Interview with Dominique Bell: IBJJF Purple Belt MW World Champ


You may have heard about Dominique Bell. He’s a purple belt from Atos. He’s an amazing cartoonist (we’ll call him Doodle Dom). And now he’s the current IBJJF middleweight purple belt World Champion.

I first heard about Dominique Bell at a local tournament in Charlotte, North Carolina. Someone mentioned to me “Watch this dude, he’s awesome.” Sure enough he demolished some poor local jiu jitsu player in less than a minute. If you’ve ever waited the 142 hours to have a match at the purple belt level at a local tournament, you know that by the time you step out there you are often times exhausted and disappointed despite the outcome. If you win you wished you had more matches and if you lose you’re disappointed you waited all day for one match. Not Dubious Dom. You could see it on his face. He wasn’t fatigued. He wasn’t disappointed he’d waited all day to demolish someone in a few seconds. You could see his passion.

The next time I saw him compete was at a local MMA FightLab event. The last few months they’ve been featuring Jiu Jitsu matches between the fights in an effort to expose and perhaps build respect for the grappling aspect of mixed martial arts. Based on the fact that they still chant “Booooooring! Booooooring!” when fighters end up on the ground, I’m not sure how much headway they’ve made. Dom had a tough match in the cage but still came out on top. I’m guessing it was one of the first times the 1000 patrons had seen spider guard in the octagon. We don’t have much modern game around these here parts.

I finally met Dom a few months later when he showed up to a Sunday open mat we have that rotates around schools in the area. An open mat people told me would never work because of politics in jiu jitsu. But this aint Cali, and it’s hard to find a single school with multiple blacks, browns, and purples. So he’d driven nearly 2 hours on a Sunday to come train. We had a great roll. Respectful. He seemed indefatigable. In the following months he continued to come train as we all got ready for IBJJF Atlanta that year. I’d say the most notable aspect about Dom was his laid back demeanor and positive attitude. In a sport saturated with douchebags it was remarkable to meet someone seemingly without ego despite his skill level.

Our division was a tough one in Atlanta that year. In purple belt middleweight there were two gi world champs, one nogi world champ, a D1 wrestler, and some guy from Europe who ended up winning. Dom lost first round in a tournament he’d won the year before. His girlfriend Heather did end up winning her division though, so there was some vicarious celebration.

Dom was only at open mat for a few more months after that. He’d made up his mind to move to California and train at Atos with some of the best players in the world. Seven months later he won worlds.

As for the rest of us we’ve watched some local purple belt from the South East US go from being simply one of the best guys around to a world champion in a short amount of time. Let’s examine what happened in those seven months and before he even got into jiu jitsu with a set of perhaps often unasked questions:

Did you compete in other sports growing up? If so, what were they?

No, none. I spent all my time drawing or playing video games. No sport I ever tried really pulled me in. I remember especially disliking basketball. My friend would drag me to the local rec to play against “hardcore ballers” that took it way too seriously. They would completely smash me, and trash talk the entire time. “GIMME THAT ROCK” they would exclaim loudly, as they smacked the ball out of my uncoordinated hands.

How long have you been doing BJJ? When and with whom did you start?

I’ve been training Jiu Jitsu for a little over 4 years. I started training at a local club on base under a blue belt (I was in the Army), strictly no-gi, as it was as close to UFC’ing as I could get without being bludgeoned in the head. I did that for about a year off and on, then finally donned the gi when I moved to Germany. Having prior experience slamming people in their closed guards, I quickly moved through the ranks. I was a white belt for 4 months, then blue for around 8 months, then purple. I’ve been a purple since.
What was it like when you finally got to Atos? Had you been in contact with Galvao before?

I wasn’t in contact with anyone before I arrived. I figure I didn’t need to. It’s a business, so I just showed up, payed for a year, and started training. I do remember first arriving and hearing that the competition class was invite only. So, desperately wanting that invite, I rolled with Andre one of the first days I was here. I thought to myself “Of course I can’t beat him, but if I just show that I won’t quit, that I can fight hard, I’ll get the invite!” I ended up pushing myself well past my threshold that roll (while Andre just danced all over me, smiling the entire time), and nearly fainted when we went to bow out. I got the invite though!
What would you say the biggest difference in training is? I feel like we can all see an intensity difference and the constant pushups in between rolls increases that but do you guys discuss strategy? How much do you train? How long do you drill vs. live rolling? Do you do other exercises? Cross train at AOJ?

The BIGGEST difference right off the bat, is the quality of the training partners. There is an incredibly wealthy pool of talent on these mats every day.

Yes, strategy is discussed quite a bit, and is even taken into account when we drill techniques. Andre might show an x-guard finish, but caveat by saying “guys, if the guy is running out of bounds, do this this and this to make sure you get your points and not an advantage”. Just one example of many.

Drilling is a big part of the warm ups. I really like Liera’s classes, because they involve a lot of meat-and-potatoes drilling. We do tons of speed drills to finish comp class as well. Just being familiar doing these techniques in exhaustion I feel like is a big part of it. A lot of the drilling takes place during non-class hours though. Just shooting a text to a teammate and meeting up to drill for an hour is pretty normal. As far as the ratio of drilling/live rolling, live rolling is heavily favored. 80/20 live rolling.

We do. We do strength and conditioning a few times a week. This was really hard to adapt to at first, but now I’m fine with it physically. I’m really trying to learn to love lifting.

We cross train twice a week with AOJ during comp season.
What’s it like rolling with the best in the world every day? Do you ever get any positive position or are you always the nail?

Sure, I get the occasional pass or sweep, but if I roll with one of the studs, I’m usually the nail. The trick is to catch them when they’re tired ;)haha

How much acai and quinoa do you have to eat to win a world championship? In all seriousness, what’s your diet like?

Haha, I actually do eat a lot of quinoa. Leading up to comps, I eat clean all week, mixing it up. My big food items that I love are chicken, avocado, eggs, broccoli,, tons of fruit, oatmeal, yadda ya. I’ll have something decadent on the weekends, like a pint of Cherry Garcia 🙂

I know you were in the military. Is that how you’re paying for life? So many people wonder how they’d afford full time training…..

I lived super frugally during my time in the Army, so right now I’m living through my savings. This fall I might start school though, so my GI Bill would take over my cost of living then.

What’s your strategy and mental preparation like? Do you adjust your strategy based on your opponent? Do you follow a specific set of movements or do you just ad lib?

I’m a big believer in visualization. I try to keep all my thoughts positive and focused on myself. I don’t look at my brackets, because I feel like it draws my thoughts to my opponent’s strengths instead of my own.

I don’t adjust my strategy much. I believe that if you drastically change your strategy for your opponent, you’re kind of admitting that they have something that can beat you. Why can’t it be the other way around? Let them change their strategy to try and circumnavigate your incredible passing, or sick back takes, or whatever, and you just do what you’re good at.

I’ll caveat by saying I do change my strategy mid match. If I’m up on points, I’m not going to do something reckless and lose. I still try and play smart.

What’s your favorite position to play? Seems like closed guard (perhaps some Liera jr. influence?)

I actually favor single-leg x as my go-to sweeping position at the moment. I happened to use a lot of closed guard in my matches because I felt it was the smartest position to play at the time.

You took a tough loss at Pans, how did you adjust your training after the loss for worlds?

I could say that it made me hungrier, but I felt just as strongly motivated as before. If anything, it was validating, and let me know that I belonged on the podium at a big stage like that. It dramatically boosted my confidence.

Do you do anything fun? How late do you stay up? Do you ever eat ice cream? Are you taking college classes?

My fun consists of the beach, open mat, and playing Smash Bros with Keenan, Andris, Pete, and Liera. They take that game way too seriously by the way.

I’d ask you your future goals but I’m assuming they’re to win more jiu jitsu tournaments. Do you have any nogi goals? What’s the next tournament you’re doing? Long term goals? Are they solely jiu jitsu related?

No-gi isn’t really my passion, but I still have love for it. I think once I crosstrain it more during this next camp, I’ll have bigger ambitions no-gi, but for now no-gi worlds doesn’t excite me very much.

Next tournament is American Nationals in Vegas. It’s gi and no-gi, so I’m trying to decide what to do about that.

Long term goals? To provide for myself with Jiu Jitsu, and to blend my love for illustration and art with my Jiu Jitsu career.
Do you ride a skateboard?

No, although I had a sick Dragon Ball Z skateboard when I was 11. I remember trying to show a neighbor how to ollie, and eating pavement super hard. I said nothing, got up, and ran home from embarrassment.

Any sponsors you’d like to thank?
Miss you buddy. Glad you’re jiu jitsu journey has been so successful, but more importantly your life journey.

Yes, my only sponsor Order and Progress. They take good care of their athletes, and have sick gear to boot.

I miss you guys too. I’m going to hit up another Oss Snap open mat before long brother 🙂

Click for a link to Dom’s doodles!


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