Sask. martial artist wins Brazilian jiu-jitsu gold in Las Vegas

AJ Scales, a black belt Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter who is from the George Gordon First Nation and now lives in Regina, has won the world championship gold medal in the sport.

George Gordon First Nation member A.J. Scales wins gold at world championships, earns 'world master' title

A.J. Scales stands in front of CBC Saskatchewan in Regina holding his gold medal from the 2017 IBJJF World Championships that took place in Las Vegas this past weekend. (Brad Bellegarde/CBC News)

While boxing and mixed martial arts enthusiasts around the world were focused on watching Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Conor McGregor fight this past weekend, one Regina man was preparing for his own fight in Vegas — and he's coming home with a world championship title.

Martial artist A.J. Scales, owner of Complete Martial Arts and Fitness in Regina, was competing in the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation 2017 World Championships.

The Regina-raised member of the George Gordon First Nation won four matches to take the gold medal in his category and the coveted title of "world master."

"I won one match by submission and three by points," he told CBC Radio's Morning Edition.

"In the final match, I was going against a multiple world champion [who] has been a black belt as long as I have been training."

Scales, who started practicing the martial art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu in 1998, said back then there wasn't any real gyms to train in.

"It was still very new," said Scales.

"I started learning out of magazines. I'd go to the 7-Eleven and there was a magazine called "the grappling magazine," and they'd demonstrate moves with pictures," he said with a laugh.

A.J. Scales after receiving his gold medal in Las Vegas to become the 'world master' of his division at the 2017 IBJJF World Championships. (AJ Scales/Instagram)

Scales's long-time training partner and friend Janz Stein said that the now-world master has always been there for him. So Stein was proud of him when he heard the news about the gold-medal win.

According to Stein, from the first time they met in an old basement gym, he and Scales formed a bond that still holds today.

"He became more of a mentor for me than my actual coach was," said Stein.

"From that day on I've always considered A.J. my coach … I think it was the love of the sport and dedication and what it takes to get to the level we are at," he said.   

Stein, who is a former professional mixed martial arts athlete with an undefeated record of 3-0, said Scales was in his corner for every fight. Stein retired from professional fighting due to a dirt-bike accident that forced the amputation of his left leg below the knee.

Now a national para-athlete champion and record holder in long-jump and 100-metre dash events, Stein still turns to Scales for support.

"A.J. is always kind of there for me even though I haven't been around the gym a lot in the last [few] years. He's always there for me and for all his students," said Stein.  

For more than a decade, Scales has competed in tournaments against some of the best in the world, including UFC legend Georges St-Pierre.

After spending years travelling to Brazil to train in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, he always returned to the Queen City.

"I'm from here, my roots are here," said Scales.

"I felt that this is my home and I think I should stay here and pass on jiu-jitsu to people in Saskatchewan."

About the Author

Brad Bellegarde

Reporter for CBC Indigenous based in Saskatchewan

Born and raised in Treaty 4 Territory, he holds an Indian Communication Arts Certificate from the First Nations University of Canada and a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Regina. Follow him on Twitter @BBellegardeCBC

With files from CBC's Morning Edition with Sheila Coles