By Leo Byrne, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – In little over a decade, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has gone from gritty, underground shows to a mainstream sport capable of selling out Rio’s HSBC arena. Its flagship promotion, the UFC, is a global brand and generates hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.
Nowhere is the sport more popular than in Brazil, where millions of people turn out to watch local fighters compete on the world stage. Despite only constituting twenty percent of the UFC’s roster, Brazilian fighters hold four of the eight title belts.
“It’s growing every day you know? I think now it’s the second [most popular] sport. Now it’s a fashion thing to be involved with MMA,” UFC Fighter and CM Systems gym owner Cristiano Marcello told The Rio Times.
Its prominence in the MMA landscape means Brazil is an ideal destination for those looking to hone their skills. “There are more people venturing to Rio in search of training that ever before,” Dennis Asche, owner of Connection Rio, a company specializing in MMA and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training holidays told The Rio Times.
Certainly there is no shortage of gyms or ‘academias’ to choose from. Those interested in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) instruction need look no further than one of the famous Gracie academies dotted around Rio. For full MMA training, the city is home to the renowned gyms of Brazilian Top Team, Nova Uniao and X-Gym.
Noah Pillsbury, an American from Los Angeles was in Rio for almost three weeks in September to vacation and train BJJ. He tried several gyms and said: “Toco’s Knockout Centro De Lutas is very nice and well kept. It also has kickboxing classes. His school turns out champions in both BJJ and Vale Tudo. Everyone there is very nice and respectful as long as you are as well.”
It should be borne in mind however that some MMA gyms are populated by professional fighters and likely won’t open their doors to novices. Irrespective of skill level, training in Brazil is going to be a different experience for most.
“Much of the mat time here is spent rolling or sparring, rather than drilling and developing techniques in specific situations,” Asche, who is also a BJJ black belt, explained.
One major advantage to training in Brazil concerns the number of highly skilled practitioners with which one can practice. “In a Canadian academy, the majority of students in any class will be blue belts and white belts. In Rio, I had access to multiple black belts at any time,” Mark Mullen a BJJ purple belt from Canada said in an interview.
Although classes are conducted in Portuguese, this isn’t necessarily a major obstacle. “Language barriers are easily overcome by hands on learning in the academies,” Asche continued. However he also added that some knowledge of Portuguese is recommended to get the most out of the instruction.
Academies usually allow prospective members to attend the first class for free, making it easier to find the most suitable gym. In order to become a member, there is usually a one off joining fee of approximately R$30.
The monthly cost of membership is in the region of R$200, though this figure is dependent on the frequency of training. Discounts are also available for longer term memberships. Although generally cheaper than residing in major U.S. cities, living in Rio and Brazil is becoming increasingly expensive.
Whether you are a novice looking to get in shape, or a professional fighter, if you show respect and work hard you’ll quickly be made to feel part of the team. “The majority of black belts were career men who found value in the jiu-jitsu lifestyle, physical fitness and friendship made in the academy,” Mark Mullen added.