Laila "Killa Bee" Builes
Name: Laila Builes
Nickname: Killa Bee
Gym Affiliations: Essential Jiu Jitsu, Risky Legends
Coaches: JT Torres, Nick Navarro
Current Belt Level: Yellow
Whatever Laila wants, Laila gets, and for Laila Builes, a 90-pound, 4:11, braces-wearing 12-year-old wrestler from Port Chester, those wants have already resulted in her winning world, Pan American, North American, Ironman, Athena, Gi and No Gi Jiu Jitsu age and weight group championships against all comers, boys as well as girls—and you ain't seen nothing yet. Because the local Middle Schooler (MS) known in metropolitan area wrestling circles as "The Killer Bee" has only just begun. And what Laila Builes really wants to do next is put Port Chester wrestling on the national map by establishing Port Chester High School's first ever Lady Rams wrestling team while going on to win an ultra-competitive Division 1 collegiate wrestling scholarship—virtually unheard of for girls—before she graduates from high school.
In the interim, Laila has compiled a 49-1 record against top tier competition, is scheduled to wrestle on cable TV Feb. 18, has an all-expenses-paid invitation to wrestle in Dubai next year in an international competition for reigning world champions, has a sponsor that supplies her with ultra chic fashionable wrestling attire and is determined to become an integral part of the burgeoning WOW (Women of Wrestling) female empowerment movement by participating in high caliber female wrestling events showcasing feminine strength and athleticism Annie Oakley-style. The latter refers to anything the wrestling boys can do, the girls can do, if not better then just as well.
What Laila wants
If you don't think that's possible for a local tween like Laila Builes, you don't know Laila Builes, the support group she has behind her and how hard she works.
In addition to being an honors student, playing the bass clarinet in the school band and singing in the MS classical and pop choirs, she attends the mixed martial arts (MMA) equivalent of Harvard, Yale and Princeton after school. In those rarified groves of wrestling academia where sweat equity on the mat really matters. She works long extracurricular hours dedicated to becoming the best wrestler, MMA and jiu jitsu performer she can possibly be. Because there in those far-flung classrooms, she studies with some of the nation's best jiu jitsu "professors," an elite faculty that includes world champions and black belts. Her exams include matches that find her competing in places ranging from Orlando to Las Vegas and throughout the metropolitan area while studying and polishing her MMA moves in cram courses in locales as far away as Allentown, Pa., and Fairlawn, N.J., and as near as White Plains and Port Chester, where her parents have converted their basement into a home gym.
Part of her lesson plan for success includes the belief that there is no such thing as winning or losing, there is only winning and learning, a principle her teachers have installed in her. So her mantra revolves around her belief that no matter what happens, positivity, focus, preparation and determination are the tools for learning that help make a champion who refuses to quit against all odds.
Coach wanted her
Most recently, that conviction helped get her through a major disappointment that came about when the Port Chester School District refused to let her wrestle for the Rams even though Port Chester's head wrestling coach Joe Facciola and his staff wanted the talented seventh grader to be on their squad because of her impressive wrestling and jiu jitsu credentials.
"We had 46 wrestlers signed up: 12 freshmen, 16 sophomores, eight juniors, nine seniors and one seventh grader—Laila Builes," Facciola said. "We were hoping that seventh grader Laila Builes would pass the APP test to wrestle up on the high school level," he continued, explaining that the Athletic Placement Process (APP) is a program for evaluating students who want to participate in sports at higher or lower levels, as approved by the Board of Regents as a part of the school eligibility rules in 1980.
"We decided to allow her to try out considering her prestigious Brazilian Jiu Jitsu accomplishments: 2022 IBJJF (International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation) Lightweight International Pan American Champion, 2022 ADCC (Abu Dhabi Combat Club) Gold Medalist, Top Level Grappling Super Fight - Gold Medal, Smooth Comp record: 49 wins, 29 by submission, NAGA (North American Ghi Association) World Championship - Gold Medalist, Grappling Industries Championship - Gold Medalist, Pride BJJ (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) Championship - Gold Medalist, and Good Fight - Submission Only - Gold Medalist."
But, despite those impressive credentials, Builes was not approved to wrestle at the high school level. "Our medical director felt it wasn't appropriate for her to wrestle at the high school level even though she has proven she is more than capable of it," said Facciola. "She is wrestling on our modified team and attends wrestling clubs so she can continue to develop as a wrestler. Laila's parents, Erik and Dana, are tremendous motivators. We were very bummed out that she wasn't allowed to wrestle up at the high school level. We really felt this was a big blow to her development. It is tough seeing someone so elite being held back. I will let the parents comment more on this.”
Difference of opinion
And they did. As did Laila.
"We appealed the decisions all the way up to the Superintendent of Schools," according to Leila's mom Dana. "But it was no go."
"They decided that at 90 pounds, I was three pounds too light to compete in high school," a disappointed Laila said.
"I told Laila everything happens for the best, they (the Board of Education officials) were concerned about her safety, and we had to respect that opinion, and deep down we believe her time will come," Dana said.
"By next year, I will be three pounds heavier, a lot better and I won't give up trying to compete for the varsity because I want to wrestle for the Rams and I want the school to have its first Lady Rams wrestling program in history, and I will never take no for an answer," Laila said emphatically. "What's fair is fair and there should be a girls’ varsity wrestling team because the talent is there and there are girls who want to compete."
Laila certainly does.
She was only seven when she started wrestling locally. It was purely by chance that Laila wound up at Port Chester's Jiu Jitsu Mill, a state-of-the-art training facility where they offer coaching in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Submission Grappling (a faster paced and more aggressive form of judo), Fitness Kickboxing, Technical Muay Thai (boxing and clinching techniques) and MMA (mixed martial arts). At first Laila only went along because her brother Logan was working out at the Mill because her parents thought Logan would profit from the discipline of the various grappling sports taught there. But Laila quickly discovered she liked working on the various disciplines and began showing real talent—so much so that her parents Erik (an electrician and a former Rams football player) and Dana (an accountant, a graduate of SUNY Oswego and a former Lady Rams softball player) began looking for more advanced training for their burgeoning wrestling prodigy.
Zombie Training Camp
That led to their finding what amounts to the Harvard, Yale and Princeton schools of advanced mat training—Essential Jiu Jitsu of White Plains (a world-class training environment run by Jonathan (JT) Torres, a third degree black belt and one of America's best known JJ competitors and teachers who has medaled at the highest level as a world champion who has also won titles on the Asian, Pan Am and American level), the Cordoba Trained Wrestling Club of Fairfield, N.J. (Dave Cordoba is a former New Jersey state champion, an All-American collegiate coach, and a master teacher who has produced state and national champions) and the Zombie Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Weekend Training Camp in Allentown, Pa. (where Chino Velez, a longtime world championship competitor and BJJ back belt trains and teaches regularly in a program that incorporates techniques from various combat sports from around the world).
It was the perfect learning environment for a talented, goal-oriented youngster who wanted to come of age as an athlete studying at the feet of the masters in an atmosphere filled with a like-minded age group of up-and-comers with the drive, temperament, work ethic and desire to become great at the sport they want to excel in. Laila loves the classes, the teachers, the environment, and the friendships she makes there. But getting back and forth to those training academies wasn't—and isn't—easy. That's where her father comes in.
"Erik is the rock star, has been since we met in Port Chester High School (Class of '99) and wants to make sure our children have all the advantages, so he takes care of all the driving to the various training venues (Allentown for 4-hour Saturday morning sessions, Fairlawn for twice weekly classes, White Plains on the other weekdays)," according to Dana who stays home with their youngest—Erik, 3, after work and usually accompanies Laila to the various tournaments, a judo mom playing a role she never expected to play during her growing up days in Port Chester when her last name was Tomlinson.
The grueling schedule
Nowadays, Dana cheers her kids through around 12 hours of formal judo-oriented workouts each week. But that's not all. Because Laila and Logan also work out every day doing aerobic exercises, lifting weights and performing calisthenics in their basement home gym. And Laila also has a private personal trainer in former Ram wrestling great Nick Navarro. So the grueling workout schedule is long, intense and arduous. But the results have been rewarding. Especially since Laila keeps rising in the age-group weight class rankings, winning various state, national and international championships, and has only lost once in her 50 competitive bouts (that loss came in a close decision that almost everyone except the ref thought she had won).
Along the way, Laila keeps increasing in age and wisdom when it comes to understanding the finer nuances of the sport. Like the difference between Gi or No Gi Jiu Jitsu and submission wrestling. And what is that difference? In its earlier days jiu jitsu was practiced solely in a gi or kimono, which at first confused Brazilian spectators who were used to watching combat sports being fought by bare-chested fighters. Now that BJJ has earned its place as one of the most popular martial arts within MMA, jiu jitsu without the gi, otherwise called “no gi,” has also increased in popularity. And what is No Gi Jiu Jitsu? No Gi Jiu Jitsu is the ground-fighting martial art focused on joint locks, chokes, and positions. It is the science of using leverage, human body mechanics, balance, and technique to create favorable situations against a live opponent. And it works. And the good ones can handle the Gi or No Gi approach to matches without thinking about it. As for submission wrestling, that is a grappling-only discipline in which an athlete competes on the ground with the opponent attempting to submit him/her by using various holds such as chokes, armlocks, and leg locks.
But by any other name, it all comes down to manu à manu competition, intense hand-to-hand athletic competitive combat, and the best man, woman, tween or in between, wins.
"I go into a match with a lot of nervous energy," Laila said in response to a question about what goes through her mind during her matches. "But once the match starts, I think about converting that nervous energy to positive energy. I know how hard I have worked to get there. And how much attention I have paid to the details that got me there. I know I am ready and well prepared for whatever happens. And I just do what I do, what I have trained to do, what I know I can do. I know I have coaches in my corner who believe in me. And that is comforting. But when they shout instructions at me, I can't always hear them. So I just do what I do. And it usually comes out well because I have trained so hard to get to where I am."
Sense of déjà vu
As Laila talks, this writer is suddenly overcome with a sense of déjà vu. Because talking to Laila is like going back in time to a similar interview with a talented Port Chester seventh grade wrestler named Ivan Garcia, who had already won numerous metropolitan area, state and national championships. Garcia would start out wrestling for the varsity in the 98-pound weight class and would go on to become the greatest Ram wrestler in Port Chester history, the school's all-time leader in wins, pins, falls, you name it, he did it on the way to making the All-State wrestling team as well as All-Everything Else for four consecutive years, coming within one point of winning the school's first-ever state championship before graduating in 2020 to go on to a currently starring role for SUNY Binghamton, the Harvard of the state SUNY schools.
And what goes through my mind is wouldn't it be wonderful if Laila gets the same chance to compete for the wrestling Rams as Ivan Garcia did and go on to win Port Chester's elusive state championship as the first female wrestler in Port Chester High School history.