First, I’m from Campo Grande Brazil, a place that did not have much Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. When I first started twelve years ago, Jiu-Jitsu was just beginning there. I never even heard of Jiu-Jitsu. I came from the countryside of Brazil, and I lived in a farm for a very long time – Best childhood ever!
I was always addicted to sports. I was a great swimmer, I also did Judo, Karate, and Capoeira. When I was a kid, I thought I was tough until I was 17 and got to meet Jiu-Jitsu in the wrong way. I had a fight with this really skinny guy. He choked me out three times! I got pissed, man! How is this guy half of my size choking me out? I didn’t even know what a choke or armbar was. When he did that, I went crazy! I told him, “You have to take me to this place to learn this.” I was 17, and I started training. With two weeks of training, I won my first tournament. From there, I never stopped. I started training with Claudionor Cardoso. I trained with him for six months. After, I came to the U.S. as an exchange student. I moved to Idaho – believe it or not! There, I trained with this guy named James. He was a black belt from Marcello Alonso. He gave me my blue belt. When I got back to Brazil, I start training with Luis Claudio Isaias. He was a great teacher and gave me my foundation. It took me six months of training with him to be on top of my game. I won the State championship at my weight and open class. From there, I won ten times in a row for the open weight division up to black belt, and I never lost. I won many tournaments. Unfortunately, I had a disagreement with Isaias when I just had got my purple belt, and I left the team.
I opened my own gym, “Fight Sports.” My gym was affiliated with Nova Geracao from Rio. I was by myself in Campo Grande. It took me a year and a half to get my black belt after getting my purple belt. I won everything at all of my belts. It took me five years to get my black belt. I got my black belt December 20th, 2004; my birthday of 24 years from the hand of my great Master, Francisco Toco Albuquerque
From there, with one month of black belt, I won the Europeans. I won the South Americans at my weight and open class. I took silver twice at the Worlds and bronze four times. I took silver at Abu Dhabi, too.
When I was in Brazil in 2005, something funny happened. There was a really good friend of mine from Rio. His name is Pedro Gama Filho. He’s the president of the Brazilian National Wrestling Team. One day he called me and said, “Where are you, let’s go out!” I said, “No, I’m here in Campo Grande, my city. What are you doing here?” He said, “Tomorrow, we’re going to have the Brazilian Nationals of Wrestling.” I never had even seen this wrestling before. I told him, “Sign me up. I want to fight.” He said, “Come on man. You have to pass the trials to fight.” I told him, “Come on. You’re the president. You can do this. Let me in.” He told me, “Give me a minute. I’ll call you in a little bit.” He took a look and the federation of my state had one opening. He called me a little later and said, “Come weigh in.” They let me borrow the singlet and the shoes and that was it. The next day I was the Brazilian Nationals Champion of Wrestling. I won for 2007. I became part of the Brazilian National Team. I defended Brazil for the Pan Ams.
In 2000, you were in a very bad car accident in which you shattered your arm and the doctors said you probably wouldn’t move your arm again. Can you talk about that experience? How did you motivate yourself to come back and compete four months later in the Brazilian Nationals?
Where I come from, I never had many people to train with. I’m self motivated. I always trained whether or not I had training partners. I always train with my blue belts.
When I had the crash, I just had got back from the U.S. I never won anything before that, but I was crazy about Jiu-Jitsu already. I flipped the car many times and it threw me through the front window. It flipped sideways and landed on me. It smashed my left arm very bad. The doctor said I wouldn’t be able to move my arm again.
I said, “Oh, yeah?” I took second in the Brazilian Nationals four months later. I just waited for my arm to get better. I was very swollen. I still have glass inside my arm and it’s ten years later. I just waited for the wound to close. When the doctor took the 300 stitches from my arm, the next day I was training. I was already watching training every day when I was hurt. I would cry from the pain because I wanted to train so bad. I think that made me heal so fast. My arm wouldn’t stretch anymore. I said, “Armbars are going to be the best way to get my arm back in place.” I started training and it took me some time to get the same strength back in my arm. I got back to training, and I didn’t have much time to get ready for the Brazilian Nationals, but I did my best. I didn’t have strength in my left arm, but I still won all of my fights. After that, I started winning a lot. I won the Pan Ams in the beginning of the next year.
You’re well known for your Tornado guard. How did you develop that guard, and what is the history behind it?
I was always a big guy, and I had a lot of strength. I was really flexible too because I did Capoeira before Jiu-Jitsu. This was a position that I started working on when I was a blue belt. First, I didn’t even know how to sweep very well. One day, I was in half-guard in a weird position, and I tried it, and it worked. It became my biggest position. I would pull half-guard, push the guy up and sweep.
When I was a purple belt, I really developed the move. All of my students were smaller than me, and I couldn’t use strength to train with them. I was more experienced and stronger. That’s why my game is really fast. Many people say I move like a lightweight. It’s because I train with guys smaller than me. To let them train, I started using speed instead of strength. It helped me out very much. I used this half-guard, and from there, I started developing the techniques. I was always very creative. Every time I trained, I would try different moves. I don’t like to watch moves. I don’t watch fights on YouTube or anything like that. I was never a fan of seeing too many techniques. I like to create when I’m rolling.
It’s interesting you started developing this technique as a blue belt. Most of the time, students at this level are encouraged to focus on the basics which is a good thing. You were able to develop this technique and use it at every level.
At the 2010 World’s, you had an exciting triangle finish against Antonio Braga Neto. It looked to me like you used the Tornado Guard to get the submission. Can you talk us through what you were thinking at the time? It looked like you were going to lose because there wasn’t very much time left, and in the very end, you got the submission.
Antonio Braga Neto is a great fighter. It’s not the first time we’ve fought. He’s a great fighter and very nice guy, too. I look up to him a lot. I fought Vella one fight before. When I fought Braga Neto, my grip was not good. If you fight him, you better have good grips to control his legs. At first, I couldn’t do it. After my fight with Vella, my hand wouldn’t close anymore. I couldn’t control Braga Neto’s legs, and he took my back.
I’m tough to tap out on the mat man. It’s not the first time I had to protect my neck. I’m tough to finish when it comes to that. When I fight, I look for the victory. I fight until the last second. If I have time, I will do it. Whatever it takes to win, I will do it. That’s how that match happened.
He gave me the space he should not have given me. Even after the fight, I told him, “Braga Neto, come on. You should’ve run man. You already had the points.” He tried to keep up on me, and that was it. When he took my back, I was trying to get his hand out of my collar. He had really deep pressure on my neck three or four times. I couldn’t break his grip. He did it repeatedly. I took the pressure. When I got out, I got right in my position. I train that position a lot. When someone takes my back and I escape on him, I get in that position. When I got out, he landed right in my Tornado guard the way I like it. He sat sideways; perfect for me. My hand was already in the lapel. When I could take my hook out, I knew I had the position. Thanks to God it worked out for me. It was great man!
It was a great fight. The fact that he didn’t run and you kept fighting until the very end was exciting. The opportunity presented itself and you took advantage of it. That’s what a Jiu-Jitsu fight should be like.
A Jiu-Jitsu match is ten minutes. You fight until the very end. In 2008, at the World’s No-Gi, I had a very bad knee. I fought Lucas Leite, and he’s a really good fighter. He was ahead of me 6-2, and I couldn’t defend his half-guard. His half-guard is great. I couldn’t defend it because I couldn’t touch my knee on the mat. He took my back, and I ended up reversing, and I tapped him out with less than five-seconds left to fight. While there’s time, I’ll be fighting. I never give up.
Switching subjects here – what do you think about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu being in the Olympics in 2016? Do you think it’s more important for the sport to be recognized in the Olympics or for the athletes to be paid for winning?
Truly, it would be an honor to fight in Brazil on the a National Team for Jiu-Jitsu. I’m good friends with everybody from FILA. They’re the same guys who organize wrestling in Brazil. They’d be the same guys to organize Jiu-Jitsu in the Olympics. It would be great to have Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu recognized in the Olympics especially in Rio.
On the other hand, we have to get more professional in Jiu-Jitsu. It needs to be organized, and the athletes should be paid for the work. Unfortunately, nobody wants to do it. Jiu-Jitsu is getting bigger, and it is growing. After the World’s came to America, it grew a lot. I think we should have one tournament here and one tournament in Brazil because it was really cool to have the World’s in Brazil. It’s growing everywhere, all over the world. I travel a lot for seminars, and I can see how much Jiu-JItsu is growing. To have Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in the Olympics would be awesome. It would be nice to see a professional tournament, too. If you want to make a team, make a team. Most of the best guys in the world have to move to the U.S. to make a living. Very few of the top guys are in Brazil anymore.
Speaking of being paid, is it difficult to be a world class competitor and still make a living? How do you do it?
Yes, here in the U.S. it’s not even close to what we made in Brazil. In the U.S., we get paid around $100/hour. Not even a doctor in Brazil can make that much. Here, we’re organized, and we have our gyms, affiliates, sponsorship, and seminars. In Brazil, it’s really hard to have a gym. In the U.S., I have two gyms in Miami, FL. The people who train with me view the sport in a different way. They’re more professional in the way they approach it. They value the knowledge we have as professionals. In Brazil, some guys pay one month, and then they won’t pay for two months. They pay whenever they want. It can be a mess. Nobody wants to value you as a professional. In Brazil, you can’t teach a private class. Everybody is friends and they say, “Come on man. Show me this.” Here, it’s more professional. They value training with you. They take private lessons to learn the Tornado sweep for example. They say, “It’s a pleasure to train with you Roberto.” The culture is different in Brazil.
Do you think it’s because Jiu-Jitsu has been around in Brazil? Is Jiu-Jitsu perceived differently in Brazil than in the United States? Does it have a different reputation?
No. A long time ago, it had a bad perception but not anymore. The economy in Brazil is a lot different than it is here. In Rio, it is better than where I came from. Where I’m from, the countryside, people are not used to paying this amount of money to train Jiu-Jitsu. They would never pay $100 for a private lesson. Rio and Sao Paulo are different than where I came from. The American culture is different. Capitalism is bigger here. When you go to eat in a restaurant, you’re going to tip the waitress. You’re going to tip the guy who gets your car. Everybody has to make money here and everybody understands that. In Brazil, not everybody understands that. After you move here and you learn how to make money here, you can’t even think about going back to Brazil. Business is different here not just for Jiu-JItsu. People have the knowledge how to make money here.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’m really happy with my work in USA. I’m really proud to be a coach and athlete. I’m very happy for my students and my team in the United States.
I’m growing my business. I have two gyms here in Miami. The first one is Fight Sports. I’ve had Fight Sports for 3 years, and it has grown a lot. We even moved to a new facility, where I have a Jiu-Jitsu hotel. In Miami, Fl., I get people from all over the world training with me. I opened the first Jiu-Jitsu hotel so people can come and train with me. It’s located right on the beach. We have three floors. If you go to my website, www.cyborgbjj.com, you can see it. I just opened it last month. I want everybody from all over the world to come to Miami and train Jiu-Jitsu with me. Truly, everybody wants to come to Miami anyway. Whodoesn’t want to come here? So now when you come here, you can stay in front of the beach and train Jiu-Jitsu.
I also have LegacyFit – a gym for MMA, Grappling and conditioning. The place is a paradise for fighters. We have full gym, cage, and professional size ring. It’s awesome! You can check it out at www.Legacyfit.com.
I’m looking forward for my fight against Rolles Gracie at UFC EXPO next week, the World’s NoGI and Abu Dhabi next year. We have a great training team here in FL. Other than my prodigies Jake Mackenzie, Marcel Goulart, Paulo Azambuja, Sophia Amarante, and Hillary Williams, I have the help of Pablo Popovitch. He is my brother. He has helped me a lot with my game. Also, I have Moacir Boca Oliveira, Denis Mitchel, and Dustin Clean. Cavaca is moving to Jupiter with Rafael Chaves and all the guys from Armory. We’re going to have a team together. You’re going to see a very strong team come up in the future. Florida will be the new MECA of Jiu JItsu. Thank You!