Mendes at the top of the world and plays down rivalry: “Cobrinha’s great”

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Rafa against Cobrinha at the Worlds. Photo: Ivan Trindade

After giving a taste of what was to come at black belt in 2009, Rafael Mendes definitively lived up to the expectations he created after winning everything at all previous belts. The Atos representative was the best in the under 66 kg division of the ADCC, at both World Pro qualifiers, at the World Pro, at the European Championship, Brazilian Nationals and most recently at the Worlds.

Rafa spoke to about all that and much more in the following interview:

Jiu-Jitsu changed your life a great deal (travel, titles, fame)…

I can say Jiu-Jitsu is changing my life for the better and I believe there’s a lot more to improve, but all in due time. Thank God the results of my efforts in training and the results from competitions are opening doors for me. It really is great to work doing what I love and still enjoy the good things the job carries with it like travel, getting to know new places and people, have my name recognized, win championships and have people appreciate what I do. I’m really happy; I love training, competing, testing myself, and I’m addicted to the feeling of victory.

Up to what point can you carry on with this routine without wearing out? How do you manage to balance everything?

Balance is in the pleasure I feel in training, competing and the wear-and-tear that comes with it. I didn’t used to ever take breaks; a tournament would end and I’d be back training the next day. I can’t go without training! But as time goes by you gain experience, see that your body needs some rest and that, after taking a break, you come back even better and restored. So I look to make the first half of the year the most tiring; I compete at as many tournaments as possible, train a lot, do physical conditioning, ever all to be the champion. Now the Worlds is out of the way, this time I rested for two weeks without putting on the gi and now I’m back to training, but not doing physical conditioning yet, nothing too heavy. But I’ll compete again this year; I won’t take that much rest.

Rafa faced his own brother at the Worlds. Photo: Luca Atalla

What’s the biggest difference between competing at the Worlds and the ADCC?

The rules are totally different, so you need to train differently. The focus in training needs to be on what you’ll encounter in the competition; there’s no point in training in the gi to compete at the ADCC or without the gi and competing at the Worlds. It’s all different. The positions are different, the grips are different, the rules are different… The only thing the same is the objective: to be champion. But training for either of them wears you out. Both competitions are really high level and you can’t afford to make mistakes. You need to be 100%.

Rivalry with Cobrinha plays out at the Brazilian Nationals. Photo: Carlos Ozório

Rubens Cobrinha is your main rival at featherweight. What’s your relationship with him like? Do you get along?

I feel the media exaggerates the rivalry by exposing each other’s opinions and comments. But I have nothing against Cobrinha and this rivalry stays on the mat. We’re in the same division and want to be at the same place, where only one can be. So we have to go to war.

What do you think of him as a fighter?

I think he’s great.

I’ll only do MMA once I’ve beaten Cobrinha and Royler in world titles!” Rafa Mendes

Do you ever think of doing MMA?

I don’t know. I think it all depends on the circumstances; but at the moment and for a good while longer, no. I’m only 20 years old and I just won my first World Championship as a black belt. If I ever think of doing something in MMA, it will only be after I’ve beaten Cobrinha and Royler in world titles (laughs)!

What’s your schedule like this year?

Guilherme and I are in the USA; we have a series of seminars to teach and then we’ll head to Canada, where we’ll hold three more seminars. I’ll head home on July 6, where I’ll get back to training. We have seminars in Guam and Switzerland in August and the, if my Japanese visa comes through, I’ll compete at the Asian Championship.

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