The legendary Oliver name has re-appeared on the Board of the Don Oliver Youth Sport Foundation with the election to the board of “The Don’s” nephew Marc and, more recently his son, Steve.
Steve is a world champion in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), also known as Mixed Martial Arts, and is a major influence in the New Zealand sport, through his world-class Mixed Martial Arts Academies. These now train hundreds of youngsters in West Auckland and the North Shore and have contributed to MMA becoming one of the fastest growing sports in New Zealand. It is also one of the fastest growing in the world.
Success in the sport is, for many of them, translating into greater all round successes, including greater academic success, Steve told Our West. “Typically they walk in and they’re so shy they won’t meet your eyes; and then you watch them grow and become self assured and confident,” he said. “Parents come and thank us. That happens a lot, it’s not just sometimes; and sometimes they have tears in their eyes. “I believe we have a kids’ programme that is equal to the best in the world,” he said.
“It’s a form of self-defence and that makes it an added plus for girls,” he added, noting that his own daughter Hannah recently won the world junior BJJ title in Los Angeles, making her the third generation of Olivers to have succeeded on the world stage.
He says that his students have to actually compete against other fighters. No one gets hurt but the protagonists get a real understanding of how their sport works and how they would make use of it in a real life situation and that adds to the sense of self-confidence”.
On his return from overseas three years ago, Steve founded the first academy beside his father’s iconic first gym in Glen Eden. He has since opened a second academy on the North Shore and sees his work with youngsters as something of an extension of the work his father did with many youth.
Steve recently helped organise the National No Ji championships at The Trusts Arena. This BJJ event is the largest held in New Zealand, featuring more than 300 competitors and between 900 and 1,000 fights. Sky TV is now proposing to run a pilot show on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, with Steve as the host.
Steve started as a boxer who wanted to wrestle. Like his father Don, who was a wrestler who took up weightlifting to build his strength, Steve took up power-lifting and became the first New Zealand junior to medal at a world championships, with a silver in the bench press and third overall. Then in 1995 he saw BJJ on a DVD and decided that was where he wanted to place his focus.
He studied first in Los Angeles under Rickson Gracie and later in Sydney. Rickson (pronounced the Portugese way as Hickson) is a black belt 8th dan Grand Master of the Gracie Barre discipline that now has some 600 schools world wide. He is a member of a martial arts dynasty started by his father Helio. Steve trained under Rickson and alongside Rickson’s son, the late Rockson Gracie.
Along the way he has earned a Black Belt, a world title and a clutch of Australian titles.
Having been invited to join the board of the Don Oliver Youth Sport Foundation, Steve is very keen to help the Foundation that honours his father (and still has his mother as Patron) develop in the future. “I’m full of ideas for ways that we can help our West Auckland kids,” he says.