From the “Where’ve they been?” series: Alex Negão

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Alex Negão with star of Abu Dhabi Hassan. Photo: Regis Rodrigues.

He was a fixture at the grueling MMA training sessions at Brazilian Top Team, where he was a top-notch sparring partner for Minotauro & Co. He was a student of the late Carlson Gracie, with whom he lived while still a blue belt. And he always figured on the winners’ stand at the ADCC. A Jiu-Jitsu champion at nearly all belt levels. A former volleyball player for Brazil’s juvenile national team.

Yes, the giant Alex “Negão” Paz was a great exponent of Jiu-Jitsu early in the decade, but he went beyond that: he was a witness to all the behind-the-scenes action in world MMA. But what has he been up to, this figure who sticks out like a sore thumb for his 115 kg (253 lbs) spread over a 1.92-meter frame?

Living in Abu Dhabi for the last year, Alex oversees MMA training at Emirates Team and supervises Marcos Oliveira, Hassan Rumaiti, Michel Maia, Maiky Reiter among others. Considered the foremost authority of MMA in the Middle East, he tells what he’s been up to and breaks down the stage at which the sport finds itself in the region.

How did you end up taking up MMA again, here in the Emirates?
I met Maiki here, who came in from Holland, and when I laid eyes on him in training I knew he had enormous potential in MMA. Then we started training together, but with no set plan. That was when Hassan Rumaiti (Sheikh Tahnoon’s adoptive son), who was watching the training session, asked to start his training, as he was planning to make his debut in the style. After a few months he debuted victoriously in Holland. Sheikh Mohamad Bin Zayed was really happy and supported our training.

What is the make-up of the team in this style?
Besides the Brazilian fighters, we started with the second generation of Sheikh Tahnoon’s kids. There are about twenty youths between the ages of sixteen and eighteen. We also have fighters from other countries.

Is the MMA market in Abu Dhabi growing?
Not just in Abu Dhabi. Here we have a very well-structured event, the ADFC. In November we’ll hold one in Jordan where two or three of our fighters will be on the card. In January we’ll probably have another one in Egypt, where we’ll try and get our fighters in there, as well.

How is the team’s training going?
It’s been great to see. It’s been going off. Hassan, in particular, has made a lot of progress. And to work with guys like Marcão, Michel, Maiki and Luciano “Mutante”, who just arrived, has been a real pleasure. The kids are responding well to what’s demanded of them.

Aside from Hassan, are there any others from the region you feel are promising?
Khalid Walid of Syria and Gabriel Tayeh of Palestine should make their debuts in Jordan. A lot will be said about those two. Khalid is an excellent striker and Gabriel has really slick Jiu-Jitsu. We also have an excellent boxer, Ali Salem, who is Hassan’s brother, and there’s the heavyweight Yahya Mansoor, who is a local Jiu-Jitsu hero. Not to mention the pleasant surprises from the new generation Sheikh Tahnoon provided. There will be a lot of talk about them.

Anything else you’d like to mention?
I’d just like to give thanks to the people who taught me so much, like masters Carlson, Murilo (Bustamante), Ricardo Libório, Zé Mario, Bebeo, Cláudio Coelho and friends like Marcelo Palermo, Ovidio de Abreu and Felipe Bronze. And two the group at Emirates Team, mainly Jonver Bonini, Bruno Lopes, Orley “Tartaruga”, Oscar Junior and Marcelo “Guardinha” Motta, who always help out in training. And I’d like to thank the unconditional support and vote of confidence of Sheikh Mohamad and Sheikh Tahnoon for making it possible for us to carry out our work here in Abu Dhabi.

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