World BJJ champion Leonardo Santos is a martial arts veteran. In the early aughts, the black-belt under Wendell Alexander, one of Nova União’s leaders, was one of the great names in competitive BJJ and was even deemed the world’s No. 1 lightweight. Owner of a very technical, refined game, Leo has as his fortes the butterfly guard and the hook sweep. It was through basic, traditional BJJ that he made his way to the top.
“We’re a little suspect to talk about this because we’re old-school, but it’s the real truth: if you have a strong base, a well-done start, then you’ll do everything well down the line. You will do the lapel guard, the berimbolo”, Santos told Graciemag.
Leo has fought unforgettable bouts in BJJ and no-gi grappling. At the ADCC he subbed former UFC champion Georges St. Pierre via flying armbar — one of the best-looking subs in the organization’s long history. But the fight that Leo remembers fondly was fought against the legend Royler gracie, back in the 1999 World Championship. In that occasion, Leo was just 19 and a rookie black-belt. He lost to an already established Royler on advantages.
“This fight I had with Royler was certainly one of the most important ones. It was my black belt debut in world championships, and fighting a legend, Royler Gracie, one of the best and greatest competitors BJJ has ever had, and to me it was an honor to make that classic with him, fighting that battle, and unfortunately I didn’t win, but these are things of BJJ history that we have to leave behind and evolve more and more. To me it was an honor fighting him, and a great pleasure to have made a mark in the history of worldwide BJJ through that fight and many others I fought too”, he recalls.
These days, Leo is a UFC fighter. He joined the outfit after winning the Brazil installment of “The Ultimate Fighter.” Despite all his experience, Leo confesses he is not impervious to pressure:
“Well, I think being nervous before the fight is normal; if I tell you I don’t get nervous before a fight, it’s a lie. Whether it’s BJJ or MMA, I always get nervous before, but for me it’s even good — I go in more alert to what I’m gonna do. Not to the point of harming me making myself too tense and unable to unleash my game during the fight, but to the point of making me more alert. I think sometimes it’s important.”
Leo went on to offer advice to newcomers to the gentle art, and even taught one of his favorite techniques, an ezequiel choke starting from side attack. Watch the complete interview and learn this move from one of Jiu-Jitsu’s finest.