A week ago, police officer Paulo Thiago, 30, left the hotel on his way to UFC Rio trying to think only of his impending welterweight encounter with the submission savvy David Mitchell. He tried not to clutter his mind with memories of his resounding UFC debut, when he got his foot in the promotional door with a knockout win over top-flight fighter Josh Koshcheck, back in 2009.
An officer on Brazil’s elite police force and a student of Ataide Junior, Paulo tried not to let the subsequent oscillation in performance he went through creep into his mind. He was coming off a loss to the stalwart Jon Fitch, wins over the outstanding Jacob Volkmann and Mike Swick, and ultimately came up short against Martin Kampmann and Diego Sanchez. It was time to win, and nothing could have been a greater help in doing so than having the entire gymnasium on his side.
Bolstered by the Brazilian block buster “Tropa de Elite” (Elite Force) movies, Paulo made his way into the HSBC Arena to a thunderous roar unlike any he had ever heard. “It was like I was in the midst of soccer fans,” said UFC president Dana White. The folks from the international press were wide-eyed at the war cries “Vai Morrer!” (You’re going to die!) for Mitchell, and the chants and phrases taken from the José Padilha-directed movie. (And “You’re going to die” is nothing. Don’t be surprised, dear reader, if the fans at the next UFCs imitate what we recently saw at soccer stadiums here and bring with them coffins with the names of the Brazilians’ opponents. Classic. Of questionable taste, but a classic nevertheless.)
The excitement had its effect, and Paulo didn’t concede an inch to his rival, making it to back mount as the match ended and winning the unanimous decision. The din was such that unaccustomed reporters thought he had managed to pull off the submission. Nope, the Californian was saved by the bell.
So in the end, who uplifted who? Was it the Bope officer who shook up UFC Rio or the UFC in Rio that shook up Paulo Thiago and got him back on track?
“Both… both,” is the assessment of Wallid Ismail, the fighter’s manager and friend. “It was one of the most beautiful entrances in UFC history, the most exciting of UFC Rio, and he wasn’t even on the main card. Paulo needed this boost, and there’s no greater incentive than to put on a fine display before Brazilians on the UFC’s debut in Rio, with the whole crowd for him. From here on out he has one objective: to make it to the top of the division.”
Neither the crowd nor the policeman won on their own, of course. Wallid points out the exception work of Constrictor Team’s boxing coach, Diguinho, and team leader and black belt Ataide. “Ataide is a warrior. He always was, and he passes that on to his students. To give you an idea, Ataide never picks his students’ opponents. Whenever I match fights, he never asks me who his guys will be fighting. That’s why Constrictor Team is respected here and gaining force abroad,” says the founder of Jungle Fight in praise, to end with a slight jab.
“What’s important is this: Paulo, Yuri Marajó and Erick Silva all came from Jungle Fight, and their winning is proof of how important it is to face tough opponents here before fighting abroad. If fighters only fight handpicked opponents to fatten up their records, have an easy run, they’re screwed when they get to the UFC! Just look at the CVs of the guys who came from Jungle: Erick faced the toughest guys in Brazil before UFC Rio. He did his homework. So Jungle isn’t an event made for coaches, for a team to grow. It’s made for the athlete, for the public, and MMA to grow as one,” he says.
For Paulo Thiago’s next mission, the team spoke with the folks at the UFC and made a request, as Wallid recalls: “After the win we asked for an opponent with one condition: he has to have two arms and two legs. Other than that, they can send whoever they want.”
UFC Rio results
HSBC Arena, Barra da Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro
August 27, 2011
Anderson Silva defeated Yushin Okami via TKO at 4:02 min of R1;
Mauricio Shogun defeated Forrest Griffin via TKO in R1;
Edson Barboza defeated Ross Pearson via split decision;
Rodrigo Minotauro defeated Brendan Schaub via TKO at 3:09 min of R1;
Stanislav Nedkov defeated Luiz “Banha” Cane via TKO at 4 min of R1;
Thiago Tavares defeated Spencer Fisher via TKO at 2:21 min of R2;
Rousimar Toquinho defeated Dan Miller via unanimous decision;
Paulo Thiago defeated David Mitchell via unanimous decision;
Raphael Assunção defeated Johnny Eduardo via unanimous decision;
Erick Silva defeated Luis Beição via TKO at 0.40 min of R1;
Yuri “Marajó” Alcantara defeated Felipe “Sertanejo” Arantes via unanimous decision;
Yves Jabouin defeated Ian Loveland via split decision.