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Leo Santos (7 Time BJJ World Champ Interview) Attn promoters Leo is ready to fight in 2011!

    Mon, 2011-01-31 15:24 — OTM News

    There was a time in MMA's infancy when facing a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
    black belt resulted in an almost instantaneous loss by submission if
    the fight hit the mat.  Sport grappling virtuosos like Fabricio Werdum
    and Demian Maia generated such a buzz when they crossed over that they
    may as well have tread to the cage upon a trail of red roses.  If major
    promotions were not immediately throwing out offers, their eyes were
    keenly trained on how these submission wizards fared.

    Nowadays, full contact fighters at the black belt level are not
    uncommon.  In fact, any inferior skill level could be perceived as a
    chink in the armor to be exploited.  The standard procedure for these
    highly decorated grapplers is to start off in MMA against a safe
    opponent; to cautiously dangle their toes into foreign and dangerous
    waters rather than dive in head-first and swim with the sharks.  Then,
    to determine their true potential after they quickly twist their foes
    into complex shapes, the question rests on how they would perform
    against the elite competition at the top level of the sport.

    This creates a familiar issue, in which finding opponents for these
    unreal grapplers becomes a Sisyphean task, as fighting them is often
    considered a lose/lose scenario:  without having proven themselves to
    be formidable, beating them does little for an established fighter, and
    the risk of a loss is quite high as few can hope to survive if they're
    unable to remain standing.

    Leonardo Santos -- brother to UFC bantamweight Wagnney Fabiano and
    cousin of Nova Uniao co-founder Wendell Alexander -- is immersed in
    that same perplexing situation despite venturing down a different path
    after transitioning from BJJ to MMA.

    What makes 8-3 Santos so different than other ridiculously decorated
    sport grapplers?  He took on Takanori Gomi, the vicious knockout artist
    who would eventually become the world's top lightweight, in his first
    MMA fight with less than three weeks notice -- and survived to a
    decision despite losing.  It was devastating Chute Boxe striker Jean
    Silva that stood across from him in only his third full-contact tilt,
    and Santos' third loss came via a competitive split decision to
    Kazunori Yokota (a wily Grabaka product with wins over Michihiro
    Omigawa, Mizuto Hirota, and Eiji Mitsuoka).  Excluding one win apiece
    by decision and DQ, Santos has finished all of his other fights by
    submission ... except one by head-kick KO; a rare feat indeed for an
    inexperienced grappler.

    Extraordinary accomplishments like this in addition to his laundry list
    of BJJ medals and world titles start to elucidate why no one wants to
    step into the cage with Nova Uniao's Leonardo Santos.

    **********

    DW:  Explain how you started with martial arts, and how that evolved
    into winning several BJJ championships?

    LS:  I got into Jiu-Jitsu at 8 years of age with my cousin Wendell
    Alexander.  Despite not really liking to train, I went to the gym
    because I had many friends.  I actually wanted to be a soccer player.
    One day I went to see my brother Wagnney Fabiano compete and he
    finished his opponent. The stadium and the crowd began to shout his
    name and from that moment I decided to train more -- to one day hear
    the crowd scream my name, too.

    Having a teacher like I had who always encouraged me and forced me to
    train hard, along with a brother who always inspired me and was my
    idol, it made me want to be a champion and helped shape my game.

    DW:  Can you list all of your BJJ/grappling accomplishments, and tell
    me which you're the most proud of, and why?

    LS:  Seven-time world champion in CBJJ and CBJJO, I also performed well
    at the Pan Am, National GMT, and the black belt GP, and won 3rd and 4th
    place in the ADCC.

    I think I have two very import titles.  The first was the World first.
    I was 15 yeard old and winning the adult category. The black belt and
    the GP was the most import in the black belt.  I won all my fights, and
    not score points on the body or the advantage of me, and after this
    tournament I was voted the number one lightweight in the world.  It was
    perfect.  It was a nice moment in my career, and I I was proving the
    best lightweight fighter, no matter what confederation [CBJJ or CBJJO].

    DW:  Why did you decide to enter MMA after having so much success in
    Jiu-Jitsu?

    LS:  I think to have won everything I ever wanted and to be considered
    the number one lightweight in the world in BJJ -- the sport I love --
    really helped me decide to change to pro MMA.  Many thought I was crazy
    for changing from BJJ (where I was number one), but I wanted to try and
    be number one in MMA as well. I think I got to the point of wanting
    something new, with new challenges, and I thought that MMA would
    provide me with those things.

    DW:  Tell me about your transition from grappling to MMA?

    LS:  It was a little difficult because Jiu-Jitsu has no punches or
    elbows, so it’s hard to change the things you did for so long.  I had
    to slightly change my thinking, my way of fighting, because now with
    punches, you have to be alert all the time.  But I thought I could
    learn and adapt to MMA really fast. I was always a fighter, so it was
    only a matter of time before I knew I would learn it.
    .

    DW:  With your grappling specifically, what changes were the hardest to
    make?

    LS:  I think my biggest difficulty was to have no grips to hold. I was
    considered a very technical fighter, so I always relied on my grips as
    they are very valuable in BJJ.  But, when I took off the gi, I felt so
    lost, so it took me a while to make changes in my game.

    DW:  How often did you train without the gi before you started in MMA,
    and how often do you train with the gi now?

    LS:  I had not trained much without the gi, since there weren’t very
    many No-Gi championships.  I dedicated myself to training in the gi,
    because I had more competitions and I loved fighting championship Jiu
    Jitsu.  I started training more no-gi when I came to fight MMA, but
    sometimes I still put on the gi for training and to teach some classes.
    It helps me to relax and review some techniques.

    DW:  In any and all areas of MMA, what things did you learn quickly and
    easily? What aspects were the hardest for you to adjust to?

    LS:  I guess nothing was easy, and I can say I'm still learning.  But,
    being a grappler, I think the wrestling was easier to learn.  Muay Thai
    was harder to learn because. where I trained, the training was hard and
    the fighters wouldn’t go light. They always tried to knock you out, so
    I had to learn how to survive.

    DW:  When and how did you get hooked up with Nova Uniao?

    LS:  My cousin and my teacher, Wendell Alexander, and Andre
    Pederneiras, started Nova Uniao when I was very young. I was part of
    the beginning of this wonderful team which I consider to be one of the
    world’s best Jiu-Jitsu teams. I gave my blood for the team and fought
    hard to defend them and to develop the team. After a while we become
    the best team in Brazil; beating teams much older than us. Being a part
    of Nova Uniao has always been a pleasure for me.

    DW:  How has becoming a part of the Nova Uniao family and training
    under the great Andre Pederneiras changed you as a fighter?

    LS:  Dede is a great teacher, and as a person he is amazing.  I think
    that after I began training with him I matured a lot, because I had
    access to a person who thought differently from my teacher, Wendell. It
    was great for me because I learned a lot and in many different ways
    with two great teachers. Wendell loves sweeps while Dede loves to play
    on top and pass guard. I do not think I could have chosen a better team
    for my career.

    I consider Wendell and Dede the best teachers in the world. It’s easy
    to take a high-level athlete and say that you train him, but it’s much
    harder to take an average person and turn him into an athlete. This is
    what Dede and Wendell can do, so I thank God for having had the
    opportunity to work with two great teachers.

    DW:  What are some of the things that make the Nova Uniao school so
    unique and successful?

    LS:  I think the secret, and why most of the time the Nova Uniao team
    does so well, is because everyone starts in Jiu-Jitsu and then moves to
    MMA.  We try to maintain the hierarchy of Jiu-Jitsu in MMA, meaning
    "respect the people above you". It helps keep order and arrange
    training sessions or even to give advice. Beyond the respect, we have
    no superstars; we are all equal and help each other. Every team has
    problems, but when the problem is large, we pass it to Dede and he
    decides what to do.

    DW:  Of course, you nailed a beautiful flying armbar on GSP at ADCC.
    Since he is such a superstar in MMA, did defeating him in grappling
    affect your confidence in MMA?

    LS:  I do not think it affects a lot, because I was in the grappling
    tournament, so it was normal for me.  I was a grappler then, but when I
    do MMA -- for sure, it changed my confidence because he's a great MMA
    fighter.

    DW:  You said that GSP is "a good person".  Did you two become friends
    after your ADCC match?

    LS:  No, I knew GSP before, but we're still friends after that fight
    and he also came to Brazil to help me a lot for my fights in MMA.  He
    even invited me to Canada to help him with training.

    DW:  Your first opponent in MMA was a young and undefeated Takanori
    Gomi, who was blowing through some of Shooto's best fighters. Describe
    your mental state before the fight? Were you nervous, or confident you
    were prepared for the test?

    LS:  This fight was a great experience for me.  I had never done any
    MMA training, and had only twenty days to prepare for the fight.  Based
    on experience, I don’t know why I accepted the fight, but I had always
    dreamed of fighting in Japan; therefore, I accepted the offer.  It was
    very, very difficult, because I had to learn to punch and fight MMA in
    twenty days, but I knew that my Jiu-Jitsu could be a great advantage.

    I was very calm and very confident, but I knew it would be a tough
    fight. Today I can tell you I shouldn’t have accepted this fight
    because I didn’t have the experience and knowledge to fight an athlete
    of Gomi’s level. Even with the short training time, I was very willing
    to fight, and I did what I could .. but unfortunately, I lost the
    decision.  Regardless, it was a good experience, because I could see I
    had the talent and heart to fight MMA.

    DW:  Shortly after, in your third fight, you took on Chute Boxe killer
    Jean Silva, who had more than twenty fights at the time. Did you
    intentionally want to face the best competition that early in your
    career?

    LS:  I always wanted to fight, no matter with who. The big problem was
    when people saw I was a fighter of high level in Jiu-Jitsu, many would
    not accept the fight. I took fights when I could, but they were always
    against people far more experienced in MMA than I. Today I don’t care
    as much because I'm so well trained and already have a little more
    experience. At the beginning, it was very difficult though.

    DW:  How do you think that facing such steep competition early in your
    career changed you as a fighter?

    LS:  On one hand it was good, because I saw what they were doing well
    and could tell what I should be doing. While it certainly made me a
    better fighter, the losses are on my record and today it counts a lot.
    Despite these losses, I feel more mature and a better fighter because
    I’ve seen the worst up close.

    DW:  Since your last fight with Maxi Blanco fell through, will that be
    your next fight in Sengoku? Is there anyone else on their roster you'd
    like to face?

    LS:  I had a neck injury that took me out of the event.  I think
    everyone in Japan wants to see this fight, and when I return I think
    this will be my next opponent.  My first fight against Yokota was hotly
    contested because I controlled the whole fight then in the final
    moments my opponent tried something. I assumed I had won, as did many
    others, so when they gave him the victory I was very sad.

    In a rematch I’m sure I would fight better and end the fight with a
    better result, so I would like to consider that fight in the future.  I
    think my first fight back will be Maxi, but I don’t care who my
    opponent is. I want to be the champion in Sengoku -- and if I want this
    -- I can’t pick my fights.

    DW:  Are you interested in joining your team mates Jose Aldo, Amilcar
    Alves, and Wagnney Fabiano by coming to the states and fighting in the
    UFC?

    LS:  As a fighter, I want to fight were the top competition is, and
    right now that place is the UFC. Before, my dream was to fight for
    Pride, but today I certainly would like to be inside the UFC's Octagon.

    DW:  How do you think you would match up with some of their lightweight
    fighters?

    LS:  The UFC has the best fighters in the world. I don‘t know exactly
    how I would do, but I think I have many great training partners and a
    good team of coaches that would get me ready for a war in the Octagon.

    DW:  Is there anyone in particular you'd like to fight, or enjoy
    watching in the octagon?

    LS:  I really like watching B.J. [Penn] fight, and I trained with him
    for a long time at Nova Uniao.  He was always very good, but it has
    been very cool to see what he has become. I am very happy to see him
    winning in the UFC. I also like to watch GSP, as my brother was his
    first teacher. I knew him before entering the UFC, and GSP is a good
    person who deserves to be where he is.

    DW:  What should MMA fans expect from Leo Santos in the future?

    LS:  You can always expect the best of me, because I train a lot and I
    go into every fight prepared to win and put on a show for my fans and
    friends.  Thank God for giving me my health to keep me training and
    fighting.  Thanks to all my team at Nova Uniao and to all my friends
    and fans.
     

    by Dallas Winston

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