This week will complete 5 months of me living in Brazil. It's hard to believe that just a couple of months ago I arrived here with two suitcases, my white belt, and no knowledge of the Portuguese language. Now, five months later, I fell in love with Jiu Jitsu, moved to my own place, have 4 gold medals hanging on my bed, and speak fluent(ish) Portuguese. The only thing that been missing in my life over the past few months has been Muay Thai.
So where is the best place to train MMA/ Muay Thai in Rio? Nova Uniao of course...
Nova Uniao is in Flamengo, Rio De Janeiro. Like most other gyms in Rio if you don't know what you're looking for it can be very hard to find because for some unknown reason, they generally don't have signs on the door. Take Gordo's gym for example, Gordo's was located in what appears to be a house with no sign, in the middle of a very affluent neighborhood. How you're supposed to know that it's there is beyond me.
Nova Uniao is slightly easier to find, but it doesn't have a sign either. Its actually located inside of a gym, or like three different gyms all next to each other, that are called Academy Upper. The gym itself is actually pretty swag. They have weights, a pool, a sauna, and three big rooms where they have classes like yoga, capoeira, running (never heard of running classes), TRX training, and circuit training. To train at Nova Uniao you pay US $120 a month (R240) and have access to everything.
The only problem with Nova Uniao is well... that its Nova Uniao, everyone wants to train there. Plus it's easy to access (right by the flamengo metro), so the classes can have 20-30 people of various skill levels (few of them fighters) packed into them. The morning classes and the early Muay Thai classes are generally full, and the later Muay Thai classes that they give 3 days a week are the only ones that have sparring. On the sparring days the trainer will gradually let people go until only the fighters are left. My first day sparring he sent me right to the ring. Considering that mats were packed with about 15-20 people trying to manuever around each other while sparring, being able to have the entire ring to yourself for a round feels like a priviledge. I got the ring from the first three rounds of sparring which was like a blessing. At the end the three rounds almost the entire class had been dismissed with the exception of me and about four other people. I stayed in the ring for 3 more rounds while the trainer, Rafael, watched me fight. Apparently, Muay Thai is like riding a bike, I may have lost some of my cardio doing Jiu Jitsu, but my technique is still on point. On point enough to get offered to fight whenever I'm ready and to get extra training with the fighters outside of the normal classes.
Now it was just a matter of getting on the MMA team as well, which requires approval of the owner Andre Pederneiras
So, about that MMA team...
One morning, I walked downstairs after a Muay Thai class to grab a coffee before going to lift weights when I saw this girl that looked like she could rip me apart walking past (Note: apparently Brazil is filled with these girls, this is actually the reason I lift weights in the first place, there are so many girls that look crazy ripped that compete here). Naturally, I got about as excited as a little kid going to an amusement park, so I dropped my bags and ran back upstairs to figure out what she was doing there and why I wasn't doing it too!
She was, of course, part of the MMA pro team. By the pro team I mean fighters like Jose Aldo, Renan Barao, and Claudinha Galdelha. When I came to Brazil my goal was to train at Nova Uniao... more specifically, to train with Claudinha (who is now in the U.S. filming the new season of TUF). So, I put off getting coffee and sat on the side of the ring to watch them warm up. I was completely lost in my day dreams about how bad I want to spar with this girl, when I looked over to the right of this girl and saw Junior Dos Santos. Like seriously, Junior Dos Santos, I couldn't believe it. I actually didn't believe it, I left there that day thinking maybe it was just someone that looked like him.
A couple of days later, I'm finishing up another Muay Thai class (no sparring included so of course I'm sad because I wasn't able to punch anyone in the face) and once again the pro team is warming up and sparring on the other side of the gym. After my shower (Nova Uniao has the best showers in all of Brasil) I go sit on the side of the ring to watch them spar like a dejected kid outside of a candy store. Of course, I'm so focused watching them beat the crap out of each other that it took me about 5 minutes to realize that I'm sitting two feet away from Junior Dos Santos (now confirmed through social media that it is really him). It took another 5 minutes for him to put some gloves on and start sparring. He backed the only other guy into the corner without even throwing a punch and then beat on him until the guy's glove flew off. I sat there in awe wondering how long I would be on the ground if I took one of the body shots that he was dishing out to this guy.
Acai with protein from Boomerang Mix
A couple blocks away from Nova Uniao
On my way out of the gym one of the guys from the pro team started talking to me (in English) outside by the water fountain while Dos Santos was getting water. Since I've never talked to him before, nor do I go around flaunting my gringoness, I'm not even sure how he knew I was American... but either way he encouraged me to start taking wrestling and submission grappling classes before going back to training leaving Dos Santos standing alone right in front of me. Not only standing in front of me but looking over curiously since we had been speaking in English.
Instead of jumping up and down and being like OMG! ITS JUNIOR DOS F#@$&*% SANTOS, I just causally said, "oh you train here now?" Yeah smooth right?! I though so at least. I also thought that would be the end of the conversation, but he followed up with his own questions asking my name and where I'm from in the States before going back to training.
So for the SECOND time, I walked out of Nova Uniao feeling like a complete badass... this time minus the bruises all over my face from Ezequial girl.
Note: Ezquial girl, whose name I now know but will make no attempts to spell, is actually really nice despite looking like she could demolish me!