RIO DE JANEIRO — Jiu-jitsu legends Rodolfo Vieira and Bruno Malfacine left the grappling world to focus on their MMA careers, and they experienced two different scenarios at Sunday night’s Shooto Brazil 74.
Inside the brand new Upper Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, nine-time jiu-jitsu world champion Malfacine was the first to enter the cage. Making his MMA debut against fellow debutant Romario Boaes, Malfacine only needed 94 seconds to get the finish, an armbar from the guard.
“It was an amazing debut,” Malfacine told MMA Fighting after the flyweight bout. “I was so relaxed all camp I told Fabio Gurgel and (Ricardo) Liborio on the week of the fight that something was wrong because I was too relaxed. At the weigh-ins, I finally felt the adrenaline. This morning, I felt the same adrenaline I felt before the world championships. I’ve dreamed with this for a long time.”
Malfacine has trained for his MMA debut for five months at American Top Team in Florida, and decided to trade a little bit against Boaes. After his opponent hit him with a kick, Malfacine changed his mind.
“I wanted to trade a little bit and feel this because it was my first time in there, but when I got kicked I said ‘no, no, no, I can’t stand and trade,’” he said. “I trained for less than five months, I have to be smart and take him down. I took him down but made a mistake and let him reverse the position. I thought ‘Liborio will kill me [laughs],’ but I was comfortable. I knew I’d be able to do something.”
Boaes reversed, but decided to work on the ground and pound instead of going back up. When he tried to land his first punch, Malfacine saw an opening.
“People don’t understand the jiu-jitsu level of a world champion,” Malfacine said. “I knew that the first mistake he did, I’d capitalize on. I waited for this mistake and went for the armbar. He defended it, so I went for the other arm and got the finish. I heard his corner say ‘that’s the only thing he does.’ Yeah, that’s the only thing I do for now, but I do that better than anyone.”
Malfacine went back to the locker room right away to talk to Vieira, who was warming up to compete later that night. Vieira, who also scored a first-round submission in his MMA debut earlier this year, was facing Fagner Rakchal in a light heavyweight bout.
Rakchal (2-3) took the fight on two days’ notice, so many people considered him an easy prey for a four-time jiu-jitsu world champion and ADCC gold medalist.
“I knew it would be tough standing because I knew he’s better than me,” Vieira said. “I worked on my takedowns, but he surprised me with his takedown defense. I didn’t imagine it would be so hard to take him down.”
After defending Vieira’s first takedown attempts, Rakchal started to taunt the jiu-jitsu legend, making gestures and even putting his hands behind his back. Vieira smiled back, and says afterwards that any of it affected him mentally. The thing that worried him the most was a dislocated finger.
“I don’t know what he threw, but it hit my hand and my finger was looking like an ’S’, all crooked,” Vieira said. “I put it right back, (referee) Osiris (Maia) looked at me and the fight continued. That affected me a little bit, but I couldn’t show it.”
Both fighters looked exhausted after the second round, and Vieira knew he needed a finish to win.
“In my mind, I lost both rounds,” he said. “He connected some blows and I wasn’t able to connect, and I took him down but couldn’t keep him there. In my mind I lost both rounds. I’ve never seen (Liborio) so nervous before. He told me to take him down and finish him because that would be the way to win.”
Vieira scored another takedown with less than a minute left on the clock, but even a 10-8 round wouldn’t be enough to guarantee the win. Vieira got the mount and started pounding on Rakchal’s face, going for the arm-triangle choke and getting the finish at 4:47.
“I believed in my jiu-jitsu and caught him in the end,” Vieira said. “It was a hell of a test. I went through hell and submitted him. I’m evolving. I’m not even five percent of what I want to become. This is my first year as a professional fighter and I’m on the right path, surrounded by the right people. I will get what I want.
“This fight gave me confidence. I know what I can do,” he continued. “I was a great champion in jiu-jitsu and submission, but MMA is different. I’m still a beginner. I don’t even think I could someone that tough, a guy with five professional fights. I’m a black belt in jiu-jitsu, a world champion, but that doesn’t matter in MMA. Whoever mixes it up better will win.
“Fagner is a warrior and made me evolve a lot with this fight. I thank him for taking this fight on short notice. I believe he didn’t even have time to prepare, which is good because if he had I’d be f**ked [laughs]. We put on a show for the crowd.”
Vieira said after the fight that he has a light heavyweight bout booked for Oct. 22 in Curitiba, Brazil, under the Real Fight banner, but he needs to get his finger checked first. Malfacine, who wasn’t making such plans ahed of his MMA debut, can’t wait to get back in action after taking two weeks off.
“It was hard to predict how I’d feel before the fight. But after tonight, it’s an amazing feeling,” Malfacine said. “I want to be back as soon as possible. It’s the same feeling I had when I won the first world championships. The last ones were cool, but it’s just another one. People think it’s your obligation to win. This fight was as fun as my first world titles.”