like your fans to know?
I would like to thank my sponsors – Brawl and Maul for helping me. This company has everything you need for clothing and MMA gear type supplies, take a look at Also, Team Avengers: Roberto CYBORG and Pablo “Weapon X ” Popovitch. I like to thank all my students that help make things happen for me. The Armory and their great MMA camp is always helping me. Shoyoroll for the awesome Kimonos and rash guards. Last of all, I want to invite anyone that wants great training with great weather and beautiful beaches to come to Florida to train at my gym (or anyone else’s gym that i mentioned). Visit my website at or facebook me Vagner Rocha. Thank you Jiu Jitsu Mania!!!


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