Bill Cooper was watching the Lakers/Bulls game while his father and sister were arguing in front of the television.
Bill was used to the yelling, so he ignored them until a Slurpee flew across the living room at his dad.
When the icy red drink exploded all over the wall, his father clenched his fists and started charging after Bill’s sister.
Bill jumped up and rushed towards his father. They started brawling on the floor until Bill ended up on his back with his dad towering above.
“He grabbed my neck,” Bill said. “So I spun my hips and sunk in an arm bar.”
Bill cinched the lock tight and yelled for his sister call the police.
“Let me go,” his dad hollered, but Bill held onto his arm for the three minutes it took the police to arrive.
When they were young, Bill’s father was a violent disciplinarian.
“I did some suicide missions before, but this one was different,” Bill said. “This was the first time I stood up to him and won.”
At sixteen years old, that was a turning point in Bill’s life.
Four years later, Bill Cooper became the youngest American to ever earn the coveted Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt.
Bill’s list of tournament victories is long with 27 Grappler’s Quest Championships and several world championship medals at various belts and weight classes. Bill has always been a crowd favorite, partly because 29 of his 41 Jiu-Jitsu victories ended by submission. Also at twenty years old, Bill began fighting in MMA and has racked up a five win, one loss record.
Before Jiu-Jitsu, Bill was a bit of a nerdy kid that played the role of the class clown for attention. He did not have many friends and was occasionally bullied, so he became a “little stoner kid,” gravitating towards other rebellious students.
Bill’s dream was to become a professional skater, but that changed when he ran into Jeff Glover. When Bill was thirteen years old, Jeff invited him to his first Jiu-Jitsu class with instructor Ricardo “Franjinha” Miller.
Bill was intrigued watching that class, but after wrestling with other students, he was hooked. Bill had dabbled in other sports, but Jiu-Jitsu was different. “It was a fucking eye opener.”
Before Jiu-Jitsu, Bill avoided situations where men could exert power over him. He is not sure why, but Franjinha was the first man Bill trusted to bark at him like a drill sergeant.
“I didn’t feel comfortable going to friends’ houses when their father was home,” Bill said. “I was very intimidated.”
Bill has fond memories of his father, but explained that his childhood was not easy.
“I always hoped my dad would pull out the belt,” Bill said. “Because sometimes he’d just ball up his fist and hit you, man. It was scary.”
There were times the police came to their house when Bill was young.
“I remember crying a couple of times because they’d have my parents in handcuffs.”
Bill was about 16 years old the day he stood up to his father in the living room, but his transformation began earlier. After his first Jiu-Jitsu class at 13 years old, Bill eventually dedicated the majority of his time to the sport.
“I started cleaning my act up around high school.” If I wasn’t at the academy, I was home, watching Jiu-Jitsu videos,” Bill said. “I was too tired to get into trouble.”
Shortly into his freshman year, Bill was hospitalized with a ruptured appendix.
Bill said it turned out to be a blessing because he never returned to high school and instead earned his diploma through independent study. He did a couple of hours of study in the mornings and then spent the rest of his days at the gym.
He attended the morning Jiu-Jitsu class, taught the afternoon kids’ classes and then returned for the advanced class at night. During the breaks he cleaned the mats and taught private lessons to earn some spending money. Jiu-Jitsu essentially became his full time job while in high school.
Bill competed as often as he could, suggesting that the lessons in one tournament may be worth two months of classes. Bill’s confidence began to blossom when he started winning blue belt tournaments at the age of sixteen.
“Seeing grown ass men give me respect,” Bill said. “They wanted to take my picture and come train with me. That was cool. I started walking with my chin up for sure.”
The kids Bill grew up with began changing their attitude too.
“They used to treat me like shit, but when I tapped fools out, they started giving me respect.”
As Bill became more outgoing, he expressed that confidence on the mat with flashy techniques.
“Break dancing helped me a lot,” Bill said as he described his earlier passion. “Doing flares, windmills and all this acrobatic shit. It’s like a doing a flying triangle — it’s flashy, but you can finish a match in seconds.”
In the middle of matches, Bill has been known to pull off a flair or other break dancing move when the referee separates them.
“Sometimes it would intimidate them,” Bill says of his opponent. “And sometimes they laugh.”
Bill has picked up other mind games too.
“I have to thank Glover for this trick.” Bill said. “The first time he did it to me, we were rolling and I almost got a lapel choke, but instead of tapping, Jeff told him, ‘You’re close son.’”
“It pissed me off and I started wasting energy,” Bill explained. “He was getting in my head. I liked that and started doing it myself.”
Bill’s tournament success led to many new opportunities including teaching seminars all over the world. When he was a purple belt, he got offers to take over gyms and by the time he was a black belt at twenty, he had his own academy.
“That’s when I kind of I got thrown off track,” Bill said. “I didn’t know where to go. Should I do MMA, Jiu-Jitsu or run a school?”
Bill explained that it is impossible to excel as a practitioner, competitor, fighter and teacher. You have to dedicate to one of them to do it right.
It was at Bill’s school where he met the mother of his children. When he returned from teaching a seminar in Turkey, she was at the academy and their whirlwind romance began. Within a couple of months she was pregnant with their first child.
“She was a feisty one,” Bill said. “I liked it man. I was attracted to that.”
He admits they both had jealousy issues and things often got loud between them. There were times when one or the other got violent and the police had to come separate them.
There was one incident that significantly impacted Bill’s fight career. After reuniting from a break up, they began arguing over a text messages on his phone.
“I grabbed the phone and she bit me on my chest,” Bill said.
He told her to leave and she said, “Make me.”
Bill grabbed her by the ankles and started dragging, but when they got to the front door, she braced herself against the door frame.
She was only 110 pounds, but he could not get her through the doorway. He planted his foot against the door frame and started pushing for leverage.
“Wham! My knee buckled,” Bill said. “My knee went the wrong way. We’re talking almost a 90-degree wrong angle.”
Bill gritted through the excruciating pain and popped his knee back into place.
“See, that’s what you get, asshole!” she said.
That was the beginning of a six year struggle of pain and frustration. In hindsight, Bill should have had ACL surgery immediately, but instead he nursed it for nine months before returning to the gym.
“I couldn’t get good training sessions in because my knee kept popping out,” Bill said. “Tournaments were painful, so I couldn’t compete as much and I started getting depressed.”
Bill had an undefeated amateur MMA record, and two professional wins, but then he suffered his first MMA loss. That really brought him down.
The knee problem affected him outside the mats too.
“I was carrying my daughter in the park,” Bill said. “My knee was slightly bent, just at a weird angle, and it dislocated right there.”
“I started sweating man, I was …” Bill paused and shook his head while remembering the discomfort of the story.
“I was trying to be real cool and not panic. I’m like, ‘Holy shit, my knee’s out!’ She’s two and a half and just starting to run. I can’t chase her down.”
As Bill’s fight career struggled, sponsorship contracts began drying up compounding problems by adding financial pressures.
“I was always promising my fiancée that things would get better, but they never did,” Bill said. “My leg was always fucked up.”
“I was depressed,” Bill said. “I didn’t want to do Jiu-Jitsu anymore. That’s how depressed I was.”
As Bill was going through this, he was out late one night having a drink in L.A. and crossed paths with a friend also going through hard times.
“Hey, you want to try something that will help?” the friend told Bill.
“That started the whole fucking cycle,” Bill said. “You get a little lick or two of courage and it opens a whole new door.”
For about a year and a half he was smoking methamphetamine and heroine.
“It was a big problem,” Bill said. “I wasn’t getting any sleep. I was disorganized. I wasn’t competitive. I wouldn’t show up for my classes and I was missing flights, too. I was neglecting everything.”
Bill was in denial. He could see the symptoms of other drug users, but not in himself.
“You think you’re up on your shit,” Bill said. “But you’re absolutely not. I was an addict. I was doing it every day. I had to. I needed it.”
I asked Bill how it all ended.
“I was chasing her with a fucking samurai sword and fifteen cops came.”
He had been awake for over twenty straight days on a drug binge when his kid’s mother came late to pick up their son.
Their son started crying because he wanted to stay with Bill but she grabbed the child and ripped him from Bill’s arms.
Bill was furious and walked back in the house and slammed the door, catching his dad’s attention. When he went into his room he saw his samurai sword and decided he could slash her car tires to keep her from leaving with the kids.
When Bill stormed out of his room with the sword, his dad called the police.
“As I walked out onto sidewalk, I’m like, ‘Oh, shit. What’s up?’” Bill explained when he saw the police officers outside his home.
Bill went to county jail which led to drug and alcohol court and learning to get sober. Bill went through a six month program. He had a couple of relapses, but as I was talking to him, he had been sober for nine months.
“That gave me some time to heal, and so far so good, man.”
Bill decided it was finally time to get his knee fixed. He was tired of people asking about his comeback and was done attempting professional MMA fights on a completely torn ACL.
Seven months before our interview, doctors put a cadaver ligament in his knee and he is beginning to rehabilitate.
“I can’t wait till I get back in that cage, man,” Bill said. “MMA is where my heart is at right now.”
Bill said it is intimidating being out of action for a year, but he has a new game plan.
He walked me through his plan to strengthen his knee and resume hard training and hopefully get a contract to fight by the end of the year for his comeback.
I kept in touch with Bill for several months after our interview, and he was still training hard in the gym.
Bill was invited to the Eddie Bravo Invitational tournament, where he shocked the world.
After being out of the tournament scene for a long time, he fought his way through the tournament bracket, won three matches and made it to the finals.
Bill did not stop there.
The following weekend, Bill won the Fight To Win Pro super-fight convincingly with a submission.
Bill is back.
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This interview is part of the book, “Motivation: Stories of Life and Success From Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belts.” Click HERE to get it at Amazon.
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