RIO DE JANEIRO
For a hardcore MMA fan, walking down the stairs to the underground of a shopping mall in Rio de Janeiro and stepping inside the legendary X-Gym certainly has an impact on you. There, between the walls covered in grafitti, you’ll see some of the most relevant names and faces of the UFC in Brazil.
Last week, the X-Gym mat was instead filled with journalists waiting to talk to two of the biggest stars in the country: Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Anderson Silva, two of the headliners for the stacked UFC 208 card on Feb. 11 in Brooklyn.
But, before the interviews, a quick workout. The middleweights showed off some of the techniques they hope to put into use in New York when they were interrupted by the loud noise of countless medals clanging against each other.
The medals were carried by the children from Faixa-Preta de Jesus -- “Black Belts devoted to Jesus” in Brazilian Portuguese -- a social project that teaches martial arts to poor children in Rio.
The little ones visited the gym for a surprise training session, and with all of them dressed in their gis, the inevitable happened: a little roll between one of the boys and Jacare, a four-time jiu-jitsu world champion.
"This is one way of remembering where I came from,” Jacare said. "I was from a social project as well, so I see these kids and it reminds me of the beginning of my journey. I always give these kids the attention they deserve. It's really special.”
Jacare, who usually makes his camps in Rio, now has “The Spider” as a training partner for this round of preparation.
The former champion has located his entire camp in Brazil this time.
"It's always good to have someone like Anderson Silva to make you stronger in your training,” Jacare said. “I believe I can help him where he needs (it), and he helps me a lot where I need (it). We are a really strong force helping each other here.”
"In my fights,” Silva said, “I always try to do what I do best, which is striking. Here, I train my jiu-jitsu with Master De La Riva and takedown defense with Jacare, who has excellent judo.”
The Spider faces Derek Brunson, who is now No. 8 in the UFC middleweight rankings and is eight years younger than his opponent. This fight was announced a little more than a month before the event, but Anderson guarantees that a smaller window of prep time, his age and a rankings disparity will not affect his performance inside the Octagon.
"I don't care about rankings or fighting styles. I like fighting, I love to do that,” Silva said. “This is going to be a new challenge, and I hope to bring a positive result back to Brazil and my team.”
Jessica Portasio is a digital journalist for UFC.com.br. You can follow her on Twitter @Jeportasio