During the 1990s and 2000s the Rio de Janeiro State towns of Campos dos Goytacazes and São João da Barra hosted some of the biggest Jiu-Jitsu and MMA stars there are. The likes of Marcelo Garcia, Renato Babalu, Rodrigo Damm, Thales Leites, Gabriel Napão, Alexandre Café, Romulo Barral and so many others all strut their skills on the mats there with some frequency.
Always paying good prize money, the tournaments caught the attention of the cream of the grappling crop and provided heaps of excitement for the town folk, who usually didn’t have to fork out a cent to get in. At one such tourney, at around 2004, one match escaped the specialized media’s attention. The still unknown José Aldo and Thiago Tavares, now stars of the UFC, had a real barnburner of a showdown.
DECISIVE LAST-MINUTE SWEEP
“I remember that I called Dedé Pederneiras and asked for a light athlete to complete an eight-man tournament lineup,” recalls Leandro Ribeiro Gomes, the promoter of the event. “He showed up with José Aldo, and I complained, ‘Shoot, Dedé, I wanted someone tough!’ (laughs). The kid blew my mind; although he was unknown, he was agile and really tough on the ground, with a real lively game. Dedé told us then that the kid loved training on his feet and hit hard. Now he’s a UFC champion, and he deserves it all.”
The match between Aldo and Tavares was considered the best of the competition that night, with excellent technique displayed on the ground. Aldo pulled guard and didn’t stop until decisively sweeping at the very end, winning by 2-0. Aldo went through to the final against TUF Brazil contestant Rodrigo Damm, who beat the UFC champion and won the event.
Do you remember? Take the opportunity to let us know about some other matches featuring big UFC names that may have slipped from memory.