Issue 079

September 2011

One of the world’s most fertile grounds for mixed martial arts talent, Brazil has helped shape the sport inside and outside the Octagon

Vitor Belfort 

It’s fair to assume that if the handle ‘The Phenom’ had not already been in circulation, we may well be referring to a certain UFC light heavyweight champion as exactly that: an extraordinary or outstanding individual. Yet that name has long been reserved for the original Phenom, almost 15 years in fact. 

Aged just 19 years old, a baby-faced bulldog by the name of Vitor Belfort burst onto the MMA scene with lightning-fast, dynamite-laced hands and won the UFC 12 heavyweight tournament title in just two minutes of total fight time.

Injuries, illness and front kicks have derailed the 34-year-old’s ascent back to the summit of the MMA mountain since, but Belfort’s impact on a sport that was very much in its infancy, as explosive and euphoric as it was unexpected, is unlike any other since – Jon ‘Bones’ Jones included.

Ed Soares 

Cruelly typecast as Anderson Silva’s “Translation App” by the ever-provocative Chael Sonnen, a quick look at the Brazilian’s resumé shows Soares is anything but. Starting out as a nightclub promoter, Soares swapped hip-hop artists for knockout artists in 2004 when he and business partner, Jorge Guimaraes, produced the Brazilian TV show Passing the Guard – an MMA show available on free television that pre-dated The Ultimate Fighter boom.

Now manager to some of the world’s most recognizable and talented fighters – Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida, Junior dos Santos and the Nogueira twins – Soares is co-founder of the Black House team and former owner of dapper thread makers Sinister Brand. Not bad a “Translation App.” 

Wanderlei Silva 

Possessing a fighting style that borders somewhere between the downright violent and near psychotic, Wanderlei Silva didn’t earn his moniker ‘The Axe Murderer’ on account of a fondness for ‘hug ’n’ hope.’ With 23 of his 33 career victories coming by way of TKO or KO – see his deuce of stoppages over ‘Rampage’ Jackson in his Pride FC heyday and the 36-second mauling of Keith Jardine at UFC 84 for evidence of Silva at his most destructive pomp – the Brazilian’s steadfast dedication to putting entertainment and ‘W’s on equal billing has made him a bedrock of fan devotion for over a decade. 

Holding the record for most wins (22), and most knockouts (15), in Pride FC’s 10-year history, Silva’s seven-year reign of destruction over the Japanese promotion’s middleweight (205lb) division is as impressive and revered as any that have gone before or since. He has inspired countless fighters to aggressively throw down in hopes of getting their hand raised.

Antonio Rodrigo ‘Minotauro’ Nogueira 

The larger and more high profile of the Nogueira twins, ‘Big Nog’s standing in MMA is as legendary as his mythological namesake. Still only 35, despite an appearance pushing 55, ‘Minotauro’ has long been lauded as one of the greatest heavyweights of all time. A sure-fire future addition to the UFC Hall of Fame, Nogueira is the first man to win UFC and Pride titles and has fought some of the biggest fighters (literally in some cases) in heavyweight history: Mark Coleman, Randy Couture, Tim Sylvia, Mirko ‘Cro Cop,’ Heath Herring, Frank Mir, Cain Velasquez, Dan Henderson (twice), Josh Barnett (ditto), Fedor Emelianenko (thrice)… And the list goes on.

Possessing an unearthly durability that is the stuff of legend, Minotauro has survived being run over by a truck as a child, piledriven by Bobb Sapp and wailed on near incessantly by Fedor – Big Nog has completed more career rounds (79) than the four successors to his UFC heavyweight title combined, which he captured at UFC 81 in an interim belt matchup. A hero to fans and fighters alike, Nogueira is one of the most iconic, celebrated and inspirational fighters of the modern era.

Wallid Ismail 

Affectionately referred to by the legendary Carlson Gracie as the ‘hairy chubby guy’ in his younger days, the muscular, balding, 43-year-old of today is a far cry from the 17-year-old who first walked into the late aforementioned Gracie’s academy back in 1984. A charismatic and highly decorated Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner that was one of the first MMA athletes in the world to make a living from sponsorship, Ismail holds the distinction of BJJ tournament wins over no less than four Gracie members – including choking Royce Gracie unconscious in an epic 1998 match. By comparison, Ismail’s MMA career is a more modest 9-3 affair. Yet as founder of Jungle Fight in 2003, arguably Brazil’s biggest and best MMA promotion, Ismail has provided the opportunity for young, local fighters to showcase their talents to a wider audience than was previously possible. Fighters like Bibiano Fernandes, ‘Jacare’ Souza, José Aldo and former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida all featured for the promotion long before they became familiar faces. 

Rafael Cordeiro 

As former coach at the legendary Chute Boxe Academy, Brazil, for more than two decades, Rafael Cordeiro is coaching royalty. During the team’s peak, Cordeiro worked alongside a fanboy’s wet dream of MMA brutality that included the likes of Wanderlei Silva, Anderson Silva, Pele Landi Jons and the Rua brothers, ‘Ninja’ and ‘Shogun’. Parting ways with Chute Boxe in 2009, the popular and likable Cordeiro founded the Kings Muay Thai/MMA gym in Huntington Beach, California. Adhering to the team’s ethos “Welcome to the champions factory. Where dreams come true,” the current crop of fighters assembled under the 39-year-old’s charge is impressing nearly as much as any that has gone before. Reuniting with his old coach ahead of a UFC 134 rematch with Forrest Griffin, Shogun Rua has joined an impressive cast list that includes old sparring partner and intermittent Kings visitor Wanderlei Silva, Fabricio Werdum, Renato ‘Babalu‘ Sobral, Mark Munoz, Jake Ellenberger and Jason ‘Mayhem’ Miller.

Cris ‘Cyborg’ Santos 

Women’s MMA may have a long way to go before it attains the near mainstream acceptance that its male counterpart now teeters upon, but if there is one woman that can drag it, or ground ‘n’ pound it if so required, into ubiquity it is 10-1 Cris ‘Cyborg’ Santos. Possessing a ruthlessness inside the cage that puts many a lay ‘n’ prayer to shame, the 25-year-old is the Strikeforce woman‘s middleweight champion and undisputedly the best pound-for-pound female on the planet. With four TKOs in her last four fights, including a watershed victory over Gina Carano and mauling of Jan Finney, Santos is the new face of women’s MMA and a leading light for all others who to follow.

José Aldo

Despite just being 17 years of age, José Aldo marked his arrival on the MMA landscape with a head-kick knockout in just 18 seconds that served as a sign of very special things to come. The “human highlight reel,” as coined by ESPN’s MMA Live host Jon Anik, had arrived. With 18 victories since, 12 by way of TKO or KO – including an eight-second flying double-knee KO of Cub Swanson at WEC 41 and the first stoppage of the ultra-tough Mike Brown’s career at WEC 44 – the Nova União product has a host of fighting achievements under his belt despite his still relative tender years. 

Most consecutive wins in the WEC? Check. Three-time ‘Knockout of the Night’ recipient? Check. Former WEC, and inaugural UFC, featherweight champ? Check. Fighters Only 2010 World MMA Awards ‘Fighter of the Year’? Check. Regarded by many as a staple of the great pound-for-pound debate, the 24-year-old is the featherweight benchmark.

André Pederneiras 

André Pederneiras isn’t a name that’ll likely roll off the tongue of the casual MMA fan; with a fighting record of 1-1-2 garnered in the late ‘90s why would it? Yet as a six-time national BJJ champion tutored under the late, great, Carlson Gracie, ‘Dede’ is one of the sport’s most accomplished and respected coaches. Co-founder (alongside fellow BJJ wizard Wendell Alexander) of one of Brazil’s premier fight camps, Nova União, the 44-year-old was voted ‘Best MMA Coach’ in 2010 by the well-respected Portal do Vale Tudo magazine; a notable accolade reinforced all the more by its voting panel of fighters, coaches and journalists alike. His influence can be seen in the fighting careers of two-time UFC champion BJ Penn (Pederneiras awarded the Hawaiian his BJJ black belt), former IFL featherweight champion Wagnney Fabiano, José Aldo, and Bellator’s Marlon Sandro. 

Anderson Silva

If José Aldo is the “human highlight reel,” then Anderson Silva is the “Director’s Cut Special Edition.” With a kaleidoscope of breathtaking stoppages – whether it’s knocking opponents out with uppercut elbows (Tony Fryklund), Steven Seagal-inspired front kicks (Vitor Belfort), or making certain loose-lipped middleweight contenders regret their “Happy Meal BJJ black belt” comments – Silva is widely regarded as the sport’s current pound-for-pound maestro. A rare breed of fighter able to move between weight classes and remain not just competitive but unerringly dangerous – see his near-effortless victories over both James Irvin and Forrest Griffin at his more unnatural weight of 205lbs – Silva is as dynamic a fighter as there is today. 

Murilo Bustamante

A member of the BJJ squad (alongside Wallid Ismail) that took part in the dispute-settling ‘jiu-jitsu vs luta livre’ showdown event of 1991 (BJJ won 3-0), Murilo Bustamante is a former UFC middleweight champion that has fought some of the game’s biggest names: Matt Lindland, Chuck Liddell, ‘Rampage’ Jackson and Dan Henderson. However, arguably Bustamante’s greatest contribution to MMA is away from the cage as one of the four founders of the legendary Brazilian Top Team.

Widely acknowledged as a coach who was at the forefront of the cross-training revolution, ensuring his schooling in not only BJJ (of which he is a fifth-degree black belt) but judo and boxing also. Bustamante’s training philosophy is as much about the ‘why’ as is it is the ‘how.’ “It’s like you put a gun in the hand of someone and teach them to pull the trigger,” the 44-year-old told Fighters Only recently. “You have to teach why and how they use the gun. Martial arts is not just something to watch and have fun and scream. There is a great deal of respect that must be honored.” Massively respected amongst his peers and still training fighters today, Bustamante’s imprint is indelible.

Luiz Dorea

A recognizable face to those eagle-eyed viewers of The Ultimate Fighter 13 as Junior Dos Santo’s confidant ahead of his dismissal of assistant coach Lew Polley, Black House boxing coach Luiz Dorea is one of the most prominent striking tutors around. With a client list that includes the Nogueira twins and the technically astute striker Dos Santos himself, Dorea has also worked alongside notable fighters Vitor Belfort and Anderson Silva. 

Perhaps his greatest success has been the transformation of Demian Maia from a one-dimensional BJJ exponent into a lethal striker. By planting his knowledge into today’s fighters he’s leaving his fingerprints all over Brazil’s best MMA output for years to come.

Ricardo Liborio & the American Top Team Coaches

Weighing little over 172lb, ATT head honcho Ricardo Liborio was a two-time medalist at the ADCC submission wrestling tournament in 1999 and 2000 and often fought well out of his weight class purely for the challenge. Heavyweight Marcus ‘Conan’ Silveira has an MMA career featuring an impressive cast of ’old-school’ MMA talent such as Maurice Smith, Kazushi Sakuraba and Dan ‘The Beast’ Severn, even taking a title in early-bird promotion Extreme Fighting way back in 1995. Former members of the legendary Brazilian Top Team, they are perhaps now best known as the co-founders of American Top Team along with fellow BTT’er Marcos ‘Parrumpinha’ Da Matta, a world-class BJJ fighter with a 10-1 MMA record. Formed in 2001, ATT now has over 60 martial arts academies sprawled across 31 states and three countries. Home to some of the most exciting fighters around (UFC athletes Thiago Alves, Thiago Silva, Mike Brown, Brad Pickett and Bellator middleweight champion Hector Lombard) this group of Rio trainers not only coached Brazilian Top Team to powerhouse success in the early 2000s, they have gone on to be a massive influence in western MMA via their ATT Florida base.

Rickson and Royce Gracie

Widely regarded by many to be the most influential figure in the history of modern MMA, Royce Gracie re-defined the definition of martial artist. Representing the Gracie family at the inaugural UFC 1 in November 1993, a time when buzz-cuts, tattoos and bulging biceps were the dictionary definition of toughness, the meek-looking Royce appeared like he belonged anywhere but locked inside a steel cage. How wrong they all were. Royce submitted all three opponents that night in just over four minutes of accumulated fight time. A legend was born. 

Repeating the feat at UFC 2 and 4 (Royce retired, exhausted, at UFC 3 following his defeat of Kimo Leopoldo in the opening round) Gracie went 11-0 with all victories by way of submission – a UFC submission record that still stands today. However, for every pioneer there are those who follow the trodden path and, ultimately, enrich the foundations laid before them. Considered one of MMA’s watershed fights, Royce lost to Matt Hughes at UFC 60 in a fight that symbolized the passing of the torch. However, without Royce leading the pack in the early 1990s today’s MMA landscape could well be a very different place altogether – a somewhat ironic picture considering that one of UFC’s co-founders, Art Davie, didn’t actually want Royce to appear. That honor, he believed, belonged to the Gracie family’s most feared and physically imposing combatant, Rickson.

“Rickson is 10 times better than me,” Royce once said of his half-brother. “He’s the only one who can beat everybody.” Whilst Rickson’s claims to have gone undefeated in over 400 cross-discipline fights is open to interpretation, his official 11-0 MMA record and laundry list of grappling accomplishments (golds in freestyle wrestling, sambo and jiu-jitsu competition) is remarkable. Fighting MMA predominantly in Japan, where he remains an icon to this day and has a number of action-figures in his image, Rickson is widely regarded as one of the most accomplished and influential BJJ practitioners of his era. Aside from winning the Japan Vale Tudo tournaments in ’94 and ’95 his last MMA win was against Pancrase co-founder Masakatsu Funaki 20 years after his debut victory against the much heavier Rei Zulu under no-holds-barred rules. Dave Camarillo, creator of Guerrilla Jiu-Jitsu and no slouch on the mats himself, once described Rickson as: “Without question the best jiu-jitsu fighter to ever live.”


Helio Gracie 

Founding father of MMA via his all-comers, cross-style Gracie Challenge 

Fabricio Werdum 

The only man to hold wins over both Emelianenko brothers 

Mario Sperry 

The 13-4 Brazilian Top Team co-founder was the first person to submit a Gracie in grappling

Renzo Gracie 

Most prolific of the Gracie clan competing in MMA. A record of 13-7-1 (1 NC)

Marco Ruas 

One of the first fighters to put the ‘mixed’ into mixed martial arts 

Junior dos Santos

The new poster boy of Brazilian MMA and its best legitimate hope at regaining the UFC heavyweight title

 Lyoto Machida 

Bringing karate back to the masses 


Did you know that Silva is the most popular surname in Brazil. Indeed there are eight currently fighting in top-level MMA:

Anderson Silva

Antonio Silva

Assuerio Silva

Edinanci Silva

Jay Silva

Paulo César da Silva

Thiago Silva

Wanderlei Silva


‘Shogun’ Rua

To truly put into context the impact of ‘Shogun’ Rua on modern MMA, consider for a moment that, but for an unfortunate and innocuously broken arm against Mark Coleman at Pride 31, it’s quite conceivable Rua may have gone unbeaten his entire Pride career. That’s 13-0 during the promotion’s boom, a record helped by stoppages over the likes of Akihiro Gono, ‘Rampage’ Jackson, Ricardo Arona, Kevin Randleman and a pre-heavyweight Alistair Overeem, twice. 

The poster boy for soccer kicks and flying stomps (accounting for five of Rua’s ‘W’s) the 29-year-old has a Pride 2005 middleweight (205lb) grand prix belt to keep his UFC light heavyweight title company on the mantle.

Whilst Rua may have since fallen to the curse of the UFC’s 205lb title in losing the belt to Jon Jones (in over four years there have been six different tile holders with no single fighter defending the belt more than once) a rematch with Forrest Griffin at UFC 134 promises to be something special. Deemed to be the number-one light heavyweight in the world at multiple times in his career, there’s little Shogun hasn’t achieved – a leading light for young fighters everywhere.