Mendes: “We have to know our worth, we can’t regress”

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Mendes celebrates after winning his first IBJJF gold as a black belt, in 2010. Photo: Ivan Trindade.

What does it cost to make a dream come true? In July, a group of Jiu-Jitsu enthusiasts from Atlanta came up with a no-time limit Jiu-Jitsu match, to the finish, between Rafael Mendes and Rubens Cobrinha – the current world champion from Atos against Alliance’s four-time world champion. To make it happen, they offered 10 thousand dollars, winner takes all.

Is that a big enough purse? Cobrinha was down, thinking more about making history than the money. But Rafael Mendes responded to the promoters saying it wasn’t enough money for a match of such scale.

In the reader remarks section of GRACIEMAG.com, Rafa’s posture was equally praised and criticized in nearly a hundred comments. What not everyone may know is that a Mendes seminar now brings in around 2,500 dollars. Or in other words, four laid-back seminars would yield the featherweight champion the same sum as this war where the clock doesn’t count.

We asked Rafa how much he thinks it’s worth. Let readers decide for themselves whether the young Ramon Lemos black belt is right.

Why didn’t you accept the $10,000 purse for the time limitless match? Does it have anything to do with the fact you make around $2,500 per seminar?

Yes, seminars bring in about that. For that price, I feel I get more out of doing seminars, where I make friends, train with different people, get to know new places and have fun. Right now I have seminars scheduled for the end of the year in Europe, Guam and probably Japan. So, to do this match I’d have to reschedule and focus on training Jiu-Jitsu and physical conditioning, like I did the whole first half of the year. So for me the amount really isn’t worth it.

Has this whole controversy on GRACIEMAG.com bothered you in any way?

First I’d like to say I’m a fan of you guys, GRACIEMAG gets better every month, every issue. Man, what bothers me is not the controversy, what bothers me is people who don’t even know me criticizing me, using terms they shouldn’t use. I was always taught that to talk about someone, you have to know that person. ESPECIALLY if you’re going to criticize them. That’s what bothers me. People have to learn to respect one another, I feel they confuse things. Just because you root for Cobrinha doesn’t mean you have to drag my name through the dirt. If just because I’ve never lacked respect for him in any interview I’ve ever done.

But I find it hilarious to read that I’m “afraid” to fight. I can tell they really don’t know me at all, because I’m extremely confident. If I were afraid to fight or “lose,” I wouldn’t enter the absolute like I did in Abu Dhabi, where I’d face opponents much bigger and just as good as him (Cobrinha), like Bráulio, Rômulo Barral, Demente, Vella, Big Mac. If I were “afraid,” I’d go to a different sport. I started competing when I was 12 years old and I’m nowhere near close to stopping, so all I want to say is that the notion of “challenge” has been with me for a long time and it makes me want to fight a lot more still.

Do you feel these negotiations may raise the stock of professional fighters?

Yes, those who criticize only see the “fight for fighting’s sake” side, but they forget how while Jiu-Jitsu is fun for a lot of people, to me it is work, my livelihood. I’m an extremely dedicated person and I train A LOT, really A LOT, so I want to be valued for it. What I’m doing is not just for me, it’s for all Jiu-Jitsu fighters, since if they really valued themselves, they wouldn’t need to migrate to MMA due to financial hardships in Jiu-Jitsu.

Do you think the big names from our art head to MMA because they don’t love sport Jiu-Jitsu? I’m sure they love it, and a lot, but they have to think about the future. To be an athlete is not just to be “resilient” and “down for anything,” at certain times we have to make decisions for our future. If the athletes competing these days truly valued themselves, we would be receiving much better offers, including from sponsors. The thing that makes getting sponsorship so much harder is that the majority accepts the first offer. We have to know our worth, we can’t regress.

Did you make a counter-offer to the promoters? Would you say how much you asked?

As soon as I got the email from the promoters saying they were interested in putting on a match between me and Cobrinha, I told them I was happy to have received the invite, that, YES, I would like to fight, but for THIS format I would demand a bigger purse. The format they proposed is different, it’s controversial, it’s much more difficult, so it ends up costing more.

But I didn’t go so far as to mention a price, I told him I’d wait for his answer and he sent me an email to renegotiate. He said that he would put the match on pay-per-view, charge entrance to the gymnasium, etc… Or in other words, this match will bring in money. Everyone knows that, so I’m not going to fight for an amount that’s not going to make me happy, as this is my life, it’s not business or fun. So I want to make it clear: I don’t feel the organizers are in any way going about things wrong, but nor am I wrong to value myself. I have no problem facing Cobrinha, it would even be a pleasure and I value my wins over him A LOT because I know how good he is. But don’t tell me I have to prove my love for the sport or fight for honor. I have honor in the way I lead my life, and you can be sure my love for the sport is unquestionable.

How long do you think a fight to the finish with Cobrinha could take?

I don’t feel you can predict matches, but I do believe it would be a long fight. And it would be tough for both parties.

Do you feel this format can catch on? That you’d like to watch a time limitless match from the stands?

I don’t think so, since the likelihood of the matches lasting a REALLY long time is huge. And when two athletes of the same level face off, it’s not easy for a submission to crop up. I feel this format is cool for a match between “great rivals” in a category, as it’s interesting for the public, but an event with several of this type of match taking place on the same day would take a REALLY long time and would wear you out a lot.

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