Looking at the height of 27-year old Brazilian newcomer Vinicius 'Spartan' Queiroz - who faces fellow debutant Rob Broughton at UFC 120 this weekend – it’s clear that in a country without many people matching his 6 foot 7 frame, he would be perfect for sports like basketball and volleyball.
And with such height not being necessary in Brazil’s national sport, football, and along with the perception that tall guys are not quick enough for martial arts, Queiroz sent himself off to the practice of volleyball in order to become a famous player.
"I wasn't too tall as a kid, but when you have a tall father who is a professor of Physical Education, people see your potential to become a good player in those sports," Queiroz said. “I always liked sports, so I started volleyball, but I wasn't good at it (laughs). Nowadays when I tell people that I am an MMA fighter, people don't understand, and they ask, 'why not volleyball or basketball?' But I proved long arms and legs can be excellent for fighting too."
Queiroz wasn't the tallest guy during his school days, so he didn't experience the situation of observing everybody from the top while his colleagues stretched out their neck to talk to him. But since the beginning, the Chute Boxe product knew that size matters, and to have control of where you were going required some extra care, an attribute that you don't have that much while a teenager.
"I had good self-esteem,” he said. “While I was a tall kid, I wasn’t the tallest, just one of them, and I realized I could use my size in my favor, so I saw martial arts as a journey I should take. Before that, I, of course, went through some funny situations due to my height. Once my friends introduced me to a cute girl, and we all went to the school via bus. This girl and her friends got on the bus a stop before my one, so when I would step in the bus, I would do that triumphant entrance to impress her, but I just over-reacted and hit my head hard on the top of the bus (Laughs). But in the end she still gave me a chance."
Tall, but skinny at the age of 13, Queiroz was motivated by a childhood friend to study martial arts. It was an opportunity for him to learn some self defense and gain extra pounds to fill the long-limbed slim body. At this point, Queiroz' story started much differently than that of other Brazilians, as he didn't pass through any traditional martial arts; instead, he started training MMA since he first stepped in the gym. It was the journey of a modern fighter, but he admits that traditional martial arts weren't forgotten.
"We never turned our sights to the opposite side when the issue was Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai and wrestling training. We know their importance in each workout to not stay a step behind the others."
After his start with the Brazilian Impact Team, the squad dissolved and Queiroz and his mentor, Christopher Led, joined one of the most important teams in the world, Chute Boxe, around seven years ago. Aged 21 and still a rookie in the sport, Queiroz was in the gym with some guys who didn’t just have technique and aggressiveness, but world-wide fame, such as Wanderlei Silva, Anderson Silva, and the Rua brothers, among others, and he was led by two excellent coaches in Rudimar Fedrigo and Rafael Cordeiro. It was a tough road for the kid with only one MMA fight.
"Foremost, everything I did before Chute Boxe was good to help in building myself as a fighter, but Chute Boxe matured me because I was training with guys who had a huge amount of experience," he said. "But I believe that each fighter has his own story, and I never felt the pressure of emulating guys like Silva or Shogun - I'm here to prove I'm Queiroz from Chute Boxe. They made their names in MMA and I admire them. The best part of it all is how I see my coaches, because they formed some legends in the sport and they have confidence in me as their heavyweight representative inside UFC."
But Queiroz reveals that even though he is training with top level guys, his main motivation is the man who has been with him since the beginning, Christopher Led.
"I target Shogun due to his complete game and humbleness, Cyborg couple (Cris and Evangelista) due to their disposition to train every time, but my big motivator is Led. His last name should be shifted to 'Work', as there is no lazy time with him, and anyone who knows him knows what I'm talking about."
Competing in MMA since 2003 has generated a record of 5-1 for Queiroz. It’s not a huge resume, but considering he stayed off from fighting for four years - from his first to his second bout - due to a stage of stabilization of his finances and training, having only six fights in a period of seven years is explainable.
With everything in order, Queiroz would finally make his debut like a Chute Boxer, and after four years away, he was booked in a 4-man tournament and the expectations were high for that. But a setback was reached as he lost by unanimous decision in a two round fight, a difficult restart for a man who now carried the Chute Boxe flag.
"That defeat was fundamental for my evolution," he says. "I was very young and, I don't know, if I beat the first opponent, or conquered the tournament I would think I was the man, so the upset could come later and I would face it in the wrong way. I just thought about it like I was facing a guy with more than 10 fights while I was in my second, and he dominated me, but surrender was never an option for me in that fight. But I grew up a lot."
This philosophy of never surrendering combined with the body that the professional fighter constructed and the release of the movie '300' in 2007, earned Queiroz the 'Spartan' moniker. But not only was a nickname was added, but the mentality that he acquired after the defeat in 2007 was new too, as the man became a knockout machine, manhandling his next four opponents before the clock reached 2:47 of the initial stanza.
Now facing an experienced fighter in his home country in Broughton, Queiroz expects to bring back the same ferocity to the Octagon that long time fans of Chute Boxe know from this squad. And it doesn't where the fight goes, Queiroz believes the long years of preparation have prepared him to battle Broughton.
"I believe that the work I did in Chute Boxe during these years and the six fights I did are enough to meet Broughton, even with the crowd in his favor," he said. "But I’m not going there to let my fists and kicks go without any concern for wrestling and BJJ - the UFC's level is high and I prepared for this debut accordingly. I see Broughton as a fighter with heart who is coming forward all the time, so I’ve come to the UFC with the correct strategy to overcome any adversity."