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Jiu Jitsu Journey: Denny Prokopos and the rocky road to EBI 7

Bloody Elbow grappling editor Roy Billington tells the story of BJJ standout and EBI 7 competitor Denny Prokopos, and how Joe Rogan helped him decide to focus on BJJ.

Denny Prokopos
Blanca Garcia/EBI

Perhaps the most beautiful thing about martial arts is that they are constantly evolving; each epoch offers only a transient glimpse of technical superiority, that is soon to be overtaken be the next generation of athletes and jiu jitsu is no different. The 1990’s saw the mainstream rise of Gracie Jiu Jitsu, Royce and Rickson spearheaded a gi-laden revolution, but like all things, it could not last forever. ADCC and the no-gi revolution would soon enter from the periphery and one man would become a symbolic figurehead of the no-gi movement.

When Eddie Bravo was put opposite Royler Gracie in the bracket at ADCC 2003, it was expected that Royler would obliterate his unknown foe, but instead, that night in Sao Paulo, the then brown belt Bravo would submit Royler in spectacular fashion. That victory would act as an impetus for Bravo to open his own gym and to found 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu.

In the wake of his ADCC upset, Bravo would begin to transition to being primarily a coach and in that role he found his protege, Denny Prokopos.

Denny Prokopos is the epitome of a martial artist. At the tender age of 4, Prokopos began a lifelong obsession with combat. While his first exposure to martial arts was Tae Kwon Do, he would soon transition onto judo, followed by Japanese jiu jitsu, before beginning to wrestler at the age of 14. When Prokopos turned 15, he had an encounter with Eddie Bravo and at that moment he knew that he had found his mentor:

“I took a private lesson in February 2004 he showed me rubber guard and twister I remember thinking how mind blowing the technique was,” Prokopos said. “Eddie's teaching style really made sense, and I liked the names of the moves.”

That private lesson in 2004 would act as the igniting flame to a competitive fire that would define Prokopos’ teenage years. Under Bravo’s tutelage, accolades soon began to roll in for Prokopos, though this was no surprise for the California native, who had consciously made the decision to pursue martial arts with all his vigour from an early age:

“I jokingly tell my friends I married the game at that age 12. Around the age of 12 I thought I wanted to possibly have a school as a profession when I become older it was a kid dream. But in my head I turned pro after I won the IBJJF brown belt no gi worlds I was 19.”

While the thoughts of a martial arts career was something that obsessed the young Prokopos, there were doubts, the world of martial arts is unforgiving and far from financially secure. As Prokopos celebrated his IBJJF win, he sought counsel with one of the the best known names and the advice he received would profoundly shape his life:

“A month after the IBJJF Worlds I was at Cobbs comedy club with Joe Rogan and he asked me what I wanted to do with my life, I said that I wanted to either open up a school or fight MMA and he told me he thought opening up a school was a better option for my health. Joe told me that I should focus on being the next Marcelo Garcia. Obviously I am no Marcelo but I have done my thing over the eight-and-a-half years, like opening my school and I enjoy my life. The best decision I ever made.”

The years following his life changing conversation with Joe Rogan have been awash with highs and lows for Prokopos; he became Eddie Bravo’s first ever black belt and a pioneer of the 10th Planet system and the first ever Eddie Bravo Invitational lightweight champion, a tournament he won while recovering from a broken neck, but after his initial successes, disaster would soon enter the life of Prokopos.

During preparations for EBI 5, Prokopos would endure an illness that would threaten his life. After contracting staphylococcus inside his knee, the former champion was forced to endure a 7 day stint in hospital. While an illness of this magnitude would force many an athlete to pull out, Prokopos had his heart set on competing and made constant pleas to Bravo to let him compete.

With Bravo’s blessing, Prokopos made it to the mats at EBI 5, but it was clearly apparent that he was not his usual self. Prokopos was laboured in his movements, easily fatigued and uncharacteristically, he was submitted by his opponent in the quarterfinals.

In the wake of a disappointing performance at EBI 5, it was back to the drawing board for Prokopos. His Staph infection had left him physically drained and his body needed rebuilding. With this weekend’s Eddie Bravo Invitational 7 in mind, Prokopos set out on a rigorous regime of self improvement. By incorporating added yoga into his life and by revolutionising his strength and conditioning protocol under the watchful eye of kettlebell master Mark Reifkind, a new and improved Prokopos has risen and hopes to once again taste victory at the Eddie Bravo Invitational.

“It would be huge accomplishment to win EBI for a second time especially since what I had to go through last time. I changed a lot of things in my life to become Champion again”

For Prokopos, jiu jitsu has not only been a sport, it has been something that has forged him into the man he is today and while his jiu jitsu journey is still in its early days, he cannot imagine a life off the mats:

“It's very hard for me to imagine life any other way since this is what I've been doing all my life,” Prokopos said. “I feel that I learned how to learn through Jiu Jitsu and developed a lot of confidence in myself through training. Today I feel that I can learn anything or get good at anything because of my martial arts, yoga, and kettlebell training plus the positive attitude that it has helped me develop that's huge. Without all these things that I learned or developed I don't know where I would be.”

The Eddie Bravo Invitational 7 goes down at the Orpheum Theatre, in Los Angeles, CA on July 16 and will be available on pay-per-view on Dish and InDemand, as well as live on UFC Fight Pass.

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