William Tackett has been dreaming about competing at the ADCC World Championships since his first day of jiu-jitsu. So when he won the ADCC West Coast Trials in early April, Tackett not only punched his ticket to the World Championships in September, but also realized a dream that was over a decade in the making.
“I started jiu-jitsu at eight years old,” Tackett told Grappling Insider, “and I immediately started watching jiu-jitsu because our coach, who was a big jiu-jitsu nerd, would always play jiu-jitsu during class on the big TV, and I was always watching the ADCC’s since I was eight years old, like I want to compete in that someday.”
Tackett had come painfully close to qualifying for ADCC before, placing second in the previous two Trials events. His win at the West Coast Trials — the biggest Trials event ever — represented the culmination of years of work.
For Tackett, his accomplishment hasn’t yet fully sunken in.
“It feels amazing,” he said. “It’s been a pretty long run so far. I’ve been trying to win the Trials for quite a while now, so it’s still pretty surreal. I don’t think that I’ve fully grasped the fact that I’ve won it yet, but I’m really just happy and even more thankful that I’ve been around such a good team and put in a place where I could do such a thing like win the Trials.”
To win the massive 77 kg division at the West Coast Trials, Tackett had to beat seven competitors over the course of two days. He submitted his first five opponents. In the final, Tackett defeated Andy Varela by points in one of the most entertaining matches of the entire tournament. Tackett’s performance that weekend was almost universally praised.
Tackett, though, sees room for improvement.
“On a scale from one to ten, I would rate myself about a seven at that last Trials, based on what I think I can do. I think I performed really, really well. That was probably my best performance to date, but I don’t think that was my full capability. I think the perfect performance, that I know I’m capable of, would have been submitting everyone with ease at that Trials.”
Tackett showed a wide variety of skills across his seven matches. Whether he’s hunting for leg locks from his guard, wrestling for takedowns on the feet, or dominating position on the mat, Tackett’s overall jiu-jitsu game often defies definition; he seems to be dangerous everywhere. That dynamic game, says Tackett, is the result of years of experience competing in different rulesets, training with different people.
“I’ve trained with a lot of different guys over the years and tried to implement a lot of different styles and tactics, competed in a lot of different rulesets, so I think that’s led to me having a very diverse game.”
Initially, Tackett competed almost exclusively in IBJJF and points-based tournaments, which allowed him to develop his positional awareness and focus on control. Later, when he was an adolescent, he began competing in submission-only events, which developed his submission-hunting tendencies.
In many ways, Tackett’s game seems tailor-made for ADCC competition. He is an excellent submission-only grappler for the first half of the match, and when points come into play for the second half, Tackett can play a positionally-oriented game to secure points.
While that experience competing in a variety of rulesets certainly helped Tackett at Trials, the key to his success is likely obvious: his upbringing.
“It was a lot of jiu-jitsu from a young age,” Tackett said about his childhood.
Jiu-jitsu is a family affair for the Tacketts. William started at eight, Andrew at six, and Caleb at three.
Because the Tacketts were home schooled, they didn’t have the opportunity to compete in many traditional scholastic sports like wrestling. William tried other sports, and even other martial arts, but jiu-jitsu hooked him from the beginning.
“We did sports like soccer or gymnastics, but I don’t really recall those years too much. “I just remember once we started jiu-jitsu, just a lot of jiu-jitsu. As soon as we finished up schooling, it was like, go outside and play, do whatever else we need to do, then head straight to the gym. We were always early to the gym trying to be the first there, first on the mats, and stay late. I would even stay for the adult class… Our coach didn’t really like us rolling with the adults because he didn’t want us to get hurt, but sometimes we would sneak on there and roll with the adults.”
Naturally, Tackett is close with his brothers, both of whom also competed at the West Coast Trials. Andrew is just two years younger than William, and after a strong showing at Trials, seems poised to follow in his brother’s footsteps in the coming years. And while Andrew will likely find similar success, he’s certainly no carbon copy of William.
“We’re almost polar opposites when it comes to jiu-jitsu,” said Tackett. “Andrew is almost chaotic. It’s like planned scrambles. He has very chaotic jiu-jitsu, but it’s very beautiful because it’s planned, planned chaos.”
Tackett, who has recently dipped his toes in the waters of jiu-jitsu commentary, shines when he’s talking in detail about grappling. In breaking down his brother Andrew’s game, William sees plenty of differences.
“My jiu-jitsu is quite opposite. It’s extremely tricky and I have every moved planned out… It’s the exact opposite of movement and scrambles. I try to stay in control of the match the entire time… There’s strengths and weaknesses to both of what we have. For him, he misses position a lot… I’m not as likely to pull the trigger as he would, and maybe that’s a downfall for me. Versus for him, he sometimes pulls the trigger too often. So we need a little bit of each other. Training with each other really helps balance each other out.”
It makes sense that Tackett, who has obsessed over jiu-jitsu since childhood and dreamed about competing at the ADCC World Championships, is a happy person. He has, after all, achieved a lifelong dream by qualifying for the tournament.
But as trite as it may sound, Tackett derives joy from the journey, not the destination. Because accomplishments and title aside, Tackett is still essentially just a kid that loves jiu-jitsu.
“Jiu-jitsu is my happy place… I’m getting to do what I love.”