What's common now wasn't always that way in the early days of mixed martial arts. When you said the name of a nation, in this case, Brazil, it was immediately linked to jiu-jitsu, as many Brazilian athletes who went to fight overseas were ground specialists.
Of course, we had Brazilian strikers in the old days, in the form of Eldo Dias Xavier and Marco Ruas, and later Pedro Rizzo, and Vitor Belfort broke the clichés by being a BJJ practitioner who knocked people out, but mainly, it was an avalanche of BJJers that figured in the UFC for a long, long time.
And even nowadays, with more than 20 Brazilians on the UFC roster, the majority of them have a Brazilian jiu-jitsu background. But things are changing, and the land of gentle art is actually exporting heavy handed strikers with regularity.
Maiquel Falcao is one of the UFC debutants who comes from Brazil focused on momentarily unplugging foes from their connection to the world. Owning an impressive record of 25-3 with 1 NC, Falcao - a member of the famous Chute Boxe squad - will take his initial step inside the Octagon against Gerald 'Hurricane' Harris on the main card of UFC 123 this weekend in Detroit.
A boxer who only faced negative results three times during a six year career, Falcao, which means falcon, flaunts a moniker that signifies his style, 'Big Rig'.
"The nickname comes due to the way I fight, like a big truck without brakes,” he said. "It’s better to not stay in front of it - it's not healthy (laughs)."
Capturing boxing titles on the regional, state and national levels, Falcao moved to MMA in 2004, transitioning between the heavyweight and light heavyweight divisions. And he kept himself fighting like this in order to not lose opportunities, the type he couldn't get if he didn't have boxing in his life.
"I started in boxing because it was a way to put away my energy," Falcao said. "I had a few personal problems and I found in boxing a manner of discipline and the ability to stay away from wrong things."
Falcao, a 29-year old native of Pelotas, Rio Grande do Sul, stayed on the right and untouchable path for his first eight matches. Even uncertain of his correct training and weight division, he smashed foes in the Southwest and South of Brazil with his fists and only faced three setbacks, two of them to the same man, UFC light heavyweight Fabio Maldonado in two slugfests. From the upsets he took lessons, but not against the famous Maldonado; instead, they were taken from a moment when nobody expected him to lose, against Daniel Ludtke in a mere 1:12 of round one.
"Train hard and never underestimate your adversary," he says of the quick defeat, but Falcao avenged it by outstriking Ludtke in short 52 seconds nearly two years later.
A fast learner, Falcao continued his walk through MMA in the 205 and heavyweight divisions, but difficulties arrived not in fighting like a pro, but in fighting without the conditions of a pro, as he shared his time between a lot of freelance jobs and his fighting career.
"In Brazil, it was very hard to fight for a living," he said. "I was killing a lion everyday with discipline and determination. Only recently have I had an opportunity to consider myself a professional fighter. Obviously when we're dedicated to only one thing we perform better.”
"Now I'm really a professional, I fight for the UFC and this makes a difference in an athlete's life. I'm in the biggest show on the planet and I'll be the champion at the right moment. That's a few steps away, but once the time is right, I’ll be ready for the championship."
It could be the enthusiasm of a rookie, you might say. And he always had the confidence, but joining the Chute Boxe team two years ago increased his aspirations for the upper levels of the sport. 'Big Rig' voices the importance of the new team in his career and continues to talk about the 185-pound belt.
"I'm in a complete MMA gym where we develop wrestling, boxing, Muay Thai, BJJ and conditioning. Along with the coaches we decided to cut weight and fight as a middleweight. My height is ideal for the division and I didn't have any difficulties dieting or adapting. Chute Boxe formed a lot of champions and I'll be one more."
First he needs to get by a fighter who is no joke in Gerald Harris. Nicknamed ‘Hurricane’, Harris is 'simply' a wrestler on a 10-fight winning streak with nine stoppages, and with his experience in the Octagon, it’s a taste that the debutant Falcao doesn’t have yet, but he’s not concerned.
"I don't see this superiority because he has three fights in UFC; after we’re locked in the cage, it’s me and him," Falcao said. "People are talking about his feats (the winning streak, his KOs) and he did his job, but Nov. 20th I'm going to do mine, something I’ve done more times than he did. My mission is to win the fight – and my focus is to knock him out."