Mendes: “We have to know our worth, we can’t regress”

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Mendes celebrates after winning his first IBJJF gold as a black belt, in 2010. Photo: Ivan Trindade.

What does it cost to make a dream come true? In July, a group of Jiu-Jitsu enthusiasts from Atlanta came up with a no-time limit Jiu-Jitsu match, to the finish, between Rafael Mendes and Rubens Cobrinha – the current world champion from Atos against Alliance’s four-time world champion. To make it happen, they offered 10 thousand dollars, winner takes all.

Is that a big enough purse? Cobrinha was down, thinking more about making history than the money. But Rafael Mendes responded to the promoters saying it wasn’t enough money for a match of such scale.

In the reader remarks section of, Rafa’s posture was equally praised and criticized in nearly a hundred comments. What not everyone may know is that a Mendes seminar now brings in around 2,500 dollars. Or in other words, four laid-back seminars would yield the featherweight champion the same sum as this war where the clock doesn’t count.

We asked Rafa how much he thinks it’s worth. Let readers decide for themselves whether the young Ramon Lemos black belt is right.

Why didn’t you accept the $10,000 purse for the time limitless match? Does it have anything to do with the fact you make around $2,500 per seminar?

Yes, seminars bring in about that. For that price, I feel I get more out of doing seminars, where I make friends, train with different people, get to know new places and have fun. Right now I have seminars scheduled for the end of the year in Europe, Guam and probably Japan. So, to do this match I’d have to reschedule and focus on training Jiu-Jitsu and physical conditioning, like I did the whole first half of the year. So for me the amount really isn’t worth it.

Has this whole controversy on bothered you in any way?

First I’d like to say I’m a fan of you guys, GRACIEMAG gets better every month, every issue. Man, what bothers me is not the controversy, what bothers me is people who don’t even know me criticizing me, using terms they shouldn’t use. I was always taught that to talk about someone, you have to know that person. ESPECIALLY if you’re going to criticize them. That’s what bothers me. People have to learn to respect one another, I feel they confuse things. Just because you root for Cobrinha doesn’t mean you have to drag my name through the dirt. If just because I’ve never lacked respect for him in any interview I’ve ever done.

But I find it hilarious to read that I’m “afraid” to fight. I can tell they really don’t know me at all, because I’m extremely confident. If I were afraid to fight or “lose,” I wouldn’t enter the absolute like I did in Abu Dhabi, where I’d face opponents much bigger and just as good as him (Cobrinha), like Bráulio, Rômulo Barral, Demente, Vella, Big Mac. If I were “afraid,” I’d go to a different sport. I started competing when I was 12 years old and I’m nowhere near close to stopping, so all I want to say is that the notion of “challenge” has been with me for a long time and it makes me want to fight a lot more still.

Do you feel these negotiations may raise the stock of professional fighters?

Yes, those who criticize only see the “fight for fighting’s sake” side, but they forget how while Jiu-Jitsu is fun for a lot of people, to me it is work, my livelihood. I’m an extremely dedicated person and I train A LOT, really A LOT, so I want to be valued for it. What I’m doing is not just for me, it’s for all Jiu-Jitsu fighters, since if they really valued themselves, they wouldn’t need to migrate to MMA due to financial hardships in Jiu-Jitsu.

Do you think the big names from our art head to MMA because they don’t love sport Jiu-Jitsu? I’m sure they love it, and a lot, but they have to think about the future. To be an athlete is not just to be “resilient” and “down for anything,” at certain times we have to make decisions for our future. If the athletes competing these days truly valued themselves, we would be receiving much better offers, including from sponsors. The thing that makes getting sponsorship so much harder is that the majority accepts the first offer. We have to know our worth, we can’t regress.

Did you make a counter-offer to the promoters? Would you say how much you asked?

As soon as I got the email from the promoters saying they were interested in putting on a match between me and Cobrinha, I told them I was happy to have received the invite, that, YES, I would like to fight, but for THIS format I would demand a bigger purse. The format they proposed is different, it’s controversial, it’s much more difficult, so it ends up costing more.

But I didn’t go so far as to mention a price, I told him I’d wait for his answer and he sent me an email to renegotiate. He said that he would put the match on pay-per-view, charge entrance to the gymnasium, etc… Or in other words, this match will bring in money. Everyone knows that, so I’m not going to fight for an amount that’s not going to make me happy, as this is my life, it’s not business or fun. So I want to make it clear: I don’t feel the organizers are in any way going about things wrong, but nor am I wrong to value myself. I have no problem facing Cobrinha, it would even be a pleasure and I value my wins over him A LOT because I know how good he is. But don’t tell me I have to prove my love for the sport or fight for honor. I have honor in the way I lead my life, and you can be sure my love for the sport is unquestionable.

How long do you think a fight to the finish with Cobrinha could take?

I don’t feel you can predict matches, but I do believe it would be a long fight. And it would be tough for both parties.

Do you feel this format can catch on? That you’d like to watch a time limitless match from the stands?

I don’t think so, since the likelihood of the matches lasting a REALLY long time is huge. And when two athletes of the same level face off, it’s not easy for a submission to crop up. I feel this format is cool for a match between “great rivals” in a category, as it’s interesting for the public, but an event with several of this type of match taking place on the same day would take a REALLY long time and would wear you out a lot.

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There are 33 comments for this article
  1. Lucas at 4:33 pm

    Great interview, thanks for posting it. When I read the headline my first knee-jerk reaction was “he think’s he’ll lose with no time limit”. This article really changed my mind. People can say all they want about fighting for honor, but there’s no honor in making bad decisions.

    If you jump every time someone calls you afraid or waves a little money in your face, all you’re proving is that you’re easily manipulated. Well done.

    That being said, I’d watch the hell out of this fight.

  2. Lloyd Irvin at 4:55 pm

    I think they are both worth more than that amount of money for a fight to the death!

    Rafa would lose more money than $10,000 if he had to stop doing his seminars to train for the chance to win $10,000.

    If these investors plan on doing more matches like this, JT Torres would love to do a fight to the death against anyone in the leve black belt division.

  3. Guppy at 5:09 pm

    Rafa, you are a smart man. The children don’t realize what you are trying to do for the sport. I believe you should ask what you are worth, because it is you and Cobrinha that will bring in the money to the people behind the scenes and promoters. If it wasn’t for the public interest to watch both of you grapple, there would be no money to be made for anyone. I also believe it shouldn’t be winner takes all. It may be more exciting, but it doesn’t seem fair for the opponent that worked just as hard, and meanwhile, other people are filling their pockets.

  4. fred reyes at 5:22 pm

    I agree with mendes,
    Keep in mind that the loser of the match should win a purse also.
    Mma and boxers make money win or lose! Bjj fighters train just as hard as all professional athletes.

    Also, if its on pay per view and they charge at the auditorium both athletes should make a percentage. I mean we will be watching them and not the promoters.

    Just my opinion that both athletes should be paid and treated like the proffesional athletes that they are.
    Also they should make a card. Like 3 or 4 supermatches that day to make the pay per veiw worth it…
    Fred Reyes

  5. David at 6:37 pm

    I think the purse should definetly be bigger!!! These guys are legends,..10k is nothing these days…it is offensive!!

  6. PJ at 7:15 pm

    Rafael is amazing! He is 100% right! If you EVER have the opportunity to attend one of his seminars on this seminar tour make sure that you do! You will not only meet an awesome bjj competitor teaching fantastic techniques BUT also you will meet a great person and friend!! You can’t put a price on that!

    He trains hard! He obviously loves competition and does not shy away from it. I don’t understand how anyone could hate on him for this! Keep doing your thing Rafael!


  7. Cesar at 9:03 pm

    Rafael Mendes deserves more, Cobrinha deserves more and the sport deserves more too.
    I hope companies like Budovideos, Graciemag,etc could be also part of the big companys that will invest more money in elite athletes like these two.
    The whole sport would be the one that wins.
    But all the glory allways goes to the Lord Jesus.

  8. Greg at 9:32 pm

    Glad Rafael gave more a response this time, gives me more to think about. I respect him more understanding his logic behind the request for more $.

  9. RDJ at 12:46 pm

    I think a match of this kind would favor Cobrinha. Rafa (and most of Atos, especially Durinho) is great at pulling 50/50 and winning by an advantage or two. I hope Rafa can come to terms with the promoters. It would be a great match. I can’t help but think that Rafa can see this.

  10. Cachorrinho at 3:31 pm

    Rafa is right. If he makes $2.500 + making friends + traveling per seminar than $10,000 is just not worth it. Beside that, not accepting the first offer is a good attitude since it really sucks that Rafa always needs to justify himself beating Cobrinha. All those comments about him stalling and so forth. Cobrinha is awesome but now Rafa’s the new dog in town, basta!

  11. Sergio at 4:57 pm

    @Lloyd Irvin: wait until JT torres is a world champ at black belt then you can start throwing him out there to make money like you do with the rest of your fighters.

  12. the kid at 5:34 pm

    The reality is, that it is also winner takes all. What if Rafa does lose? He loses all the seminar money and gets nothing from the match. Win or lose both athletes should get paid. On top of that, the main events should get a percentage of the live gate sales and a percentage of the pay per view revenue. I am a fan of jiu jitsu and i like, and respect both these athletes. If you really love this sport you should see the doors Mr Mendes is trying to open up for BJJ practitioners everywhere.

  13. andy at 10:40 am

    Forget about Rafael then. Plenty of other great matchups for the money.

    Xande vs. Roger
    Kron vs Kayron
    Ryron or Rener vs anybody
    Pablo Popovitch vs Marcelo

    would all make for good submission only matches

  14. Jordan Burton, III at 10:07 pm

    Like I said in one of the earlier post, this is ALL ABOUT PRINCIPLES. Rafa, again, I get you, and I put my entire government name on that.

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