Everybody loved Gina Carano. And with good reason. She was the girl next door, blessed with looks and left hooks, and she was the one who basically introduced women’s MMA to the mainstream in the years before Ronda Rousey came along.
August 15, 2009 was going to be the official coronation of the queen, a Showtime-televised main event against a once-beaten Brazilian named Cristiane Justino. To fight fans, she was “Cyborg.” To my wife, she was just another opponent to be beaten by Carano.
I disagreed. My explanation was simple. Carano treats MMA as a sport. Cyborg treats it as a fight. Cyborg won. Knockout. 4:59 of the first round.
The victory, and all those before and after that seminal moment were a testament to the style of fighting Cyborg lists on her bio: Chute Boxe. It’s a tribute to the Curitiba gym that launched not just her career, but that housed some of the sport’s best over the years. You know who they are.
Shogun. Ninja. The Spider. The Axe Murderer. Cordeiro. Pele.
The team philosophy? It was (and still is) a simple one, as described by one of the team’s current members, featherweight up and comer Lucas Martins.
“We are always looking for the KO,” he said. “We do not have ‘hold on to the fence’ classes at Chute Boxe. We train takedowns for ground-and-pound or subs; no ‘training for decisions’ classes.”
For a time, there was no more feared team than the one founded by Rudimar Fedrigo in 1978. The aforementioned killers were out for blood every time they stepped into the ring or cage, and more often than not, they left victorious. And as mentioned earlier, it wasn’t about the sport; it was about the fight. And in a fight, there are no friends.
“I come from the old school where we would only fought our rivals and enemies,” UFC vet and Chute Boxe’s former head jiu-jitsu coach Cristiano Marcello told me in 2014. “But the times are changing and the athletes need to change with the times. I have fought friends a few times now in my career. I feel that it can be a special thing to fight and then you can have a drink with your opponent after the event.”
Back then though, the rivalries were fierce. At one time or another, Chute Boxe feuded with Brazilian Top Team, Hammer House and Takanori Gomi’s Kiguchi Dojo, and who could forget Marcello’s backstage brawl with Charles “Krazy Horse” Bennett, all of which thrilled PRIDE fans around the world.
And while the wins were huge on the sport’s biggest stages, some of the best fights were never seen by the public, with the team’s sparring sessions taking on legendary and mythical status.
“Let me put it this way,” Marcello said, “with no exaggeration, we had probably five or six real fights every day in training back in those days. The sessions were very intense because each fighter wanted to show their potential to fight and participate in the big shows. But there were not that many big shows at the time, only UFC and PRIDE, so you really had to show your potential, if you know what I mean.”
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I asked Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, a former UFC light heavyweight champion and PRIDE 2005 Middleweight Grand Prix winner, who, along with Wanderlei Silva, are the two greatest practitioners of the Chute Boxe style, if the sparring sessions in Curitiba were tougher than the actual fights.
“Well, that was certainly true,” he laughed. “There were several fights that were much easier than what we experienced in sparring sessions, not only because we used to train very hard, but we wanted to get as close to the real thing as possible in a time where soccer kicks to a downed opponent and knees to the head on the ground were legal. So you can imagine how tough the training was.
“And on top of that,” Rua continued, “You had all those guys like Wanderlei, Ninja, Pele, Anderson, Assuerio, Master Rafael, and later Werdum, Luiz Azeredo, Nino Schembri, Macaco, Cyborg, and others training together. So you can imagine what it was like. You would go through hell often, and be in positions and situations that you never had to be in a fight.”
“You had all those guys like Wanderlei, Ninja, Pele, Anderson, Assuerio, Master Rafael, and later Werdum, Luiz Azeredo, Nino Schembri, Macaco, Cyborg, and others training together. So you can imagine what it was like. You would go through hell often, and be in positions and situations that you never had to be in a fight.” -- Mauricio "Shogun" Rua on his past experience with Chute Boxe
That atmosphere made fighters, made friends, and made family. If you were a member of the Chute Boxe team, you had a gang ready to back you up wherever and whenever you needed them. You didn’t put on a t-shirt, roll around for a few rounds then visit the juice bar. This was as old school and hardcore as fighting got back in a time when it wasn’t mainstream.
“It was a different time, a different sport, and we were putting our hearts into every training session,” Rua said. “I remember everybody would get a little tense in training, and when you realized it was sparring day, everybody would be nervous (Laughs). But that certainly made all those guys as tough as they are, and when you went into a fight you had the biggest confidence in knowing you have been through it all.”
This Saturday, Curitiba hosts the largest UFC event ever to take place in Brazil. And it’s a reunion of sorts, with Rua, Cyborg, Fabricio Werdum, coach Rafael Cordeiro all in town for UFC 198. Chute Boxe graduate Anderson Silva was scheduled to be on the card before emergency gall bladder surgery forced him from the event, and even co-main eventer Vitor Belfort trained briefly with the squad.
Yet while the focus is on the present and the continued growth of the sport in Brazil and around the world, it’s nice that the baddest men (and lady) on the planet still have a presence in a fightsport they helped build.
“I have a lot of pride in having come from our school,” Rua said. “There are many legends about how it was back then, and the funny thing is that most of the legends are true (laughs). It was very hard training, and it developed a sense of confidence and will to win, that is fundamental for a fighter. Only those with heart and a strong mind would stay, as there was a great group of guys and we were pretty much fighting each other every day in training. To represent our school back then was a matter of pride, and we did it with a lot of heart. It's really a great feeling to have so much of not only our history, but an important part of Brazilian MMA history on such a big UFC card.”