Paulo Filho - Upholding Brazil's Fighting Tradition
07/30/2007

By Thomas Gerbasi

At one time in mixed martial arts, if you were Brazilian, odds were that you were miles ahead of anyone else in the sport when it came to skill and experience, and if your name happened to be Gracie, Ruas, Belfort, or Rizzo, you had the love of the fans and the respect of your peers from the moment you set foot in the ring or cage. That really wasn't a surprise though, given that the sport basically originated in Brazil.

By Thomas Gerbasi

At one time in mixed martial arts, if you were Brazilian, odds were that you were miles ahead of anyone else in the sport when it came to skill and experience, and if your name happened to be Gracie, Ruas, Belfort, or Rizzo, you had the love of the fans and the respect of your peers from the moment you set foot in the ring or cage. That really wasn't a surprise though, given that the sport basically originated in Brazil.

It was like that for a while, with Royce Gracie exposing the world to Jiu-Jitsu, Marco Ruas bringing in some new wrinkles to the fledgling sport while carrying the coolest nickname ever (The King of The Streets), Vitor Belfort throwing punches in furious flurries that stunned opponents and thrilled fans, and Pedro Rizzo's thunderous leg kicks leaving piles of bodies in his wake.

But over the years, the rest of the world started catching up to the warriors of Brazil, starting learning their art and started beating them at their own game. And whether the fighters came from the United States, Japan, Canada, or Europe, suddenly, mixed martial arts wasn't the exclusive playground for Brazilian athletes.

Of course, fighters like Wanderlei Silva, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Murilo Bustamante and Ricardo Arona still made their marks on the sport, but even they had to share their success with the Chuck Liddells, Randy Coutures, Quinton Jacksons, Dan Hendersons, Kazushi Sakurabas, Takanori Gomis, Georges St-Pierres, Fedor Emelianenkos, and Mirko Cro Cops of the rest of the world.

But in the last couple of years, Brazil has seen a resurgence in world-class fighters making it to the top of the game. Anderson Silva rules the UFC's middleweight division, Mauricio Shogun' Rua is seen as one of the best 205-pounders on the planet, Nogueira and Gabriel Gonzaga are top five heavyweights, and Silva and Arona are still threats at light heavyweight. That's not even counting the up and comers like Thiago Tavares and Thiago Silva, the hosts of Brazilian contenders in each weight class, and the man who will be making his WEC debut this Sunday night in a bout for the organization's middleweight crown, Paulo Filho, who is eager to make a good first impression on US fight fans.

"They should expect a great fight, and look forward to seeing my grappling and submission skills, knowing that I am a world-class Jiu-Jitsu fighter," said the unbeaten Filho (14-0), whose height (5-8) and stocky build instantly makes you think of a Brazilian version of the man whose face is tattooed on his arm, Mike Tyson.

But the Rio De Janeiro native brings another type of fury to the cage than that which Tyson once specialized in. Filho, a Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Judo, specializes in outthinking you, taking you down, and pounding on you a bit before taking you out with technical ground wizardry most expect, but few are prepared for. It's almost like a religion for the 29-year old, who may not have the typical lanky build of a Royce Gracie or Murilo Bustamante, but whose smaller frame hasn't hurt him at all since he started training with Carlson Gracie at the age of nine.

"Since I was younger I fought well because of my weight," he admits. "One day I decided I should compete professionally and Carlson Gracie gave me a lot of support, and it's been good ever since."

He's being humble. Since turning pro in 2000 with a win over Luiz Claudio das Dores, the highly decorated grappler has been a quick study in the fight game, competing primarily in Japan for the PRIDE organization after some impressive early wins over Ikuhisa Minowa and Yuki Kondo. In PRIDE, his list of victims includes Ninja' Rua, Amar Suloev, Ryuta Sakurai, Ryo Chonan, and Kazuo Misaki, and all but Rua were defeated via armbar.

Yet since his last win over Misaki last November, the MMA world was turned upside down as Zuffa purchased not only PRIDE, but the WEC. And while Filho's friend Silva is atop the UFC's middleweight division, the 185-pound division in the WEC is waiting for a champion to emerge. Filho believes he's the man to get the job done.

"I intend on winning the WEC belt and keeping it for as long as I possibly can," said Filho when asked his long-term goals in the organization. Of course, his short-term goal is getting the belt by beating Doerksen, a seasoned vet who has been waiting for an opportunity like this for his entire career. Filho wants to shut the door on him.

"Joe is a very experienced fighter," said Filho, "and he's been fighting professionally for a lot longer than I have, I can't argue with that. But I believe his techniques are no challenge against me."

He may be right, and there may be few, if any, who can challenge him technically on the ground. That's something picked up from 20 years of training as well as working with some of the stalwarts out of the renowned Brazilian Top Team. But Filho's secret weapons on the mat may also come from the time he spent with the legendary Rickson Gracie.

"I learned a Jiu-Jitsu that we don't imagine exists," admits Filho, still amazed by Gracie's skill set. "Ge is very technical and excellent in every possible position. He surely changed my look on things and upgraded my Jiu-Jitsu skills."

That's scary, but you've still got to remember that Sunday's bout isn't a Jiu-Jitsu match; it's a fight, and there are also extenuating circumstances that Filho will have to deal with in Las Vegas this week. First off, he's not fighting in a ring anymore he'll be in the WEC cage. No worries, says Filho.

"I never liked the ring, I'd much rather fight in the cage where I feel more comfortable to show all of my abilities without running the risk of getting my opponent across the ropes," he said. "In the cage, it's non-stop."

That's one down what about living up to the expectations of diehard fight fans who have been waiting eagerly for him to arrive on US shores?

"Naturally there is some pressure, but when I get to the fight I don't think about it," he admits. "I come to fight with great Jiu-Jitsu skills and I try to put my weight in the right places to submit my opponent. I am very excited to get to know the United States, but for now, I just feel as if I was a kid going to Disneyland."

With all the great fighters from around the world starting to migrate to the States, fight fans are starting to feel the same way. As for the Brazilian standouts like Filho, their joy comes from fighting, winning, and putting their country back on top of the MMA world, a task they take very seriously.

"For us," said Filho. "It has a lot to do with tradition."