PORTLAND – Zordan Holman of Cheverus is president of his sophomore class. He’s a three-sport athlete: football, basketball and track. And now he’s also a world champion in Brazilian jiu-jitsu for his age group and weight class.

Holman, 17, won the heavyweight division in the 16-17 age group of the North American Grappling Association World Championships, held April 20-21 in Morristown, N.J.

Holman actually earned two championships. He won the competition that follows North American Grappling Association rules, and another that goes by Brazilian jiu-jitsu rules. His weight class was 200 pounds and over.

“If I were to explain what Brazilian jiu-jitsu is to someone who doesn’t know, I would say it’s like wrestling,” said Holman.

“You start in a standing position and look for a takedown. It’s how well you fight on your back that determines your success. The goal is to get your opponent to tap out or submit by putting enough pressure on the joints (wrist, ankle, knee, hip) so that they tap out.”

“There’s also a point system. You can win by accumulating the most points. The matches are four minutes. It’s a very humbling sport. You try to put your opponent in some kind of discomfort. There’s a good chance you can get hurt.”


Holman noted that several contestants in other divisions were taken out on stretchers.

“My mother was watching me compete for the first time,” he said. “No mother wants to see her son get hurt.”

To prepare for the world championships, Holman trained for two months, four days a week. He trains at Team 1 BJJ and the Choi Institute of Mixed Martial Arts, both in Portland.

Holman’s instructor, Matt Dehlinger, the owner of Choi Institute, said Holman was talented in martial arts at an early age.

“Most people move up to grapple with adults when they are 15,” said Dehlinger. “Zordan was so big and athletic, we moved him up when he was 13.

“But he had a hard time fighting adults at first because he felt it was the improper thing to do. You have to really attack your opponent, and Zordan didn’t want to do that.


“Something changed when he was around 16. I saw this explosiveness in his fighting. He has complete confidence against everyone. No one wants to fight him. If they do, they have to take the next session off.”

Dehlinger believes Holman could have a strong future in mixed martial arts if he wants to pursue it.

“I told him there’s a competition later in the summer in mixed martial arts, but it would require training all summer. Zordan said let’s do it,” said Dehlinger.

Holman said he entered the tournament with a sprained thumb and a pulled rib from training with older and stronger opponents.

“Training for a competition gets you in fantastic shape. You have to be, because after four minutes of fighting you’re mentally and physically exhausted,” he said.

Holman said it’s difficult to find contestants in his age and weight division.


At the world championships, there was only one other competitor in his division; he beat that opponent twice to win his two titles.

“There just aren’t that many kids that big,” he said.

Holman is 6-foot-6 and 205 pounds. He said his opponent, a native of Romania who now lives in Philadelphia, was 6-2, 220 and very strong. Holman made him tap out both times.

Holman’s father, Mladen, also competes in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and introduced his son to the sport. Mladen took second in the 50-and-over division at the world championships.

Holman was born in Croatia. His family moved to Portland at the beginning of 2000 to escape civil and religious persecution. He has an older and younger sister.

“When we left, it was pandemonium. It’s settled down more now,” he said.


Holman plays tight end and defensive end and is also a kicker for the Cheverus football team. In basketball, he’s a center. In outdoor track, he throws the shot put and runs the 100 and 200.

Training for Brazilian jiu-jitsu gets Holman in great shape for his other sports, he said.

Next year, Holman will have to move up to a much more challenging division in Brazilian jiu-jitsu — age 18 to 30.

“It’s going to be different going against men,” he said.

Holman has another year before he has to start thinking seriously about college. That’s definitely in his plans, but so is serving in the military. His father was a general in the Croatian army.

“My father and grandfather were in the military,” said Holman.


Holman, a United States citizen, wants to serve in the Marine Corps.

“I want to serve my country and thank the United States for a second chance at life,” he said.

Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at:


Twitter: TomChardPPH


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