As the crowd cheered and clapped from the stands, Almir Kapic collapsed to the ground in the arena, unable to fight back tears.
The 38-year-old Bosnian had just come out on top to be crowned Ultra Heavyweight champion in the brown belt division at the World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship, held last month in Abu Dhabi.
Standing on the podium, Kapic was ecstatic as he proudly held up the Bosnia and Herzegovina flag.
“I couldn’t believe it … I started to cry from happiness,” Kapic told Al Jazeera of his win.
The gruelling training and years of perseverance and sacrifices had finally paid off.
“I achieved what I dreamed of in the world of jiu-jitsu – to become a champion and to tie the master belt.”
Kapic holds up the Bosnian flag at the awarding ceremony in Abu Dhabi [Almir Kapic/Al Jazeera]
Started from the bottom
For the martial artist, it’s been a long journey to the top of the world.
Hailing from the small town of Banovici, Kapic’s earliest years were marked with a struggle to survive as a bloody war ripped Bosnia apart in the early 1990s.
He was just 13 when his father was shot and killed by a Serbian sniper during the nearly four-year war.
Left with his mother, he recalls hav