An absolute-fighting featherweight: Rafa Mendes to brave rougher waters

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Rafa, Gui Mendes and family take a gondola trip in Venice, Italy. Photo: personal archives.

Rafael and Guilherme Mendes didn’t want to hear about just doing the European Open Championship. After winning at the end of January in Lisbon they set about spoiling the ladies in their lives. So the burly brothers took Momma Mendes and the girlfriends for a tour around Europe.

Today the brothers are teaching in Canada. But Rafa had a chat with and made mention of plans to compete in the absolute in Abu Dhabi. The waters he’ll face there are quite a bit more turbulent than what he braved in Venice, but he doesn’t hear about it. Check out what he had to say!

What places did you get to see while touring Europe?

The trip was really cool. Guilherme and I went around with our mom and girlfriends. We set up a trip around Europe with them and some friends from the gym after the competition, and it was great. We visited Lisbon, Paris, Venice, and Rome. We took the chance to do some seminars during the trip, which was great too. Of what I liked best, I really enjoyed seeing the inside of the Colisseum. I was in Rome last year and knew it was a pretty place, but this time I had the pleasure of going inside and getting to see it – it left me speechless. I kept imagining how the gladiators must have felt in there. Sinister! Traveling with the family is really pleasant; so is visiting those incredible places, we gained a lot from it.

Where in Europe will Jiu-Jitsu be strongest in a few years, in your opinion?

The European Championship is causing Jiu-Jitsu in Europe to grow a lot. But I can’t point out any one strongest nation, since there are a lot of tough guys in the competition and I haven’t had the pleasure of getting to know all that many countries yet. Overall, Jiu-Jitsu in Europe is evolving really quickly and I believe the European Open may be a major factor in that happening. A number of champions are already coming out of Europe, like the brown belt weight and absolute champion (Denmark’s Alexander Trans).

As feras no Coliseu: inspiração nos gladiadores pra lutar o Pan e o World Pro.

You beat Renan Borges with one of your interesting slides to the back. How did you do it?

The move is what we at the gym call “berimbolo.” I’ve been doing it since I was a blue belt. In the middle of the “tangle” of the guard I attack the opponent’s back. I’ve been doing the position for a long time, I’m improving on it every day at the academy. I didn’t start doing it just yesterday or a month ago, I’ve been working on it for ten years, and it is getting more and more effective in competition.

Will we see you in the absolute division in Abu Dhabi again this year?

We’ll be there for sure, but first I’m going to concentrate on winning my weight group and holding on to my title “at home,” as I have the previous two years. After winning my weight group I’ll enter the absolute to help the Atos gang out. We’ll fight to keep the absolute belt among us. I’m going to tangle with the big guys, everyone likes seeing a skinny guy go up against giants.

Do you think you’ll get to train with Sheikh Tahnoon again?

I’ll do my best. I’ll focus on having a good showing, and God winning, I’ll have another chance to train with Sheikh Tahnoon. I already got to train with him on three occasions and we’ve maintained our friendship. He’s an incredible guy.

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