Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Reality Check: Why Brazil?

As far as my MMA Career is concerned it's pretty safe to say that Brazil has probably reached the point of diminishing returns. For all you non-economics majors, that means that going home to tear girls up in the cage all along the east coast (and where ever else I could get Brent to travel to) would be far more productive then me waiting around and not fighting in Brazil.

When I came to Brazil a little over a year ago, my goal was to improve my Jiu Jitsu and transition to MMA. I got to Brazil after a month's long crash course in BJJ at Renzo Gracie PAand arrived in Brazil knowing little to nothing about the Arte Sauve. For 5 I woke up at 6:30-7 AM, crawled out of bed, found my kimono, and headed off to the gym to get my ass handed to me 2-3 sessions a day.

Now, 13 months and 13 medals later, my Jiu Jitsu is definitely on point! In January, I transitioned from training Jiu Jitsu full time at Terere's academy in Ipanema to MMA training at Nova Uniao.

MMA training was definitely a big change from the lackadaisical "Jiu Jitsu Lifestyle" that I had been living. Check out previous blog posts if you want to know more about just how badly MMA training at Nova Uniao hurts.

So I often get asked the question: Why Brazil? Isn't it easier to do this in the US?

So here are the top reasons why I live in Brazil:

1. Clothes.... or lack thereof.... This may seem like a joke, but seriously, Its mid-October and I'm wearing a sports bra and shorts waiting to go train boxing at 11AM in the morning. If I was in the US I would be fully clothed, probably somewhere screaming at/teaching kids in DC waiting for 3PM where I could hit the road and head to the gym. And its not just the clothes per say, its the lifestyle. Everything here in Rio is more laid back and chill, this is what I call the Carioca flow (Cariocas are natives to Rio de Janeiro). On my way to morning training, Cariocas are coming down from the favelas to wheel beach chairs and coolers out to the beach  on bikes the weave impossibly through the 3 blocks of traffic to get to ipanema beach (this is their job, they're going to the beach to relax). If i'm lucky I can even catch a glimpse of an 80 year old man in a speedo before hoping onto the metro to get to training. Rio has an energy that you just don't feel amongst the angry politicians of D.C.

2. Terere. You may not know who he is (because I sure didn't before I met him) but apparently he was a bad ass Jiu Jitsu competitor back in his day. He is known for his unique style, his aggressive guard passing, and his sporadic dancing and rapping. He still has an amazing Jiu Jitsu game but is not as big on the competition scene anymore. He is also my old teacher, my friend, and someone who has become like a brother to me here in Brazil. I live in Cantagalo, the favela/community where he was born and over the past 8 months that I've lived here it's become a home for me. Not only has the guy provided a home for me, he also changed my Jiu Jitsu game. Terere is not only an amazing competitor but he is an extraordinary teacher. He doesn't just teach you Jiu Jitsu, or try to impose his style on you, he teaches you to take any technique you learn from anyone, analyze it, and make it your own. All around he is a dope, charasmatic, and chill guy to be around and I'm glad that my homeboy Moz introduced me to him. There are no Tereres in the US that could have done this for me and my experience in Brazil would definitely not be the same without him!

Wouldn't have been around for the filming 
of this if I was in the US

3. The number 2. By #2, I mean the number 2 strawweight in the WORLD. Technically, she should be the #1 strawweight because, seriously, who the hell is Jessica Aguilar (if she is not fighting in Invicta or UFC does she really count in life?). So, yeah, my first goal in Brazil was to get better and BJJ, and my second goal was to train with Claudinha Galdelha (at Nova Uniao). Not only is Claudinha the #2 strawweight, but Nova Uniao is the #1 MMA gym in the world.

Have you ever tried training with UFC fighters or top level BJJ black belts in the US? If you have let me know how much money that cost you before you eventually went broke! In Brazil, you can't take 5 steps without tripping over a black belt or running into a UFC or Bellator fighter. At Nova Uniao there are too many UFC fighters to keep track of. While many gringos flock there to take pictures with people like Junior Dos Santos aka JDS aka Cigano, I actually have to make a conscience effort to avoid the hell out of him!

Boxing with Claudinha and Master Claudio Coelho
One of the best boxing coaches in Brazil

Why do I avoid him? Well because I am one of the more serious people on the team, where as he is often prancing (yes PRANCING) around the gym, singing in English, and announcing his upcoming UFC fights until BAM, he stops, faces off with someone, and starts growling in their face! He is also one of the biggest people on the team and I am one of the smallest, so frankly there is nothing more terrifying then training next to him. One wrong move and that could be a lot of weight falling down on my teeny- tiny frame! The other day we were training submission, sweeps happened, and then my partner and I landed REALLY close to him and his victim. Jiu Jitus tradition calls for lower belts to heed space to higher belts, so naturally, I went to back away, but before I did, I made the mistake of looking up. And there he was, just staring at us, with the intense look of a bear about to maul down a helpless rabbit. So, I lightly tapped my partner on the back and we SLOOOOWLY scooted back without losing eye contact!

Nova Uniao Crew... With Glover Teixeira
I actually didn't recognize Glover, who is in Rio to fight Phil Davis 
This weekend. I had to descreetly ask why everyone was taking pictures wtih 
the man and then of course hopped into this post training selfie!

So long story short. I think that fighting is more organized and there is more opportunity to build a name and a record in the US. Had I been in the US this past year I would have fought at least 5 times and I probably would have had several title shots! BUT, if you're looking for top quality sparring partners for affordable prices, Brazil is definitely better for that!

In respects to BJJ, Brazil is the place to be if you want to get better, no matter what level, but in respects to MMA, if you don't need to improve your ground game, stay in the US, establish a name for yourself, and then come to Brazil to train with the best. It will make your life so much easier. Trust me there is nothing easy or fun about going up to Dede Pederneiras and being like.... "So, I have no MMA record, only an AMMY muay thai recod, a bunch of BJJ medals as a white belt (so that practically doesn't count for anything), and no money to pay your gym fees. So I want you to let me on your team, give me free training, and just trust that one day you will be able to put in a pro MMA fight to make you some money".

So, if you're goal is to come train MMA in Brazil and you want to get into the top gyms, I highly recommend you bring a record and some Portuguese skills and be prepared to both kick and kiss some ass.

If your goal is to come train BJJ in Brazil. Just know that no matter how much you train at home, they train more here! No matter how good you think you are at home, your conditioning is going to suck here. And no matter how sick your game is at home, watch out for the damn yellow-green belts! It doesn't matter if they haven't hit puberty. This is their country, it's their sport, and they WILL berimbolo the shit out of you, take your back, and make you feel like a twat (thats British for stupid) if you're not careful.

Networking apparently involved a lot of good/free food!
with BudoDave, Churrasco guy, and Terere after day 1 of filming...
Yeah I'll explain that later...

4. Autonomy. This point definitely has its positives and its negatives. I live in Brazil because I have the freedom to do what I love. I've trained fulled time for over a year and went over a year living off my US$$ without working. Now, my moolah is gone and I generally have only 100-200 dollars to my name at any given point. I could be living in the US with a couple title belts on my wall at MiKiDo and have money stacking up in the bank. But then, I would also be teaching full time during the day, probably still going to school, and working and training at night. Instead of training 4 times a day I would train 1-2, but I would have a job, financial stability, and all those nice things like health insurance.
Translating for Budovideos

But I chose to stay here. I don't make that much money but I'm the director of a social project. I get to train full time and barely teach English now and then in between training sessions. I have also gotten to meet and work with a lot of people in the BJJ community from BJJ hacks here situated here in Rio to Budovideo who came to film a 9 DVD technique set with Terere. I've sacrificed a lot, But it has definitely been worth it!

Part 2 of the BJJ Hacks Mini Documentary 

Translating for Budovideo's Rolled Up in the Cantagalo favela