By Jay Forte, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The small favela community of Cerro-Corá, located on the edge of Zona Sul (South Zone) held a kickboxing graduation ceremony of their community integration program last week on Thursday, March 19th. The entire program is meant to foster positive relationships between the UPP (Police Pacification Unit) and the community through sport.
The kickboxing belt exams and awards event was held at Academia Body Save (Body Save Gym) at Hospital Adventista and was attended by 25 athletes including some from Irajá (Zona Norte/North Zone). The kickboxing members of the UPP-Cerro-Corá belong to the ‘Wolverine Top Fight’ team, which is made up of athletes from several gyms of Rio.
UPP officer Ronald Oliveira Soares, a kickboxing instructor for the UPP, explained that they created the project two years ago, with the aim of integrating the community with the police. The initiative was successful and now the team consists of thirty students, with ages ranging from 4-50 years old.
“The [favela community] is lacking in everything and martial art is a form of discipline, and can give direction to people’s lives. The world of my students is [mainly] here in the favela, they do not know many things outside. We want to show that there are other options that can improve their lives. The project is very well accepted in the community, the staff is very participatory,” says the UPP officer Soares.
Valdebeto Magellan Torres, 35, is one of the oldest students of the project and was awarded his advancement from yellow belt to the orange. Fond of martial arts, he decided to attend classes near his house, and has since decided to devote all his energy to improve in the sport.
“I did karate, taekwondo and kung fu, but I really like kickboxing, the master [instructor] is very good. He leaves one more calm and relaxed. After a day of exhausting work, it is very good to come to the gym and get rid of the stress,” Valdebeto said.
MMA is perhaps the third most popular sport after football (soccer) and volleyball in the country, and last Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 62 event drew a reported 7,707 to the Maracanazinho in Tijuca.
The UPP-Cerro-Corá was inaugurated on June 3, 2013 and marked the government’s final stage of the UPP “pacification” schedule for Zona Sul (South Zone) of Rio. The estimated population of Cerro-Corá is 4,500 and the UPP was launched there with 232 officers to police the neighborhood set between Laranjeiras, Cosme Velho and Santa Teresa.