Letter from Abu Dhabi

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Renzo training for UFC 112

I arrived at the hotel where the fighters are staying for UFC 112 this Monday morning. At the restaurant, I stopped right at the table where Anderson Silva’s manager Jorge Guimarães, Ramon Lemos and the champion’s father, Jurarez, were sitting.

Ramon was speaking of his plans to open an academy in the United States and Joinha was entertaining everyone with his usual sense of humor, when I crossed paths for the first time with one of the fighters in the evening’s main events, BJ Penn’s adversary, challenger to the under 155 lbs title, Frankie Edgar.

He was returning from a morning session with his boxing coach, Mark Henry. To say Edgar is in great shape is practically a pleonasm, because the shorty doesn’t piddle around on the job and I’ll even risk saying he could be the one who trains most, of all the fighters at UFC 112.

That’s not to say that automatically guarantees him as favorite against the phenomenal Penn, who up until now has liquidated everyone in the division.

Matt Hughes passed by heading for the main lobby soon thereafter. I’ve run into Hughes before at some events, though I’ve never interviewed him nor introduced myself. It’s likely he doesn’t even remember who I am. Even so I greeted him like I knew him, and he reciprocated with a friendly nod and went on his way.

With earphones from his cell phone fitted in his ears, a serious look on his face, Xande Ribeiro was the next to appear. He has a tough task ahead of him as Demian Maia’s coach in Saturday evening’s main event, but there was something else bugging him: the earthquake in Baja California, in Mexico.

“My wife woke me up in the middle of the night with my daughter in her arms crying,” he said, powerless, then clarifying that everything was ok.

Brazil’s Rafael dos Anjos faces England’s Terry Etin in what will likely be the first fight of the broadcast, and he showed up with his seconds, brothers Roberto Gordo and Rafael Gordinho. For this fight, Rafael trained at Evolve-MMA in Singapore, and his flight to the capital of the Emirates took pretty much as long as his opponent’s flight from London: about seven hours. Rafael guarantees he’s fine to make weight, “just” seven kilos (15 lbs) over, four days from weigh-ins.

BJ Penn is put up at another hotel, and I haven’t crossed paths with him. But Rafael came from the autograph session praising the Hawaiian’s friendly demeanor.

We were preparing to leave the hotel when Renzo Gracie appeared, a smile on his face and magnet on his body, drawing the whole group to him while he authorized the interview agenda presented by the Englishman Ant, press coordinator for this installment of the event: 17 requests for today. I joked to him: “Eighteen. Add GRACIEMAG to that list.” But at this point what was entertaining him was my iPad, in particular the Marvel comics application.

Renzo kept the group under wraps for more or less four hours, Edgar returned with Cachorrão and the rest of the troop and set off for the shopping mall, Demian showed up wearing a sleepy face (from his post-breakfast nap) and went with Xande to the pool, and breakfast soon turned into linner.

Before we headed for the mall, Rodrigo Minotauro, too, showed up, and was on even terms with Demian when it came to sleepiness. Nothing too special on the trip to Yas Island. Renzo had a mango juice, indicated the juices from the region that has different layers of fruits, and we queried as to how ticket sales were going. According to a saleslady at a stand in the mall, there were only a few left in the most expensive seating areas.

The folks from the café requested a photo with Renzo.

Renzo showed interest, but she quickly put an end to the fun saying she knew he would be fighting. Which was not great achievement, as it’s not just in Times Square, NY, that the Brazilian’s face is emblazoned on billboards. Vertical strips hanging around the mall, digital panels spread around the city, blurbs on the radio and TV the only time I turned on the media vehicles here. I don’t know if the 12 thousand seats will all really be occupied at the first event in a place with no tradition in the sport, but it wouldn’t be for a lack of publicity.

On the way back, night training, at the same hour the fight is to take place. When we arrive, Demian had already finished his activities, and was preparing for dinner. Renzo changed clothes quickly and went to hit the mitts in the street, since the event will take place in open air – and don’t worry, there’s nothing about rain in the forecast for the next 365 days, around here.

Rafael dos Anjos in the meantime hit the mitts in one of the rooms reserved for participants’ training sessions, and sweat off some two kilos from his excess. When he was finishing up, Anderson came on the scene sporting his Brazilian national team soccer jersey.

The name of the under 185 lbs champion was on the same room as Renzo’s, but the one next door was empty, and his team set up shop there. So he greeted everyone, went to the second door and set about his homework.

Renzo’s grappling session lasted around 20 minutes, with the help of Ricardo Cachorrão and Sérgio Ignácio, the watchful eye of Rilion Gracie, as well as Demian, Xande and a number of others from the troop, who filtered in and installed themselves.

In my draft, now I was suppose to write about a list of the moves Renzo was studying. But I dunno, I remember how Hughes greeted me earlier, it could be he keeps tabs on GRACIEMAG.com and we didn’t even know… So, see you tomorrow!

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There are 19 comments for this article
  1. Lee at 1:49 pm

    Oh to have been a bird on the wall watching a rolling session with Renzo, Rilion, Ricardo Almeida, Xande Ribeiro and Demian Maia! Heavenly

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