"When they said, 'You'll be facing Matyushenko,' I only thought of destiny, but this time it’s for real. He's a courageous fighter, goes forward and I sincerely think he's very tough and has faced top guys."
Brazilian newcomer Alexandre 'Cacareco' Ferreira will step into the Octagon at UFC 122 this weekend to face a man that he should have met on two separate occasions earlier in his mixed martial arts career, Vladimir Matyushenko.
This light heavyweight showdown was first scheduled to happen 10 years ago in the WEF and then eight years later in the IFL, but fate ended up sending both fighters to very different paths in their careers.
Since that first scheduled meeting, Matyushenko – now in his second stint with the UFC - became a world title challenger and captured the IFL light heavyweight belt. Ferreira, only the third Brazilian to fight inside UFC with a black belt in Luta Livre, had matches in Japan, USA, Portugal and England, compiling a overall record of 18-6, with more than 90% of his victories coming by submission. Yet strangely, he had many reasons to retire after 16 years of martial arts, as you'll read below.
2010 put the Brazilian on track for what he thought was his final attempt to keep himself active as a professional MMA fighter. Scheduled to square off against Renzo Gracie protégé Jamal Patterson in May at Shine Fights in North Carolina, he saw his return fall apart due to the event being cancelled. After that, no more news came for the Chute Boxe member, and he started thinking deeply about the end of his career as a fighter until a chance to replace Jason Brilz at UFC 122 appeared for him.
"I didn't have anything in mind besides plans for a new type of life, but deep inside I knew something would happen," Ferreira said with a smile. He adds that while he saw other fellow Brazilians signing with the organization prior to him, it didn’t upset him; it only gave him a new perspective. "My time didn't come yet, so I left all in God's hands; the end of 2010 was in His hands."
Before that, the reasons why Ferreira hadn’t made it to the mainstream a few years ago were pointed in many directions. Some said it was the lack of a good manager, others said that it was because he changed teams often, not a common occurrence in Brazilian culture, and during his career it prompted former teammates to wish 'bad luck' to the absolute runner-up of ADCC 2003. Representing Hugo Duarte Team, Ruas VT, Gracie Barra Combat Team and Brazilian Top Team, Ferreira had in mind that if he didn't pursue better conditions for himself, who would do it for him?
"I think I made some bad and good choices, but they weren't to offend anyone, I just wanted to work - a few understand, others don't," Ferreira said. "The athlete in Brazil needs to be a super hero to keep himself well. Without any support everything is doubly worse."
And no one would like to hear ex-coaches like former UFC stars Marco Ruas and Murilo Bustamante, former UFC and Pride fighters Hugo Duarte and Pedro Rizzo and legends Roberto 'Gordo' Correa (BJJ) and Beto Leitao (Wrestling) saying that you have a bad reputation. Ferreira claims that was never his intention and if once he was seen as an untrusted pupil, everything was eventually resolved.
"They don't have bad feelings for me anymore,” he said. “Because I'm a man to admit to my attitudes and a man to apologize for any kind of deception I may have caused to them. It’s all part of my past, that's done, and nowadays they're my friends."
If on one hand, switching teams generated distrust for Ferreira, on the other it elevated his game, especially on the ground, to the highest levels. The man enters the UFC with a winning streak of seven fights, all by submission and all inside the first round. That's something very significant for one of the biggest representatives of an underestimated martial art that receives little credit, Luta Livre. Nowadays, Ferreira also has a black belt in BJJ, and with the progress of MMA nobody says much about one style, but for a competitor who already lived on the streets due to a lack of proper conditions, being a Luta Livre black belt is a source of pride and a way to show what his idols didn't reach.
"Nowadays guys have background in this or that, but having only one style isn't relevant like in the 90s, the overall game is what’s important," he says. "But I was the first guy to go toe-to-toe against BJJ black belts in grappling competitions and I submitted them. Under the tutelage of my former coach, Leitao, I proved that Luta Livre guys were worthy. All I have now is because of my faith in God and due to the Luta Livre training. But it’s funny that after some struggles against BJJ, I became a BJJ black belt under PRIDE veteran Jose Mário Sperry, showing the sport’s evolution.”
"People mentioned that I can surpass the story of legendary Luta Livre guys like UFC vets Duarte and Eugenio Tadeu, because they didn't shine in the big show. I'm going to do my job there, and what's going to happen only God knows. These guys were great for the sport and it's tough to say something about them. I just compare them to soccer player Zico, he was excellent, won several tournaments, but he was unable to get the World Cup with the National squad of Brazil."
For his fight against Matyushenko, the development of the sport will be seen in Ferreira. The fighter now is a Chute Boxe member and has his main coach in Rudimar Fedrigo, the man who introduces the world to high-caliber guys like Wanderlei Silva, Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua and Anderson Silva, among others. That's a signal that the powerhouse is pushing his standup game to the same level of his high-level ground ability.
"Fedrigo said he'd do this and that for me and now I'm an UFC fighter," he says. "The Chute Boxe training is very tough, as around 50 very good guys in Muay Thai are sharpening my striking every single day. It’s a war that I'm enjoying because it prepares me more for the fight against Matyushenko."
From the time he was only knew as 'Cacareco,' a moniker he got during the short period of time that he trained capoeira and played a broken berimbau (a capoeira instrument), Ferreira just wants to recover the time he lost and erase his past disappointments. Titles in Luta Livre, MMA and submission tournaments served to forge the reputation of the Rio de Janeiro native, and now destiny puts him on a collision course with an opponent who should have been in front of him 10 years ago.
"When they said, 'You'll be facing Matyushenko,' I only thought of destiny, but this time it’s for real,” he laughs. "He's a courageous fighter, goes forward and I sincerely think he's very tough and has faced top guys. But I'm going to put my effort into getting a bonus over him with a 'Submission of the Night.' You know, the end of the year is approaching and that gives me a great chance to give a good present to my 12-year old daughter."