Long before UFC champion José Aldo came on the scene, Flamengo, Brazil’s most popular soccer club, already had some fist-flinging aces in their ranks. Those were different times, though, and the future had in store for them a profession that has nothing to do with their sport or producing new talent.
Paulo Bittencourt (pictured on the right) and Pedro Afonso are former boxers for team Flamengo who practiced pugilism back in the 1960s. On a recent visit to the club’s headquarters, in the Gávea borough of Rio de Janeiro, the two recollected the glories they achieved during the good old days there. There, they were filmed for a movie rescuing the club’s Olympic past, a project called Instituto Atleta Rubro-Negro.
TRAINING AT 72
The fighters started training at Flamengo in 1962, at the club’s old headquarters at 66 Praia do Flamengo, where the rowing team would practice as well. Pedro and Paulo won numerous championships for their beloved team, and they struggled to contain their emotions on returning there.
“I always did everything I could for the sport and for Flamengo. It moves me to be here, and I really miss my days as a boxer. I’m 72 now and still train,” stated Pedro Afonso, who was known as “Pedrão” during his days competing for the club.
“I’m happy and touched to remember the glory days I had here. I really want to continue working with boxing. If it were to be here at Flamengo, better still,” said Paulo Bittencourt.
Today, Pedrão and Paulo are taxi drivers in Rio de Janeiro, and from the car window they observe the city and the new direction combat sports have taken.