Keenan Cornelius – BJJ Athlete

Keenan Cornelius
Date of Birth:February 25th, 1992
Place of Birth:Hilo, Hawaii, U.S.
Nicknames:Black Belt Hunter, Cat boy, Keenus
Team:Legion Jiu Jitsu
Location: San Diego, California
Height:6 ft 2 in (1.88 m)
Weight:195 lb (88 kg; 13.9 st)
Weight Class:Middle-heavyweight (2012-present), Middleweight (2011-2012), Lightweight (2008-2011)
Martial Arts Records: 183-34
Notable Championships: 4x IBJJF No-Gi World Champion (Black Belt, 2x Brown Belt, Purple Belt), 3x IBJJF World Champion(Brown Belt, 2x Purple Belt), 7x IBJJF Pan Champion(3x Black Belt, 2x Brown Belt, 2x Purple Belt, 7x IBJJF European Open Champion(3x Black Belt, 2x Brown Belt, 2x Purple Belt)

Keenan Cornelius’ entry into Jiu Jitsu

Keenan Cornelius was born in Hawaii and his father Tom Callos was a 6th degree Taekwondo black belt. His father, Tom is actually the one responsible for introducing BJ Penn to Jiu Jitsu.

Although when Tom tried to introduce Keenan to Taekwondo, his son had no interest in the martial art. It wasn’t until Cornelius was 14 when he would first discover Jiu Jitsu.

Callos was a big MMA fan and at the time was a BJJ blue belt. Tom would turn his garage into a gym for Keenan and his friends to train. 

They would tinker with techniques they would see in MMA fights and Callos would show what he knew. After being given a green belt by black belt Carlos Valente after a belt exam, Keenan would meet Cassio Wernecke.

Cornelius would join Wernecke’s gym for a short time, but the gym was too far from his parent’s home.

Then through his father’s connection to BJ Penn, his father would take him to Penn’s gym in Hilo. He enjoyed training at Penn’s gym and would enroll at Hilo University just so he could train there.

Keenan Cornelius

Keenan Cornelius moves to Lloyd Irvin’s Academy

Keean Cornelius would spend two years at BJ Penn’s academy and earn his purple belt. Unfortunately for Keenan, BJ was still an active fighter and rarely taught at his gym.

The gym was also more No-Gi based and Keenan wanted to train more Gi Jiu Jitsu. That’s when his old training partner Andris Brunovskis would make a proposition to Keenan.

Brunovskis trained with Lloyd Irvin and invited Keenan to come with him to Maryland and train with Irvin. Cornelius jumped at the opportunity to train at an elite gym and further develop his skills.

Keenan Cornelius wins multiple championships at purple & brown belt

Under Lloyd Irvin’s coaching, Keenan would develop into the best colored belt BJJ athlete in the world. At purple belt, he would win every major IBJJF championship

Winning the 2011 IBJJF No-Gi Championship before winning gold at every major tournament in 2012. This amazing streak would earn Keenan his brown belt.

At brown belt, he would win a combined 7 gold medals in all of the major BJJ tournaments.

Keenan Cornelius moves to Atos Jiu Jitsu

In 2013, members of Lloyd Irvin’s team were accused of gang raping a female teammate. Then after another female student came to Keenan and claimed Irvin molested her, he had heard enough.

Keenan would break ties with Irvin and move to Atos Jiu Jitsu under André Galvão. Pretty soon after moving to Atos, Galvão would give Cornelius his black belt.

In his first years with Atos, Keenan would win the IBJJF Pan Championship and the IBJJF No-Gi Championships Winning his first two major Jiu Jitsu titles as a black belt.

Under Galvão, Keenan would take his skills to an elite level. Training all over the world and winning numerous competitions.

Being one of the most active BJJ competitors in the world from 2014-2018. Competing in nearly every IBJJF competition in the world and various pro Jiu Jitsu competitions.

Keenan Cornelius
Keenan Cornelius

Keenan Cornelius’ runs at ADCC

Keenan Cornelius so far has competed in 3 ADCC World Championships. The 2013, 2015, and 2017 championship.

His first ADCC appearance in 2013 was right after his split with Lloyd Irvin. Competing in the 88 kg and absolute division. 

In the 88 kg division, Cornelius would win his first two matches before losing to Rommulo Barral by points. This would put him in the bronze medal match that he would win against Pablo Popovitch.

Cornelius would then try his luck in the absolute division and win another bronze medal. Beating Dean Lister in the 3rd place match.

When the 2015 ADCC Championship came around, Keenan would only compete in the 88 kg division. Winning a silver medal at that championship.

His last ADCC appearance in 2017 was another good outing, but came up short of getting gold again. He would beat Kayan Duarte and Craig Jones before losing to Gordon Ryan in the finals.

Keenan Cornelius & the IBJJF controversy

At the 2018 IBJJF World Championship, Keenan Cornelius faced Patrick Gaudio in the heavyweight finals. Keenan felt that he got a dominant position and the referee did not award him points.

When time expired with a tie score, the ref gave the decision to Gaudio. In disapproval, Cornelius waved his finger at the IBJJF logo on the mat.

He felt that he was robbed and made a statement on social media after the loss. The main point of his response was at what he feels are the major flaws of the IBJJF.

The biggest problem is the referees that run major championship matches, who he feels aren’t qualified for the position. Also leaving the result of an important match in the hands of those officials.

This was the second time Keenan was the victim of a IBJJF ref’s questionable decision. Being disqualified from a match in 2014 for an alleged reap when he was using worm guard.

Keenan & the Atos breakup

What seemed like a perfect match in 2014, would slowly come apart over time. After over 5 years with Atos, Galvão and Keenan ended their relationship. 

There were many things that slowly deteriorated the relationship over time. Galvão claims one of the last problems that ended the relationship was that Keenan was always late to classes.

Cornelius has a different version of how the breakup took place. He claims a variety of things led to the break up and not just being late.

Keenan said that Atos took offense that he would market himself and his brand over the academy. Also that the gym was very cliquish being mostly Brazilian athletes, which left Keenan out.

Today, Keenan is still friends with Atos black belt Josh Hinger and they do a podcast together on Youtube. Although he and Galvão are still not on good terms

Keenan Cornelius creates Legion Jiu Jitsu

After leaving Atos in 2019, Keenan was the hottest free agent in BJJ. He wasn’t sure if he would open his own academy or join another gym.

He would travel across the US and train at different academies before making his decision. In late 2019, Cornelius decided to open his very own Jiu Jitsu school called Legion Jiu Jitsu in San Diego, California.

Keenan Cornelius & the American Jiu Jitsu controversy

When Keenan Cornelius opened his new school, he would market the school’s style as “American Jiu Jitsu.” A twist on Jiu Jitsu with American influences infused into it.

A few Brazilian black belts took offense to Keenan’s marketing. Claiming it was an insult to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to call it by any other name.

Although, Keenan meant no disrespect with the name. Claiming that he was only trying to create an atmosphere with a more americanized version of Jiu Jitsu.

The controversy would blow over quickly and Keenan would quickly grow his gym. A huge feat and especially with his school being located in San Diego, which is a hotbed for good BJJ.

Keenan Cornelius’ innovative style.

Keenan is considered one of the most innovative BJJ practitioners in the world. Early in his career, he was a guard player that favored open guard like spider, DLR, and lapel guard.

This would lead him to develop his own style of guard that he would call “worm guard.” A blend of various open guards, where he loops his opponent’s lapel around their legs like a worm. 

Cornelius has proved his guard’s effectiveness in competition. Using it to sweep multiple world champions from Buchecha to Leandro Lo.

He would develop his worm guard further and create another iteration of it he would call squid guard. Also developing a style of wrestling using his opponent’s lapels to take them down.

Keenan Cornelius’ legacy

Keenan Cornelius at only 29 years old has done it all in Jiu Jitsu. As a competitor, he has won some of the biggest BJJ championships multiple times and beaten the best in the world.

Now as a gym owner and coach, he is growing his school and proving that his Jiu Jitsu is world class. Legion Jiu Jitsu is growing and will likely develop future world champions for years to come.