Kasilof’s Sean Babitt comes off quiet, soft-spoken and unassuming.
But ask the competitor that Babitt beat for a world championship gold medal in June, and a different picture is painted.
Babitt, 17, won a gold at the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation World Championships tournament June 1 in Long Beach, California.
Thursday at Redemption MMA, which stands for mixed martial arts, in Soldotna, Babitt was back practicing as his usual unassuming self, which belies his strength and skill.
Redemption MMA coach George Grossman said Babitt has quietly become one of the club’s best students.
“We knew he’s good, we know he’s very capable,” Grossman said. “But at the same time, you never know until you go up against the best.
“It’s amazing. To come from a small town in Alaska and succeed on the highest level is amazing, because we’re not a big academy here.”
Grossman said Redemption MMA works with around 100 competitors, ranging from youth grapplers to adults.
As a blue belt, Babitt still has a long way to go to earn the highest honor in the sport, a black belt. But his success in a short six years has been remarkable to say the least. In addition to the world championship, Babitt has eight Alaska state titles to his name. He became just the third grappler from Redemption MMA to win a world title.
At the world championships in June, Babitt competed in two divisions — the Juvenile 2 heavyweight division and the Brazilian jiu-jitsu absolute division.
He lost his first match in the absolute division, which includes all ages and weight levels. Babitt found himself competing against a bigger opponent.
But in the Juvenile 2 heavyweight bracket, Babitt was able to advance to the final, where he defeated Leon da Silva Mendonca of Kronos BJJ. Babitt said the accomplishment took a while to sink in since he came into the tournament with no expectations.
“It kind of was a placement test almost,” Babitt said.
Babitt’s father, Jeff, called the world championships the “Olympics of jiu-jitsu,” and said he has high hopes for his son in the sport.
“My prediction is he’s going to the Olympics some day,” Jeff said by phone Thursday. “It’s hard to find a 17-year-old who makes no money and coaches little kids and works that hard.”
The Babitt family lives and works as farmers in Kasilof, where Sean puts in long hours helping with whatever needs to be done. That includes hammering poles, hauling building supplies in the summer and hauling firewood in the winter. The family operates a logging business as well.
Currently home-schooled, Babitt said he puts in about four hours a day at Redemption MMA in addition to his sports team practices at SoHi, where he competes in cross-country in the fall, wrestling in the winter and track and field in the spring. Babitt was ranked as high as second in the state last year in his weight class for high school wrestling.
With long hours spent on the farm, in school sports practices and hiking in the Alaska backcountry, Babitt has been able to build up his strength and conditioning to high levels.
Babitt said the next big competition he’ll be preparing for is the state submission grappling BJJ tournament in October.
“Just got to get ready for the next one,” Babitt said. “I just love grappling.”
Redemption MMA was founded by Isaac Kolesar in 2010 and has rapidly become a state powerhouse. Redemption MMA has produced three world champions in the sport, and the club is the defending kids team state champions in submission grappling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, while the adults are the defending BJJ champs.
Babitt said he is funding his own tournament trips out of pocket while he searches for sponsorship to help out in the long term. Grossman said a large chunk of funds typically come from sponsorship, and that the best way to gain the attention is through social media.
“The main medium of sponsorship in this sport is still Instagram and Facebook,” Grossman said. “Most of this sport happens on social media.”
Grossman said anyone who makes their name known in the sport is usually sponsored by big Brazilian jiu-jitsu companies, which Babitt hopes will take notice soon.