Fifteen months ago, a 20 year old Cris “Sunshine” Williams walked into the doors at Gracie Barra Portland. Standing all of 5’ 9” tall and weighing in at around 150 pounds, Williams was taken aback by the hulking figure that greeted him. As the giant of a man approached, it was none other than Fabiano Scherner. Williams stood as tall as he could, and with all the confidence he could muster, he looked at Scherner and in his toughest voice said, “So I hear this is the best place to train MMA.” That’s how this journey started for Cris Williams, a moment that he laughs about now. At the time, Gracie Barra didn’t have many MMA fighters, but Scherner was happy to take on the young kid to see what kind of potential he had. From his very first day living in Portland, he was committed to finding success inside the doors of Gracie Barra.
Now, fifteen months later, Williams is a blue belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu under Scherner. Earning a blue belt from Scherner in that amount of time is no easy task; Scherner is notoriously slow to advance his students. He has an old school approach that rewards those who work hardest, not those who just show up. Williams took to the mat very well; his past years as a wrestler gave him a great base to work from and he immediately exceled under Scherner’s tutelage.
“I was tapping blue belts, purple belts, brown belts. I was sparing with UFC and Bellator veterans. At first, people would ask how long I had been doing this and I would tell them six months, seven months, whatever. Now it’s been over a year and really, I’m just getting started.”
Williams is not short on confidence, and the fact that he had such success right out of the gate has only made that confidence grow. In the gym, he can at times be singled out because of this, but he believes his confidence is what has made him such a good student and athlete. His success in the gym directly translated to success in the cage as he quickly amassed an 8-0 record as an amateur. Now Williams awaits his first professional fight knowing that he needs to be ready for an offer at a moments notice. In the mean time, he stays in the gym and prepares himself to compete not only in the cage, but also on the mats.
This weekend will mark Williams’ first trip to the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation’s (IBJJF) Jiu Jitsu World Championships. The Jiu Jitsu World Championships, more commonly referred called ‘Worlds’ in jiu jitsu circles, are the tournaments that define a jiu jitsu player’s career. For Williams, this isn’t just another way to prove that he can compete with the best in the world; it’s a chance to prove that he can beat them. This competition will take place without the standard jiu jitsu gi, something Williams actually prefers to wear. However, there is still no hesitation on the part of the young fighter. In fact, he seems to take more pride in knowing he has the chance to best his competitors in a style he trains in less often.
“I hear a lot of people talk crap about the gi. When I started I was doing both [gi and no-gi] … but it got to the point where I was wearing the gi a lot of the time and when I would roll with people without a gi I was just running through guys. Those people would ask me, ‘What do you do?’ and I would tell them, “I train in a gi, bro.”
Williams laughs openly about his love for the gi; he even makes fun of himself for it a little. But all jokes aside, he believes his base is rooted in the fundamentals he learned in a gi and those skills are nothing to laugh at. When you ask him about jiu jitsu, the passion in his voice is clear, but it is his love of the analytical side of the sport, which is clearest.
“I want to show people that it’s not just about how long you’ve been doing it. Obviously experience is important. But getting in the gym, practicing fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals, that’s how you get better. But most importantly, think! Use your brain. So many guys are out there just being robots. This is chess, not checkers. You need to think and be creative. This is human chess!”
Life has not always been easy for Williams. He has been on his own since he was 17 years old and he somehow found a way to pay his bills, go to college, and train to fight. For Williams there was no other option, he didn’t want to stop, he didn’t want to dream small, and he didn’t want to be one-dimensional. He values himself highly and he believes in his valuation because no one has been able to stop him thus far. Even at his lowest, as a sufferer of mental abuse, Cris “Sunshine” Williams found a way to shine bright and work his way to the top. With ‘worlds’ just a few days away Williams is again ready to prove he can bring home the gold and shine just a little bit brighter.