PORT RICHEY — When 10-year-old Mike Sylvester found Brazilian jiujitsu, he found a piece of himself.
After training in the sport for just three months, Mike has been crowned a champion.
At the North American Grappling Association's Brazilian jiujitsu Florida State Championship on May 21, Mike defeated an American Top Team opponent by a score of 21-0.
"I knew it was going to be hard, but I just kept thinking about what I had to do," Mike said. "My favorite part of the sport is doing sweeps and attacking. Now I'm (learning) jiujitsu and I'm doing all the things that can help me win."
His father, Mike Sylvester Sr., first saw his potential in Mixed Martial Arts after his son tried football. Lacking a desire to play the team-oriented sport but loving the contact, young Mike was more likely to enjoy a more individualized sport, his father said. The result has been a complete turnaround in the behavior of Mike, who attends Longleaf Elementary School.
"He's your average 10-year-old kid: He has selective hearing and selective listening," Sylvester Sr. said. "The team sports thing really wasn't for him, and you could see it in his attitude about those sports. He wanted more one-on-one contact. This is perfect for him, and ever since he started three months ago, he's just grasped onto it. It's all he wants to do."
Mike began working with Gracie Barra jiujitsu instructor Mike Geary. The discipline he learned from Geary has improved not only his fighting ability, but his overall demeanor as well.
"He loves to get out there and scrap," Geary said. "We've worked a lot on his ground game and how to take people down and do holds. He's been great to work with because he likes to be pushed. This kid loves to fight, and he's good in class because he doesn't goof around. He works hard and pays attention because he wants this."
To supplement the workouts Mike does with Geary, he now works out at Gator MMA where 13-year wrestling veteran Daniel Blevins is helping him hone his skills even further, in the hopes of becoming one of the most well-rounded young fighters in the state.
"Ten years ago, people would say that the things we're working on with Mike are unorthodox, but today people say MMA," Blevins said. "You always go back to one style of martial arts, but to fight these days you have to be good on the mat and be able to fight on the ground as much as you do on your feet, so my background in wrestling and cage fighting can help with that."
The desire to work toward getting better has overtaken a child once searching for an outlet. He now spends evenings juggling practice sessions at Geary's Port Richey jiujitsu studio and Gator MMA. It's a work ethic the elder Sylvester is relieved to see coming out of his son.
"Before, his report card wasn't that great, but now he's being held accountable by his instructors and everything from his attitude to how he does in school has improved," Sylvester Sr. said.
"His responsibilities at home, the way he treats his sister, all of it has improved. He's practicing several days every week and when he's not practicing, he's thinking about it all the time."