Letter from Abu Dhabi III

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The phone rang at 11 am. I answered still dreaming, I think. “Will you be going on the Dubai tour?”

“Not a chance.”

“Then head over to the Yas Hotel, there’s a press conference going on (for UFC 112).”

I heaved a sigh, and headed straight for the shower so as not to give up. 17 minutes later I was there; of course, it had already started. I got there when the protagonists of the main event, 185-lbs champion Anderson Silva and challenger Demian Maia, were being introduced.

Ed Soares, manager and interpreter, with Anderson Silva, his English getting better and better. Photos: Luca Atalla.

I did a quick scan of the environment and the first thing to catch my attention was BJ’s younger brother Reagan on a dais set up for TV at the back of the room. Seated cross-legged, the first Penn to become world champion (blue belt, 1998) had his Macbook Pro on his lap, probably updating the under 155-lbs champion’s website.

The only news to come of the press conference was Anderson dispensing of his translator to do his own thing. But only till the questions started coming in, when Ed Soares entered the scene again.

Indeed, there were few questions, and it became somewhat awkward. Despite my not being big on press conferences, I would have thrown one in there to move things along, but I think I was still so sleepy that my head was running in slow motion, and all I managed to do was compliment the Curitiba native on his prescription glasses, when the fighters were already on their way to a panel at the front to do a staredown for publicity photos.

A reporter asked Renzo and Hughes what the pressure they were feeling was like, for Renzo having a link to the country and being well known there.

Renzo responded saying the pressure of fighting a combatant as good as Matt Hughes is such that any other pressuring factors take second stage. Hughes answered that he didn’t feel any pressure, that he’d feel more were he fighting at home.

I spoke some with JD, BJ’s brother, and remembered how they contributed to TV network CNN during the aftermath of the earthquake in Chile, at the end of February. A colossal tsunami was expected to hit Hilo Bay, in Hawaii, and BJ spent hours on the air, showing how safe the scene was via skype, for the world to see.

BJ, always alert – even in relation to tidal waves.

“Fortunately, the devastating wave didn’t hit,” I stated the obvious. JD sighed and told me how things were going at their gym over there. He said all was well, and that what was going strong was Jiu-Jitsu, because MMA classes were for advanced students.

Renzo pulled me over to grab the iPad from the case and show it to a reporter, and the scene that has been going on since Saturday repeated itself yet again: A little group gathered to check out and ask about the apparatus (Steve Jobs should send me a check, because I think he must have sold about 50 because of me, already). One of the producers got excited and commented to Renzo: “I mean no disrespect, but the highlight of the week is this novelty.”

I left the room as soon as I could, and spoke some with the rest of Anderson’s team and André Galvão. If Demian showed no signs of feeling awkward, André felt differently:

“It’s really bothersome. We’re friends, my wife is friends with his and Alejarra’s wives, but there’s no way around it.” He told me before the fight there’s no way to talk even about trifles. Afterwards is another story.

Renzo and Demian: final training sessions.

We went to the hotel, where Renzo had a cheese sandwich in the lobby, and we sat around there shooting the breeze with everyone who filtered in. Rodrigo Minotauro showed up and stuck around for five minutes, but pushed off because he was late for a safari in the desert, holding the others back another half hour because of a commitment to the UFC.

When the clock struck 4 pm, the fighters made their ways to shoot the interview to be broadcast on the big screen before the fight. When Renzo’s turn came, besides the video, the UFC photographer took the opportunity to do a new session, “now that you’re in better shape,” he justified. “They tell me I have the body of an 18-year-old,” Gracie joked, agreeing with the photography ace’s argument.

Just for a change of food, or ambience, we left Rotana for the hotel where I’m being put up, the Crown Plaza, at the other side of the street. And some three hours without the buzz from the event later, we returned in time for what could be Renzo’s last sparring session before the event.

Gracie’s team thus went to the matted room they’ve been using on a daily basis, but the first to open the door was startled when he came face to face with Matt Hughes playing guard. There was a brief silence, until Renzo caught sight of what was going on, had a laugh with his adversary and went to the room next door, where Demian was finishing his warm-up for five-round specific training.

Renzo warmed up and hit the mitts on the sidelines and then did three rounds of grappling with Ricardo Cachorrão, Roberto Gordo and Sérgio Ignácio. Demian’s team stuck around to watch the goings-on till the end. I didn’t get to ask Demian’s team, because they had left by then, but Renzo’s troops and the fighter himself were quite satisfied with how the session went and with how the positions practiced today were performed. As everyone expects a Matt Hughes in good shape, the fight promises to be a doozy.

Hughes: no pressure at all.

At the tail end came the arrival of Jiu-Jitsu world champion Romulo Barral, here for the World Pro next week, and, of course, to watch the UFC. While Renzo was winding down, Rafael dos Anjos set about his work, and the Gracie added his pointers to some of the positions. Romulo, who had already spent a few hours training, couldn’t resist and tried them out, too. Nearly everyone had left but I, Rilion, Gordinho, Gordo, Riury (Renzo’s nephew) and Sergio Ignacio stuck around another two hours, In the gi, training and then going over positions. And if today’s letter is a little of kilter, it’s from the stiff neck I got for myself during this extra time.

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