For professional featherweight and former BFL amateur lightweight champion Nicolas Ouellet (1-0), who owns and operates Powell River Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu alongside his brother Raphael Ouellet, the uncertainties and compounding stresses of the year 2020 brought what really matters into focus.
Ouellet, 24, who fights in the co-main event of BFL 69 this Friday in Vancouver, B.C. against Toronto, Ont.’s Mike McAloon (4-2), said he is grateful to be in his current position, even if it took a few rocks on the road and unexpected turns to get here.
“I had a plan laid out where I wanted to at least defend my amateur belt, and then go pro,” said Ouellet in an interview with MMA Empire.
“I thought I was a pro amongst amateurs anyways, and I was planning on doing it in 2020, switching to pro, but obviously that didn’t happen because there was no fights going on.”
With no bouts on offer amidst the early peaks and subsequent lockdowns of the pandemic, Ouellet said it was crucial that his family and business alike roll patiently with the punches at any given moment, and to seize any opportunities when they did, eventually, present themselves.
“When I saw that BFL were putting on events again I really wanted on right away because it’d been so long since my last fight and they said they were just doing pro, so I was like ‘might as well go pro now, I’ve wasted a year already’,” he said.
“I was training all the time anyway. It did come a little bit quicker than I expected, but, you know, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”
As the owner of a business, which, by its nature, necessitates physical contact between persons in an enclosed space, Ouellet admits that worst-case scenarios did creep into his mind at times given the acute vulnerabilities.
However, he said he is grateful and indebted to the Powell River community for their unwavering support throughout these ordeals and since, and wants to continue to repay the kindness.
“There was a lot going on, but we have a really good group here and everyone was super supportive and understanding,” Ouellet said.
“Obviously the worry was there, but it wasn’t that bad because of all the support. I grew up here, this is my home, so I want to rep Powell River and rep my gym. It’s a small town—ish, it’s growing every year, but it’s still a small town. Like everyone kind of knows each other and ever since I started fighting everyone’s been mad supportive, so I’m very grateful for the town.”
Ouellet and his brother were first introduced to martial arts through their father via a rather unique form of karate called Yoseikan Budo, which, almost as a preview of their futures in MMA, incorporated certain fundamentals from several outside disciplines, striking and grappling alike.
Perhaps as an organic result of this grappling influence on the style, it didn’t take long for the Ouellet brothers to venture into jiu-jitsu training and, soon after, mixed martial arts—even if the transition wasn’t, in keeping with prior ones, without its challenges and humilities.
“I was a karate black belt when I did my first jiu-jitsu class at 13, and I got my ass kicked by a little girl,” said Ouellet.
“She was young—Abby Lloyd. I don’t know if you’ve heard of her, but she was a judo black belt and a blue belt in jiu-jitsu. I was way bigger than her and a black belt coming in, and I was like ‘okay, I think I can do this; I’ve done a couple throws in my karate class,’ and she mopped the floor with me. Everybody mopped the floor with me, and I was like ‘I have to learn this and focus on it; this is the most effective martial art in the world.'”
It was in this period that Ouellet found himself tossed abruptly into yet another deep end in yet another, unfamiliar discipline, whether or not he was necessarily ready for it.
“It’s funny because when I joined at around 14 there were actually a couple guys training for amateur fights in—what do they call it, Tiger Balm tournaments or something like that—where they were doing MMA fights, and they just threw me in there with a guy who was training for it, and of course he mopped the floor with me too, standing and on the ground. So I was like, ‘man, I have got to get better.’ I kept training with those guys and one thing came after the next,” he said.
“My brother only joined maybe a year and a half after I did, so we were both doing it at the same time, going through the ranks together, going to tournaments together, training a whole bunch, and yeah it was a very similar experience for him. We knew we wanted to do this (MMA) since the beginning; we were idolizing fighters in the UFC, watching all the events with our dad and picturing ourselves being in the cage one day. Our dad always encouraged us to do what we wanted to do and really pushed us to stick to it. We just knew that that was something we wanted to do.”
To have one’s kin pursuing the same dream is a unique position for anyone, but for that dream to be professional cage fighter, with all of the inherent sacrifices and risks, is a post not many in history have manned, let alone would want to.
In navigating these public waters together, Ouellet said he and his brother have always looked to the example set by some of MMA’s most prominent fighter siblings, chief among them Nick and Nate Diaz.
“The Nogueira brothers are a big one for sure, but first was the Diaz brothers. They were our very first love, man,” said Ouellet.
“We fell in love with those guys, their attitude and their fighting style right away. They have slick jiu-jitsu and their striking’s tight, and they have the right approach to the game, in our opinion. Yeah, they were our first love, but there’s the Lauzon brothers too that we were really into. Although you don’t really hear from Joe Lauzon’s brother too much, but they were fun to watch because of the backyard scraps they used to do. Obviously, we don’t do that ourselves but watching that it was like ‘wow, these guys are tough.'”
Although the martial arts are inseparable from the Ouellet brothers’ development, both as fighters and men, Ouellet said he has never lost sight of the real reasons he ultimately trains and competes.
“For sure it’s about showcasing who I am as a person and as a fighter, but that’s kind of just what comes with it,” he said.
“The biggest thing for me is that MMA is a way for me to prove myself to myself. I’m looking to better myself from it because every time you come out of the fight you’ve got something to learn from, and it just legitimizes what I teach in my gym and what I believe in, my approach to the game. Obviously I have big goals in getting the BFL belt, taking it one fight at a time, and making it to the big show. That’s for sure something that I want to do, but I’m not hung up on that. I’m just doing it to better myself and legitimize not only my jiu-jitsu but my striking. I want to test myself and see how good I am, so that’s kind of my goal.”
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