Jiu-Jitsu in Babalu’s arsenal this Wednesday

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Babalu in photo by Esther Lin

Renato “Babalu” Sobral (35-8) has a big STRIKFORCE fight coming up this Wednesday, June 16th at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles.  He’s looking to redeem himself when he faces “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler (17-5) at a catch weight of 195 pounds in the main event.

Sobral became the STRIKEFORCE Light Heavyweight Champion in November 2008 when he defeated Bobby Southworth. He lost the title to Gegard Mousasi via knockout in the first round in the STRIKEFORCE: Carano vs Cyborg fight card in 2009. Sobral hasn’t fought since.

Lawler comes into this fight on top of the world. His last fight made headlines as he had a come-from-behind knock out win over Melvin Manhoef at STRIKEFORCE: Miami in January 2010. There’s a lot of talk about Lawler and his future MMA career, but don’t count Sobral out just yet.

People may think they can become the next big MMA champion, but few actually know what it takes to become an MMA fighter – the hours and hours of training; the array of skills they must posses; the blood, sweat, and tears they put into the sport; the dedication and commitment they must have to become a champion; and the fearlessness it takes to enter a ring facing someone who wants to destroy you; looking for glory, but facing the possibility of major defeat.

Not just the kind of loss most experience in life, like life’s let downs and disappointments. MMA fighters face the kind of defeat few could endure – a raining down of punches to the head that render them senseless or being submitted in a way that could put them to sleep or destroy body parts, not to mention the psychological damage being beaten inflicts. These fighters throw themselves into this sport body, heart, mind, and soul. It is an elite club of warriors that very few have the ferocity and wherewithal to join.

Sobral is not just your average, run-of-the-mill fighter. Sobral’s fought and won against an array of impressive fighters in his time, and is a seasoned veteran of the sport. Sobral’s training resume is also remarkable. He’s a true mixed martial artist, with many other talents thrown into that mix. Sobral trains multiple times a day, for at least six hours a day, when he is training for a fight. His cross training schedule is exhausting to say the least.

Sobral is known for his superior grappling and submission skills. His Jiu-Jitsu skills are world-class. He trains with Gracie Barra and received his black belt from Master Carlos Gracie, Jr. He also owns GB Cerritos where he teaches all of the kids classes. He invites GB black belts on a regular basis to come to his school and they train together for hours to keep up their skills. It’s not just a part of his fight regimen, but a part of his every day life. His Jiu-Jitsu is his bread and butter.

Sobral says, even as a MMA fighter, when he steps into the ring, he represents GB. He says Master Carlos has been like a father to him. “He’s allowed me to train in different places and has watched me grow and succeed,” Sobral says, “Jiu-Jitsu changed my life. It’s made me confident. Because of the Jiu-Jitsu knowledge I got from Master Carlos, Marcio Feitosa, and my students, I know I can finish a fight. Jiu-Jitsu is the greatest martial art.”

What people don’t know about Sobral is that he’s got many other skills and abilities up his sleeve. He’s also a black belt in muay thai. He trains diligently under legendary MMA coach, Rafael Cordeiro. Cordeiro hails from Brazil and has competed in Jiu-Jitsu, muay thai, and MMA competitions throughout the years. Over the last 10 years, he’s coached some of MMA’s best fighters, including Vanderlei Silva, Shogun, Fabricio Werdum, and King Mo, to name a few. His reputation precedes him and his following is impressive.

In Cordeiro’s MMA class, students start with conditioning drills, then begin their muay thai training. After they are drained from the class, they walk into a separate room where a cage and boxing ring are. That’s where the “men are separated from the boys.” The students go “full tilt” taking turns using their muay thai/MMA techniques in the boxing ring and all their combat skills in the cage. Cordeiro says they go 100% in the cage and people do get hurt. That’s just life of the MMA fighter.

Cordeiro’s been training Sobral for the last two years. “Everybody wants to fight MMA,” Cordeiro says, “But it’s clear you can’t walk into a ring and just fight. The younger fighters are coming to me to learn from the older generation. They were the best fighters, and the young guys want to be like them.”

Cordeiro says he’s helped Sobral perfect his muay thai and MMA skills. “He’s ready to fight,” Cordeiro says, “This is the best time for him. He is in the best shape and skill level of his life.”

Another skill Sobral’s been perfecting is his boxing, which he’s trained in for about 10 years. He currently trains under renowned coach, Justin Fortune in Hollywood, CA. Fortune trains professional boxers from around the world. Fortune Gym is full of old time boxing legends coming and going throughout the day. Walking into the building feels like walking into the movie “Rocky” itself. Sobral spends hours there, honing his skills and trying to improve his stand up game.

While training, Sobral enters the ring with a professional boxer from Russia. With Fortune coaching him from the corner, the two begin to spar. Sobral gets in his opponent’s face; pushes him against the ropes. The crowd erupts when Sobral hits his opponent with a right hook he didn’t see coming. To surprise a professional boxer is quite a feat. After three rounds and 30 minutes, where Sobral definitely holds his own, spectators clap as he steps out of the ring.

Fortune says that he’s been coaching Sobral for two years and “his hands have come up 10-fold.” Fortune says Sobral has been working hard with his champion boxers. “By MMA standards, he’s really tough,” Fortune says, “But even from boxing standards, which are completely different, his hands are good.” Fortune says Sobral fought one of his very accomplished southpaw fighters and “he did very well. He got his shots in.”

Sobral has even more ammo in his arsenal of talents. His wrestling skills go back to the days of old when he was a national champion. He has wrestled for close to 20 years. In high school, he was the Sr. National Champion in Brazil and from the ages of 20 to 27, he traveled far and wide, competing in the sport.

Sobral was also a kickboxing champion in his youth. He trained in that for about 10 years as a kid. When he was 13 years old he says he was involved in his first kickboxing competition and that he KO’d a kid in the ring. “At the time, it kind of freaked me out,” he says, “I didn’t know I was capable of doing that at that age.”

To add to all of the above, Sobral’s cardio is phenomenal. Not only does he run, swim, and do yoga, he spends hours and hours training under Todd Norman at Cutting Edge Sports Training. There, he works on strength, core, agility, endurance, and speed, and integrates it all with fight-specific training. Norman puts Sobral through a hard-core routine. While he’ll slow down on some of his other training routines before the fight, Sobral will continue to condition hard, up to the day of his fight to ensure he has the endurance necessary to go all rounds with Lawler.

When it comes to fitness and training, Sobral is the complete package. “It’s always been my life,” Sobral says, “I’ve spent my life in a gym.” And while it may sound fun, Sobral can assure you it’s not. The workouts are long, grueling, and exhausting. Add to that, one of the hardest things about fighting that most don’t think about: the constant dieting.

“I cut back on my eating, but I train even harder,” he says, “It makes me really grumpy. I don’t want to talk to anyone, which makes it hard on my family. I’m not an easy guy to be around before a fight.” The hours, effort, and time Sobral puts into his fitness, training, and dieting does not always make for an easy life, but it is one that he has chosen and one that he is clearly passionate about.

Sobral says he is looking forward to this fight with Lawler. He says this fight is “in his backyard” in Los Angeles and he’ll have lots of friends and fans in the crowd supporting him. “There’s no second chances in the ring,” he says, “No other chances. I deserved to lose my last fight because I was tired and unmotivated. Sometimes it’s good to get your ass kicked. It gave me my tiger’s eye back. I’m ready to fight.”

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