‘I don’t give a f*** what age I am’ – How Junny Ocasio became a world champion at 34 years old

No-gi world champion Junny Ocasio spoke to Grappling Insider about his incredible competition success in 2023.

Few black belt competitors have ever enjoyed a more successful no-gi season than Junny Ocasio did in 2023.

After years of consistently finding himself on the podium of major IBJJF tournaments but never in the number-one spot, the 34-year-old New Yorker broke that pattern this year, winning gold in the light-feather division at the IBJJF Pans, European Championships, and Worlds.

Ocasio recently spoke to Grappling Insider about his run of dominance, as well as a host of other topics, including what it’s like to train at Unity Jiu-Jitsu, how to develop a dynamic guard game, and his signature “Junny lock.”

Junny Ocasio full interview

While he has been best known for his work on the elite no-gi scene, Ocasio has also regularly competed in the gi. But in 2023, he made the conscious decision to put all of his efforts into the no-gi season, fine tuning his mental and physical preparation’s for the year’s biggest events:

“I sat down with my professor and I decided that I wasn’t going to jump back into gi season, that I didn’t have the hunger for winning the world championship in the gi the way I had the hunger of winning the no-gi scene… I took that six months and continually worked on my mindset and continually worked on my weight-cut process.”

Coming from a troubled background and a traumatic upbringing, Ocasio says that a key factor in his competitive success has been sorting out his mental health:

“I started to realize I needed to work on my mental health and there was something a little more deep than just tournaments. Coming from the type of childhood that I grew up with, a lot of trauma that I didn’t really get to talk about, being so focused throughout the years. I started diving into that.”

Beyond a renewed focus exclusively on no-gi competition and a healthier mental state, Ocasio explains that forcing himself to rest also played a huge role in his success this year.

Naturally, he maintained a rigorous and demanding training schedule throughout the competition season, but would take his foot off the gas pedal in the lead-up to major tournaments:

“The biggest thing, you’d be surprised, when it came time to the tournaments, it was a flex, but I had to rest more. I had to dial it back down the two weeks leading up and do nothing but train and sleep. I started forcing myself to get more sleep, lose some money on privates so that I could get rest, so that I could focus on tournaments… My performance skyrocketed.”

Indeed, Ocasio seems to have found the perfect recipe for success, going undefeated across no-gi Pans, Europeans, and Worlds. During that stretch, he defeated some of the division’s most established names and dangerous up-and-comers, including Roiter Lima, Willis Nunes, and 21-year-old Art of Jiu-Jitsu phenom Zach Kaina.

Ocasio says that facing the difficulties that life and age bring has developed his resilience and championship mindset:

“I represent the people who have jobs, who went through all that stuff, who had to multitask, who had trauma. Going through that really made me mentally strong. I have this weird ability to just endure and push through and talk to myself in a way where I’ll just pick myself back up and say, ‘We’ll do it again. We’ll do it again and we’ll fix it, we’ll do it again and we have time.’”

At an age that most competitors opt for the masters divisions, Ocasio remained in the adult division where he faced significantly younger athletes, many of whom have trained in jiu-jitsu their entire lives. His motivation to achieve greatness never flagged:

“At the end of the day, did you stamp yourself in the history books? That’s important to me. That’s more important to me than anything else in my life, to know that I did something, I reached this goal that I said I was going to do when every single person told me to quit when I was younger, everyone told me I would be nothing… It was a very big motivation, to be like, ‘You know what, I’m gonna do it and I don’t give a f*** what age I am.’”

Ben Coate

Ben has been involved with grappling, whether through wrestling or Brazilian jiu-jitsu, essentially his entire life. After wrestling throughout his childhood, Ben found Brazilian jiu-jitsu as a young adult and quickly fell in love. He has been training for over ten years and currently holds the rank of brown belt, and remains involved in both the MMA and BJJ scene. Ben has been writing about combat sports since 2017. He has interviewed and profiled some of MMA's biggest stars, including multiple UFC champions.

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