Augusto Vendramini is a tough guy. A black belt in jiu-jitsu is the part of the proof visible to the outside world. His son Luigi is a tough guy, as well, so we could say it’s in the blood.
But there are some things in life that being tough won’t prepare you for.
On September 22, 2018, Luigi stepped into the Octagon for the first time to face established welterweight contender Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos. It was a short notice call, not ideal, but at 8-0, Vendramini and his team believed he was ready.
And he was, putting on a gutsy effort with one bad wheel before getting halted in the second round by Zaleski dos Santos.
“I hurt my knee probably 10-20 seconds into the fight, and I didn't fight like I can fight,” said Vendramini. “I was doing good without one leg, but when I go out of this fight, I just wanted to do the surgery and come back to prove myself.”
That’s the fighter talking. Sure, it was a setback, but let’s get this knee fixed up and get back to work ASAP.
For the father, it wasn’t as easy.
“The first time he saw me lose was in UFC,” said Luigi of his dad. “So, for him, he didn't want me to fight more because he got scared. You saw your son get knocked out, and I feel like any father don't want to see this. It's not a nice situation. So, for my father, it was one of the most hard moments for my family. My father stopped training jiu-jitsu for a long time. I stayed two years outside the mats and I think my father came back to training only when I came back. It was a hard moment for all my family.”
Two years. See, the hopes for a quick surgery, rehab and return went out the window as soon as Vendramini found out that after the first surgery went wrong, he had to get another one.
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“It was a hard moment because the doctor said that if this second surgery isn't good, you have to stop (fighting),” said Luigi. “It was a weird situation because I lose my first fight by KO, then the doctor does the wrong surgery and I have to do another one and I lose two years. It was one of the most hard fights of my life. It was like checkmate. I can't do nothing, just wait and see what life has for me. When I started training again, for me it was a big victory.”
And as Luigi returned to the mats, Augusto followed, father and son back doing what they loved. All that was left was a fight, and with a green light to return, Vendramini was matched up with Jessin Ayari last October on UFC Fight Island.
The son was confident. The father was concerned. Seventy-two seconds into the fight, both breathed a sigh of relief.
“When I go to Abu Dhabi for the fight, my father felt bad every day, but when I got the win, he felt more comfortable and lost his fear,” said Luigi, who scored a blistering knockout of Ayari that earned him his first UFC win and a Performance of the Night bonus. But the most memorable moment of the night may have been as father and son embraced in the Octagon after the victory.
“It was one of the great moments in my life,” said Luigi. “I waited two years for this opportunity to clean my name because I debuted with a loss. I feel like this win changed everything. Now I feel more confident, I feel I can do great in UFC, I can try to be a champion. So this win makes me feel better and happy. It was a magical win and a magical time.”
On Saturday, Vendramini will try to recreate that magic when he faces France’s Fares Ziam on the UFC 263 card in Glendale, Arizona. It’s a long way from Brasilia, but the 25-year-old has been getting used to life on the road, especially after another camp with the Factory X squad in Colorado. It’s become a second home for the Brazilian, who has been training in the States since January.
“I had a great team in Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil, and I have a great Muay Thai coach and boxing coach, but in Brazil, I don't have a good mix or MMA training where you train everything,” said Vendramini. “So, for me, Factory X is the best gym because they don't train boxing, they don't train Muay Thai, they don't train jiu-jitsu - they train MMA every day every time. So I can mix more, I can get more takedowns, I can blend better. This is the best gym and I'm excited to show the world what coach Marc (Montoya) did for me.”
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More importantly, with his first UFC loss and two years away from the sport in his rear-view mirror, he can focus on the dream of every fighter – to become a world champion.
“Every time I go to the Octagon for a fight, I feel like the fight is like stairs,” Vendramini explains. “You go up and up and up. If I win this fight, I feel like people will start to know me - like the president, like the matchmakers - and say, ‘Oh, this guy is good.’ And I will one hundred percent KO or submit this guy, so two in a row, two finishes, I feel I have something special. I don't feel like I'm just a fighter going into UFC, fighting a couple fights and it’s ‘Bye, Luigi’ or retire. I feel like I will do good and I feel like I'm growing. I want to grow slowly, get more fights and in three, four, five years, I'm at the top of the world.”
It's an odd patience from someone so young, but it’s also a smart approach. Only a select few have hit the gas and made it to the top without crashing soon after. Like his father before him, Luigi Vendramini knows that this sport is a marathon, not a sprint.
“I see many athletes say, hard work, hard work, hard work,” Luigi said. “Everybody does hard work. Every athlete, every fighter, every working guy, they work hard. But the difference between me and another fighters is that I know how to pay the price. I don't smoke, I don't use drugs, I don't drink, I don't eat fast food, and I train every day. If I'm sick, if I'm bad, if I'm hurt, I train. So my difference is that I don't want a normal life. I want success, I want to be a winner, I want to be the best. I want to make real money and change my family's life and my life. This is my difference. I know how to pay the price.”