One chapter every week [#22]
Alliance turns 30 years old, but this beautiful story I want to tell you starts even further back, in 1985, the place was Ipanema – Rio de Janeiro, and the first school was Jacaré Jiu Jitsu.
Our master had just returned from a long mourning period after the death of his mentor and legendary Rolls Gracie in 1982, who had just awarded him his black belt and passed away in a tragic hang gliding accident. Jacaré stepped away from Jiu Jitsu and began to focus on triathlon, eventually taking on the ultimate challenge and completing the Iron Man in Hawaii on October 22, 1983, his birthday.
But soon after, Jiu Jitsu called him back, perhaps without even knowing his true mission in life: teaching! A small 60m2 gym on a mezzanine in Ipanema began the dream, the group of students began to take shape and his students started to stand out in competitions. We were few, but I remember how dedicated we were, fighting with determination to prove the quality of our school. It’s impossible not to remember the tournament where we first overtook one of the Gracie academies, placing third. It was an unbelievable accomplishment that we would repeat many times, and today those who look at Alliance can’t imagine what that meant.
We worked even harder, day by day building a team, a family, led by our master, we lived Jiu Jitsu in its entirety, in its values, and traditions, listening to the stories of the Gracie family’s idols and their students, and wanting to be like them. Jacaré guided us in the fight but also in the importance of diet, physical preparation, and health, but mainly in the loyalty of friendship and camaraderie.
Our team grew and I had the honor of being the first student to be awarded a black belt by Master Jacaré in 1989. Shortly thereafter, in 1990, it was Alexandre’s turn, and we began to face something unthinkable: our students began to face each other from our own academy, Jacaré Jiu Jitsu. There was nothing we could do, and as we had learned from our master, we dedicated ourselves to our students to the fullest. Eventually, there was no way out of that situation, but it didn’t make sense.
In 1991, I was teaching at Clube Federal in Alto Leblon, and talking to Jacaré we decided to join forces and set up Master in Ipanema. We rented a huge space that used to be a theater, and we had the largest academy in Rio. Alexandre joined Traven and set up Strike, and the problem intensified, as our students fought each other before facing our real opponents.
Finally, in 1993, we came up with the idea of uniting all students under one banner so that we could stop competing against each other and form the best team in the world. Thus was born the Alliance, putting aside all egos, logos, and individual interests so that we could build something greater. (Perhaps this was the first big step towards being together until today.)
That same year, the CBJJ (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Confederation) was created, as well as the UFC, two factors that would be responsible for the internationalization of Jiu Jitsu and consequently of Alliance.
To be continued…
In the previous chapter, we left off in ’93 when we founded the Alliance, and I will come back to that topic in a more detailed way later on. However, I would like to go back a few years to a very significant event for me and also for our school, the Vale Tudo of ’91, Jiu Jitsu vs. Luta livre. For the first time, our school would be represented in a Vale Tudo event that aimed to defend the hegemony and tradition of Jiu Jitsu. Those stories we had heard since the beginning of our journey could now truly be experienced. I was personally proud to be one of the representatives in this challenge, but it would have a tremendous impact on the whole sport, and we had no idea that would happen.
The story behind this event begins with a challenge made by an athlete from Carlson Gracie’s academy, Wallid Ismail, who challenged anyone in the name of Jiu Jitsu (things from a time when there was no internet and people had to stand by their words). The challenge was accepted, and GM Carlson Gracie made the selection among the available names and trained us for 6 months for what would be the biggest challenge of my life up to that point.
An experience that remains alive in my memory was the speech given by GM João Alberto Barreto minutes before our fight. He said, “My dear ones, I would like to tell you that from now on, your bodies no longer belong to you. They belong to Jiu Jitsu and its history. You now have the responsibility to defend a legacy of 70 years of sweat and blood. Any broken body part, a nose, an arm, a lost eye, all of it will become a medal in our museum.
Our corner has no towel, no one will save you. Good luck.” It was an undisputed victory with a score of 3-0 on a memorable night broadcast throughout Brazil by TV Globo.
Jiu Jitsu then exploded in Brazil, and Alliance began its expansion throughout affiliated schools, but that is another chapter…
After the Vale Tudo event in 1991, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu became very popular throughout Brazil, not just in Rio de Janeiro. Our Master academy in Ipanema was packed, and we were already recognized as one of the best academies in the city. During this time, the news would trickle in from the United States at an unbelievably slow pace compared to how information is available nowadays, but we had an idea of how Jiu-Jitsu was developing there. After all, the Gracie family was intensifying their migration movement to America. Rickson had moved in 1989, followed by the Machado family, and the movement was growing. I must confess that this possibility, although still very remote, crossed my mind, as I was always trying to keep an eye on what was happening ahead of me. At 22 years old, a black belt and owner of a successful academy, living in Rio de Janeiro and working just a block away from my home, I increasingly believed that it would be possible to make a living from Jiu-Jitsu.
In 1992, I received an invitation to bring our academy to Vitória, Espírito Santo. I talked to Jacaré, and we decided it was a good opportunity. We agreed to take turns between the two cities. We invited Telo, one of our best instructors at the time, and we had a constant rotation of 15 days in Vitória and 30 days in Rio for each of us. We quickly expanded to Vila Velha and thus had the first two branches of Master Jiu-Jitsu.
We always traveled by car, a 6-hour journey on an increasingly dangerous road, and both Telo and I had accidents. But the results were very good. We built a strong partnership with Ponto 1 Academy, which was a reference in the city, and we had over 300 students and a team of champions that brought us much joy over the years.
In Vitória, I also promoted my 2nd and 3rd black belts, Leandro Borgo and Pedro Andrade, respectively (see the complete list of my black belts at the following link: https://fabiogurgel.com.br/lista-de-faixas-pretas-formados-por-fabio-gurgel/)
This period in Vitória is filled with parallel events, just like this whole journey that I intend to share with you. Hundreds of people have been part of the Alliance’s history. I will briefly recount it here from my perspective, with the awareness that thousands of details will be left out of these accounts.
However, I believe that by the end of these chapters, you will have a real understanding of what we have gone through and how we have built the most successful team in the history of our sport.
In the next chapter, we will return to the foundation of Alliance. How did it happen? Who were the founders?
This pre-foundation phase of Alliance, which took place between 1985 and 1993, is a very rich phase where our bonds of friendship were truly built. It is where we developed as fighters and instructors and definitively proved the value of our master’s teachings in Jiu-Jitsu. The realization that the only way to solve the problems of our students and consequently our own was to join together to defend a single banner became clear, and we began conversations with the key figures involved.
I was with Jacaré at Master Jiu-Jitsu, where my brother also trained. Gigi and Traven were at Strike, but they had an investor partner who was also part of this initial movement, his name was Francisco Canepa. We also had some important figures training with us at the time, who we believed could contribute to the construction of our team. They were Leonardo Castello Branco and Vinicius Campelo. Thus, the first formation of Alliance founders consisted of: Romero Jacaré Cavalcanti, Fabio Gurgel, Fernando Gurgel, Alexandre Paiva, Roberto Traven, Francisco Canepa, Leonardo Castello Branco, and Vinicius Campelo.
We decided through a vote among some names that Alliance was the name that best represented the unity movement we were making. It was an international name that would make us comfortable with a possible international expansion, even though the chances of that happening were still very remote. The academies continued to operate independently of each other, and the founders attracted new branches without many defined rules. The sole objective was to strengthen the competition team. In order to have an identity like any brand, we needed a logo. I remember the day the logo was presented. We were all at Master for a “meeting,” and a student from Strike, who coincidentally had studied in my class school, Rodrigo Didier, came to present our logo. We didn’t have much access or conduct extensive research or competition. This leads me to believe that we were very fortunate to find Rodrigo, who had the talent and sensitivity to place the eagle, the only animal without a predator, inside a triangle representing balance, hierarchy, and power. When we looked at the logo, we immediately knew it would be the symbol of our school. There wasn’t even a single objection; everyone loved it. The Alliance Jiu-Jitsu Association was founded. It was not just an academy, it was a nonprofit. It was simply the formation of a Jiu-Jitsu team with the intention of becoming the best team in the world.
The fact that we decided to fight together under the same banner did not eliminate egos or logos. Everyone continued to use their logos with their own names in their academies, and it took a while for the Alliance logo to become the main one.
In that same year, 1993, I received an invitation to go to São Paulo to talk to some academies. I had been frequenting the city since 1988 to train with Marcelo Behring, a person who had a great influence on my development as a fighter. I liked the city and already had some friends through him. In my initial conversations, I received a proposal from Formula Academy, which had just opened in the city and had an unprecedented structure. The salary offered was very good, and it was an opportunity to open a new market without leaving Brazil, which would keep me close to the competition. When I arrived in Sao Paulo, I stayed at Formula for 6 months until an opportunity arose to fight in Denmark in a Ju-Jutsu championship with different rules. I thought it was a good opportunity, so we assembled a team (I called Jacaré as a coach and Telo as an athlete up to 66kg). We also had Sylvio Behring, Fernando Yamazaki, and Matias on the team. During my fight, with 10 seconds remaining, I had an accident and broke my leg in two places. I needed to undergo surgery while the team continued their journey in Europe, promoting Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Our assigned cameraman for the trip was our friend Raul Gazolla, who volunteered to interrupt his trip and stay with me at the hospital, sometimes sleeping in the hallway. It was an act I will never forget, and even though we have little contact these days, I hold him in great regard. After the surgery, back in Brazil, I was let go from Formula under the pretext of a drop in movement during the holidays. I had fallen into a marketing strategy of the academy, which had hired big names from various sports for the launch and then gradually let them go. The question now was: do I return to Rio and move on with life, or do I find a way to continue in São Paulo? You can imagine the decision, but I will tell you in the next chapter about my first academy in São Paulo, Master Alliance.
Choosing São Paulo for Good
Leaving Formula Academy right after my return and still with a recovering leg put me in a not very comfortable situation. I rented a large house (bigger than necessary) in the City Jardim so that I could follow the Gracie´s Model from the early 80s in the USA, just as give private lessons. I prepared the garage with mats and started receiving my first students, and everything was going well. However, with my departure from Formula, I couldn’t afford to keep paying the rent. I had to cancel the Houses contract and dip into my savings, which I could have used different, but there was no other option.
I was back to zero, with no place to teach and no desire to give up and go back to Rio de Janeiro with this failure on my shoulders. I started looking for properties to set up a gym. At that moment, two very important people in my life appeared. I met my cousin Marcelo Gurgel while still at Formula, and we became friends. At this exact moment where I didn’t see many options, he offered me the garage of his house so that I could give my private lessons there. Imagine the inconvenience: I would arrive in the morning, move the cars, set up the mats, and start teaching the classes. There weren’t many students, but it helped me to stay in the city. One of those students was Pierre Chofard, a great friend and my black belt, who played a crucial role in my story a little later on.
I managed to find a property in Real Parque, a relatively new area of the city with many buildings. It was an industrial warehouse squeezed between buildings. The plot had an area of 50 x 10, and the warehouse was 20 x 10 with a ceiling height of about 8 meters. The first challenge was to rent the property without having money or students. I talked to the owner, Mr. Cera, who asked for an amount I couldn’t afford. But seeing my disappointment in not being able to commit, he made me an offer: “What if you pay me 20% of your earnings?” I responded, “But I don’t have any earnings, and I don’t know how many students I will be able to have here.” He said, “It’s okay. I believe you will get students, and I’ll be happy if you accept my proposal.” Angels cross our paths, and we had the place! But of course, I didn’t have money for even the slightest necessary renovations. I sold my motorcycle and invited Professor Sylvio Behring to join me since he was also looking to establish himself in the city. His brother’s (Marcelo) old gym, which was currently managed by their father, was not a viable option. He agreed, and we set up Master Alliance in São Paulo. At that time, Ricardo “Franjinha” Muller, whom I had brought from Rio to help me while I had an injured leg, also decided to stay. We were three to make the academy take off.
The Master Academy on Camilo Nader Street in Real Parque started. Some of the students from that time are still training today and have reached their black belts. I won’t name them because I will possibly forget someone, and that would be unforgivable. But know that without you, I wouldn’t be here today, and Alliance wouldn’t be what it is today.
In a few months, the partnership with Sylvio ended amicably simply because he wanted to travel and take Jiu Jitsu to other places, and we understood that the academy needed full dedication. And that’s what I did. I taught all private and group classes. I moved to a small house (much more humble than the first one) next to the academy, facing the cold of that winter of ’94 without giving up, which was tough for a recently arrived carioca, haha.
Luckily, the number of students increased, but we could already see that the location didn’t have much commercial potential. However, I managed to pay the bills, and more or less, I was forming a competition team that also helped me train.
We took the first team to a competition organized by FPJJ, which was being reorganized by Master Otavio de Almeida. The competition was in Itu, and I think we went with around 10 students. They all fought very well, and we came back with several medals. I also had the chance to compete for the first time in São Paulo and show that the Jiu Jitsu practiced in Rio was very different and much more developed. This would change in a few years, but it attracted even more students, and our academy started to prosper.
During this time, there were some changes in Alliance Rio. We had an insecure relationship with the landlord of the property in Ipanema, and he finally asked us to leave. Jacaré managed to find a much smaller property in front of Nossa Senhora da Paz square, on the third floor of a building. This move made him put an old plan into action: moving to the US and starting work there. My brother Fernando Gurgel, “Magrão,” took over the Ipanema Academy. Meanwhile, the Vitória project also needed to be rethought since I was in São Paulo and Jacaré was moving to the US. We needed someone to stay, but Telo, who would be our first choice, didn’t want to be alone on this mission. So we sent Jamelão, who was a brown belt at this time and one of the best athletes on our team.
In Rio, Strike was getting stronger under the command of Gigi and Traven, revealing excellent athletes who we confirmed in our internal tournaments, the “Alliance Cups.” These cups also aimed to replace the internal qualifiers used to select our best athletes to compete for the main team. The Alliance Cup brought together hundreds of athletes each year and was a very important tool to unite the entire team. With time and the increase in official competitions, it became difficult to maintain these internal events, but the memories of them still bring nostalgia today.
In the next chapter, I will tell you about a very important step in my journey in São Paulo and Jacaré’s difficulties in the US, which took him from Miami to Atlanta, where we still have one of the most successful academies in our network, our Headquarters in the US.
CHAPTER #6 | São Paulo shows its strength
The year was 1995, I had just won the Brazilian championship in my weight class and in the absolute division. The academy in São Paulo paid the bills, but it was difficult to grow. There was no internet, and marketing was quite challenging. We needed to move to a more visible location.
I taught classes at 7 am to Pierre Chofard, and in one of our many conversations, he mentioned that we should move the academy to a better place in the Itaim neighborhood. I laughed and said, “Sure, I just don’t know how.” He promptly said, “I’ll invest in the academy for you.” We started looking for a location, and after several failed attempts, we found a property that could accommodate an academy. Considering the necessary construction work, the rent was reasonable. We worked with an architect and literally built another floor in the building. We now had over 400m2 and an academy with three different tatami rooms. In six months, we went from 60 students to 250. The plan had worked.
At the time, I used my old logo with “Mutley,” a symbol I had been using since the academy at Clube Federal in Rio de Janeiro. I was sponsored by Dragão Kimonos, which started producing the Mizuno brand in Brazil. I was automatically transferred to be a Mizuno athlete, and this extended to all the academy’s merchandising materials. We started thinking about a Mizuno line with Mutley, but we stumbled upon the obvious: trademark rights. Although Mutley was wearing a kimono and was different from the character created by Hanna-Barbera, as soon as I obtained the trademark registration (a requirement from Mizuno), I received a long letter with hundreds of documents proving the brand’s ownership by a Dutch company. They kindly asked me to immediately stop using the character in any form. Not only did I lose the opportunity with Mizuno, but I also had to change the logo on the facade, the patches on the kimonos, and all the stationery of the academy. Everything!
I created the new logo FG, a red ellipse with my initials inside, and we continued the work. The fact is that the new academy on Leopoldo Couto Magalhães Street was a tremendous success. Our team of students was already excelling in competitions, and life in São Paulo had become good.
Jacaré had moved to Miami and faced difficulties in introducing jiu-jitsu to a different culture that knew little about our art. The UFC would become popular, but it was still far from that moment, and the investment of the entire move to America made it a very challenging period. Eventually, he received a proposal to move to Atlanta, invited by a friend who knew a doctor who had fallen in love with jiu-jitsu and was even organizing an event similar to the UFC. The friend also wanted to have an academy. Jacaré packed his bags and went, as they say. When he arrived there, the story was not exactly as they had told him. There was only an empty place he could rent if he wanted. Since he already had all his belongings in the moving truck, he decided that there was no way back to Miami. It was either accepting that or returning to Brazil. He took the risk and built one of the world’s largest jiu-jitsu schools in Atlanta, which was not even on the jiu-jitsu map. His academy is still going strong today, and we will talk about it more in the upcoming chapters.
The strike continued in Rio de Janeiro, revealing talents. In 1995, we had the first team championship of the CBJJ. Our lightweight blue team became champions, with athletes like Tererê and Cauã Reyond among the seven competitors. We defeated the heavyweight black team and began to emerge as one of the best teams, as the previously dominant Carlson Gracie was losing its strength.
All of our academies used their own logos and competed as part of the Alliance, but that would slowly start to change. Despite the resistance, the egos involved in our sport didn’t make it easy to reach an understanding. Everyone wanted to shine as a good teacher and believed that their own name was essential for that.
Endless meetings among the main figures of the team showed disagreements that were not yet evident at the time but looking at the future, they were real signs that the system, as it was designed, wouldn’t work for long.
We discussed everything from building the best team to the use of names alongside the Alliance logo. It was practically impossible to reach a consensus on any subject, but we stayed together, and when it came to competition, we were all united and proud to represent our school. However, in my mind, something needed to be done if we wanted to move forward together.
The year 1996 would bring us some important milestones, such as the first World Championship in Rio de Janeiro and my participation in UFC XI. We’ll talk about that next week.
CHAPTER #7 | The First World Championship
The year 1996 began with the news that we would have the first Jiu-Jitsu World Championship organized by the CBJJ (in 1997, the IBJJF would be founded), which had already held the first Pan American Championship in Orlando in 1995. At that time, the feeling was that these championships didn’t hold much value because there wouldn’t be greater competitiveness than a tournament held in Rio de Janeiro, and almost no one attended the first Pan American Championship, which, if I’m not mistaken, had only two black belt fights. Alliance did not participate as a team, but now it would be a world title, and we decided that we should bet along with the federation in an attempt to build something bigger. I was on vacation in Hawaii when I decided that I should compete. I would only have three weeks of training after returning to Brazil, but that’s how it would be. So, between sightseeing trips, I did my physical preparation because there was no one on the island to train Jiu Jitsu.
The championship took place in January, at the height of the Rio de Janeiro summer, and for the first time, Jiu-Jitsu was allowed to use a stage previously exclusive to judo, the gymnasium of Tijuca Tennis Club. Looking back now, we view the gymnasium structure with some disdain compared to the venues where championships take place around the world. At the time, however, it was simply incredible that we had managed to secure that stage.
The federation made an effort to bring athletes from other countries to compete and give the tournament a world championship feel. I fought a Frenchman in the first round, but I don’t remember any non-Brazilian athlete winning a single fight. The difference was significant.
I reached the final with my friend Murilo Bustamante and won my first title after a 5-0 victory with a takedown and a guard pass. That championship we entered without much expectation turned out to be a great event and would be the beginning of the series of 27 editions that we have today as the main Jiu-Jitsu event in the world.
The new União team was the overall champion of the 1996 world championship. After the creation of our team in 1993, some mergers between academies of the same origin became common in team formation. Nova União was the fusion of Dedé Pederneiras’ school with Wendell do Melo Tennis Club in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro.
Alliance had a good result but not enough for us to win, that would happen a little later.
Jiu-Jitsu was starting to gain real international prominence after three years of the UFC and Royce Gracie multiplying the number of fans and curious people wanting to know what Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was. Royce fought in five editions of the UFC, which had no prominent Brazilians until Amaury Bitetti’s fight in UFC 8 against wrestler Don Frye, who defeated him. The warning signs had been raised; the foreigners were learning how to protect themselves from Jiu-Jitsu.
In August, it would be my turn to represent Jiu-Jitsu and Brazil in UFC XI. As always, it would be a tournament of three fights. Names like Tank Abbott, Mark Coleman, Jerry Bolander, Scott Ferrozzo, among others, were in my bracket. I fought Jerry Bolander in a 15-minute fight, during which he held onto the cage to avoid being taken down or swept and even attempted to strangle me (laughs). In the end, the judges awarded the victory to him, even though I didn’t take a single punch. I lost the fight.
But the history of the UFC holds many other great memories for me. I did all my training in the USA under the guidance of Master Rickson Gracie. It was me, Traven (who fought in the event as an alternate), and our boxing coach Claudinho Coelho. We lived in Marina Del Rey for two months at the house of a great friend (Fernando Withauper), a student who was attending college in LA and kindly invited us to stay with him. We trained with Rickson every day at 2 p.m. and also had weight training at Gold’s Gym in Venice, the Mecca of bodybuilding. In the other sessions, we focused on boxing and varied physical preparation. We trained a lot, and I reached a new standard of physical and technical readiness that would help me in the following years of my career.
Towards the end of the training, during the week of the trip to Augusta, Georgia, where the fight would take place, I received the news that Rickson could not accompany me in my corner as previously agreed due to personal/contractual reasons with Japan. I confess that I didn’t quite understand it at the time, and I was somewhat disappointed not to have him in my corner. After all, he had trained me. On the other hand, I was always grateful for this opportunity, and furthermore, I would have my master Jacaré with me, as always, and that comforted me. So, we went to the fight.
My relationship with Rickson had been built since 1989 when I first went to the USA. He welcomed me very well, and as soon as I arrived, I went to him to give him a gift that I had brought: 20 jars of cream cheese (he loved it, haha). Cream cheese was not available in the USA, and it was highly valued in the Gracie diet. We trained together a few times during that trip, and then we reduced the intervals. I had the opportunity to learn from him for several years. When I received the invitation to fight in the UFC, it was natural for me to consult him, and I was very happy with the opportunity to be trained by the master.
Vale Tudo had always been a tool for Jiu-Jitsu to prove its effectiveness, and since 1991, facing the challenges that came my way undoubtedly gave me the opportunity to experience the world of fighting to the fullest and, along with that, help put Alliance in the history of our martial art.
I would still have one more great opportunity to prove myself as a fighter. In 1997, the events would happen in reverse order compared to 1996. The World Championship would take place in June, and the World Vale Tudo Championship (WVC) in January. I would have my rematch against Jerry Bolander, my opponent in UFC XI. However, destiny had another surprise in store for me, which I will tell you about in detail in the next chapter.
The year 1997 began intensely. A possible rematch of my fight with Jerry Bohlander at UFC XI was finally signed. He came to Brazil, we did the media day, staredown, and everything else. Everything was ready, I just needed to intensify my training. I spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve training hard. I spent a few weeks in Rio where I trained boxing at Nobre Arte with Professor Claudio Coelho and also better the quality of my Jiu Jitsu training. The Master academy had moved to Praça Nossa Senhora da Paz, in a much smaller gym. Jiu Jitsu in Rio de Janeiro was starting to feel the effects of competition focus, and the academies didn’t have as many students anymore.
But my focus at that moment was on Vale Tudo, and my fight was approaching. However, 15 days before the fight, in the first week of the year, I was informed that my opponent hadn’t signed the contract. The promoter had tried everything and didn’t know what else to do besides canceling the fight. He then made me two proposals: I could either fight with a substitute in the super fight of the night or enter the 8-man tournament, with 3 fights in one. Without hesitation, I chose the tournament. Although it was much more challenging (as I could accept or decline the opponent in the super fight), it was what challenged me the most. I had never fought three times in one night, and my opponents were varied.
Agreeing to the deal, I entered the tournament. We arrived at Maksoud Plaza for the rules meeting and the drawing of the brackets. It was only then that I met the fighters, and among them was an American wrestler accompanied by coach Richard Hamilton, the same coach who trained Don Frye and Mark Coleman. I remember commenting, “I’m going to face him in the final.” His name was Mark Kerr.
It was an incredible experience, and my predictions came true. We each had two fights before we fought a 30-minute uninterrupted final. He became the tournament champion, but that fight was perhaps the most educational in my career. Maybe that’s a subject for a book at some point. Here, it’s just to provide context for what happened with the Alliance during that time.
This event and the fight against Mark Kerr had a huge impact in Brazil, with a broadcast on TV Bandeirantes and dozens of replays. I could feel the reflection on the streets, but it didn’t necessarily translate into an increase in the number of students at my academy, which was struggling. I had around 300 students at the time but began to feel the need for better management.
Hardly resting from the war at WVC III, it was already time to prepare for the second world championship, this time in June. Whenever we had an important championship, Alliance gathered to organize the best team, sometimes through internal qualifiers and sometimes through endless discussions among the professors.
We assembled the team and were competitive, but we didn’t win the title that year. I won the heavyweight division for the second time and was the runner-up in the absolute division. I had a good fight against my arch-rival Amaury Bitetti, and the fight ended in a 1-1 tie-in advantage. The referee raised his arm, and when I questioned him, I heard, “I gave it to him because you had already won the weight category!” What?! What kind of criterion is that?! But it was too late, and my chance of becoming the absolute world champion was gone.
Following the World Championship, we had the Brazilian Championship, and a new problem arose. The CBJJ was heavily criticized due to its close ties with Gracie Barra (Barra Gracie at the time). Carlinhos was the president of both institutions, and there were accusations of favoritism in the brackets and other matters. I didn’t involve myself much in politics since I was an athlete, and competition was my priority. But Gigi got involved and was leading the creation of a new federation. The main academies joined the movement, Carlson Gracie, Nova União, and Alliance boycotted the Brazilian Championship, which took place with much less glamour. The supposed federation never materialized, and everything returned to normal. This attempt would happen again, with far more serious consequences for our team.
We began to feel the need to organize ourselves, but we had no source of income and the way we started, people were not willing to pay anything to be part of it, not the athletes, nor the professors.
We needed to think of something. Everything was very decentralized, which made it even more difficult. However, the results and the spotlight were slowly putting the pieces in place. But we were still far from a common understanding. I had an idea that would be the foundation of how we operate today. I presented it to the group during one of our meetings, shortly before the 1998 Brazilian Championship. But that’s a topic for another chapter because it didn’t work, haha. See you next week!
The need for organization was evident; we needed to manage our team. We were growing all over Brazil, but there were hardly any rules. We conducted tryouts to select the best team for the championships, but that was no longer sufficient. The old idea of improving the athletes’ lives always came up in discussions, but the question was how. Yes, I agree, but where would the resources come from?
There was absolutely no one in the market with even a minimum level of organization, no benchmark in jiu-jitsu. We started looking outside for a glimmer of hope, an idea. Vitória was a strong hub for our team, and from there came a possibility to be studied. Capoeira had and still has a traditional team led by Mestre Camisa, the Abada group. I learned from our students that they had a kind of fund where each student donated a very small amount, but the volume was significant. With that money, they were able to help teachers spread capoeira around the world. They also had schools around the world that sent resources so that the organization could help athletes and prepare events. In short, they managed to have a fund with resources to help the team and all its members. It was an idea still far off for Alliance, but I understood that it made sense and started working on a draft of how our team could function. I wrote a project outlining what our bylaws would be, and I was very excited to present the project to everyone.
We scheduled a meeting just before the 1998 Brazilian Championship, a meeting like the others I mentioned in previous chapters, where we gathered a lot of people and had heated discussions, most of the time unproductive. But this time would be different because I had a defined project, and it was an important matter. We also had the difference that Master Jacaré was in Brazil and would participate. I discussed the matter with him in advance to prepare him and other members. Everything was ready.
Unfortunately (or fortunately), the meeting did not go as I had hoped. The plan was rejected; they thought I wanted to control the team, and the proposal was completely overturned. They agreed that we should have a single coordinator but elected a purple belt to manage the team. I saw my proposal being buried, and I remember feeling quite defeated in the way I lost that battle. Years later, reflecting on this episode, I realized that the fact that I practically wrote the plan alone was a mistake. I should have shared the process, which would have undoubtedly improved the project and gained support from those who participated. It was a difficult moment, but I learned that you don’t win them all, and that doesn’t mean you should give up on what you believe in. The person elected as the team’s responsible, through the vote, made a series of mistakes in the first championship he was in charge of, which generated tremendous dissatisfaction, and he was soon removed from the position. We were back to square one in terms of organization. This same student would later become one of the main actors in the split of Alliance, which will certainly be the subject of a chapter in the near future as it is a fundamental part of our history.
The year 1998 would continue to be a difficult year for me, but not for Alliance as a whole. We became world champions for the first time, and for the first time, I lost a world final to Saulo Ribeiro. There is a parallel story to this story that I find interesting to tell, so I ask you to digress from the Alliance story so that I can recount it, and then we will resume.
Since 1989, when I first went to the USA, I had developed a close relationship with Rickson. I had organized a seminar for him in São Paulo in 1995, and we trained together whenever possible. I learned a lot, and I am eternally grateful to him for that opportunity. Once during a training session in Teresópolis for one of his fights that would take place at Maracanãzinho but never happened, he came to talk to me. His brother Royler was concerned about our relationship because someday they might face each other, and he didn’t want Rickson to continue teaching me. I explained to him that Royler was much lighter than me (featherweight, and I was heavyweight), but he insisted that it could happen in the absolute division. I responded that if he felt comfortable, I committed not to fight him and concede victory if we crossed paths in a tournament. Rickson immediately agreed and added, “If you don’t fight Royler, no student below our school fights you.” I never asked for that, but I agreed because my sole objective was to keep learning from him. However, something else happened that I had no idea could cause any discomfort. A friend called me asking to organize a seminar with Royce in São Paulo, with Grandmaster Helio Gracie also coming, along with Grandmaster Rorion Gracie. I promptly agreed and organized it successfully, and everyone was happy. However, there was internal rivalry within the family at that time. Rickson and Royler were on one side of the dispute, and Rorion, Royce, and Grandmaster Helio were on the other. I, of course, had no idea, and it was never explained or told to me. But today, I understand that Rickson believed I shouldn’t have organized Royce’s seminar. Saulo was Royler’s student, and he registered in my division without anyone saying anything. He reached the final against me in the world championship and fought. Since I hadn’t asked for anything, I didn’t expect anything, but the agreement ended there. From that episode, there was a natural distance between me and Rickson, and I have immense admiration, respect, and gratitude for him, as I have already mentioned here, but our paths diverged.
Let’s return to the Alliance story. I lost the individual championship, but our team won its first title, and it was an emotional victory. We were neck and neck with Barra Gracie, and the categories had already concluded. The last one in contention was the purple belt absolute division. We didn’t have any heavyweights in the competition, which reduced our chances. However, we had a young man who would make a lot of noise in the jiu-jitsu world, our lightweight Fernando Tererê. He started the competition by winning his first fight decisively, but in the second round, he faced Alexandre Café, who represented Barra Gracie and was a super heavy and very skilled athlete. The fight unfolded as expected, Tererê was struggling, and Café had a significant advantage. There were no real chances of a comeback, and the final blow was approaching. Café went for an arm lock and submitted Tererê, who tapped immediately, but Café continued to apply pressure on his arm even after the referee’s intervention, which was an extremely unsportsmanlike act. This led to the disqualification of the athlete and, consequently, the unexpected victory for Tererê. We advanced to the semi-finals, but the problem had grown in size. The opponent now was the feared Rico Rodrigues, weighing 120 kg, a wrestler, and an exceptional competitor. He would become a star in ADCC and UFC in the near future. Once again, it was a terrible fight for Tererê, who was losing 13-0 until the final seconds of the match when he managed to escape from the bottom and, for the first time, ended up on top. Rico was forced to turn to all fours to protect himself from a guard pass and fell victim to a lightning-fast attack on his neck. However, there was no more time, and no one believed that Tererê would submit him. There were only a few seconds left, but the referee noticed drool coming from Rico’s mouth and interpreted it as him being unconscious, so he stopped the fight. Tererê was declared the winner and advanced to an almost impossible final. Once again, we faced direct competition against Barra Gracie, with Rolls Gracie Jr. on the other side, and once again, the weight and size advantage were significant. But everything seemed to be going right for us, and we had hope as Tererê stepped into the fight. He started losing once again, and the fight was approaching its end. He was playing guard but without success in his sweep attempts, all of which were well defended by the son of the legendary Rolls Gracie, the master of our master. Suddenly, Tererê found an opportunity for a triangle choke, but being much lighter, he couldn’t prevent his opponent from standing up to defend. However, it was his last chance, and Tererê rose along with him, embracing his opponent’s neck with a semi-locked triangle. Without hesitation, his opponent forcefully threw himself to the ground, executing a banned technique (Bate Estaca), and was immediately disqualified. Tererê became the purple belt absolute world champion, and Alliance became the world champion team for the first time, with a difference of only 2 points. What a celebration, what joy!
In 1999, we would repeat the feat, but of course, each championship has a different story, and that will be for next week.
At the end of the year 1998, I had to make a difficult decision. I was struggling to manage my gym while maintaining my life as an athlete and a teacher, all while trying to help Alliance get organized. The property owner wanted to double the rent, which led me to bankruptcy. I had to close my gym and move our entire group to Project Acqua, a large gym located a few kilometers away. I would have a larger infrastructure, and I believed it would be much easier to run my business. At the same time, I rented a house next to the gym where I set up my office and a space dedicated to private lessons. Leonardo Vieira asked me to bring Fernando Tererê to São Paulo during that time to help him with classes since I was dedicating my entire day to private lessons. We had a team and entered 1999 motivated.
The year 1999 was another challenging year for me as an athlete but another successful year for the team. We won the second consecutive world championship by IBJJF, and we clinched the title in the final fight just like in 1998.
Motivated by our first title and with teams strengthening in the three main hubs – Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Vitória – we were undoubtedly the favorites for the second championship, and our rival once again was Barra Gracie. We decided to organize a camp to prepare our team and have all our students focused. This had never been done in a jiu-jitsu team, but an opportunity arose through a student and friend from my São Paulo gym. His name was Paulo Francês, and he owned a soccer training center in Campo Limpo Paulista, in the interior of the state. I visited the place and found it sensational, with all the necessary infrastructure for the athletes, including hotel rooms, a cafeteria, and a large warehouse where we could set up the mats, all surrounded by nature. Sitio Santa Filomena would be the place for our team to train and stay together for 10 days before the world championship. We organized the teams, rented travel buses, and went with approximately 50 athletes. We had morning physical preparation followed by training sessions, and in the afternoon, we had another technical training session. During the breaks, there was a lot of interaction among the athletes, and you could feel the energy of “one for all and all for one,” a sentiment that was crucial when going into battle, which was how we always approached championships.
A few weeks before, a development of what I told you in the previous chapter occurred. Leozinho Vieira decided to fight in the featherweight category, where Royler Gracie was the reigning champion, as my agreement with Rickson had been broken by Saulo Ribeiro the previous year. I agreed, and they fought in the final, in a somewhat uneventful match, which Royler won. However, the matter was clear and completely resolved, with no hard feelings but a clear distance.
The team performed very well. We had several champions in the colored belt divisions, and in the black belt category, we were neck and neck with Barra Gracie. I lost in the semifinals to Murilo Bustamante and would be out of the finals of the world championship for the first time, but it would be the year for other founders to shine. Roberto Traven won his second world championship, and Alexandre Gigi Paiva became the champion in the medium weight category. However, the competition remained intense until the end and would only be decided in the absolute division. The final of the open weight category was between Roberto “Roleta” Magalhães from Barra Gracie and Rodrigo “Cumprido” Medeiros from Alliance. Whoever won would take the title for their team. The fight began with a bit of studying, and soon Roleta pulled guard, his feared position. Cumprido seemed to be preparing to pass when suddenly he launched a precise foot lock and finished the fight in less than 1 minute, causing immense joy among the Alliance supporters. We were now two-time world champions.
The year didn’t end there, as the second edition of ADCC was scheduled for the second half of the year, and Traven and I were invited. We arrived in Abu Dhabi, and everything was very different. Just the fact that we were traveling internationally to compete was not something trivial. I remember arriving at the venue for the weigh-ins and being approached by an Arab who offered me $5,000 to fight for his team. I said, “My team is Alliance,” to which he replied, “Of course, you don’t have to change that. Just wear this t-shirt when walking to the mat and take a photo with the group later.” I mentioned that I was with Traven, and he offered $8,000 for both of us. We agreed, of course, and became part of the team sponsored by Saadyat. I lost in my second fight, but Traven won the absolute division that year. It was an incredible experience. Later on, I would return to Abu Dhabi several times for other reasons that I will share in the upcoming chapters, but that year will always be etched in my memory as the first encounter with that culture and the beginning of the jiu-jitsu’s relationship with that country.
See you next week with our next chapter.
The year 2000 would once again be an important year for my career. As a professor, I began leading a highly skilled team in Sao Paulo, which brought the responsibility of leading by example and, consequently, maintaining myself in top shape. I was 30 years old and already concerned about the future and how I could improve my academy. However, I was still an athlete and competitor, and having athletes like Tererê, Leo Negão, Demian, Robertinho Schumacher, Telles, among others, pushed me to continue training hard. We engaged in shots on the ramp at the Ibirapuera bienal, stairs at Sumaré, weightlifting, and a lot of jiu-jitsu. The focus was on the World Championship, and we were determined to go for the unprecedented third team title.
That year, I decided to register for the Rio de Janeiro State Championship, an event I hadn’t competed in for many years, but it would give me the rhythm to arrive well-prepared for the Worlds. It wouldn’t have been a significant tournament if it weren’t for the fact that it gave me the opportunity to face one of the greatest athletes from the Carlson Gracie school, Ricardo Libório. We met in the heavyweight category final, and I managed to win 2×0 with a takedown.
I was ready, and the World Championship would once again take place at the Tijuca Tennis Clube. After three matches, I reached the final against the super talented athlete from the new generation, Ricardo Arona, also from the Carlson Gracie school. I managed to score the first point with a takedown, which forced him to pull me into his guard. I escaped from an armless triangle attempt and secured 3 points from a guard pass, becoming a three-time World Champion. Once again, I won an individual title, but our team couldn’t secure the third consecutive championship.
Overall, Alliance seemed to be doing well. We had a great team that was expanding its number of affiliates around the world. Jacaré was establishing himself in Atlanta as a jiu-jitsu reference in the southern region of the USA. However, the Strike academy, owned by Gigi and Traven, began facing serious internal problems among the partners, leading to the first division within the team. It was a very complicated situation for everyone as it somehow divided the team, even though not formally.
My academy in Sao Paulo also went through tough times. As I wrote in previous chapters, I had moved into the Acqua Project, a large academy in Vila Olimpia, and rented a house nearby for my private classes, along with another house on the same street where the instructors lived. I significantly reduced my group classes and trusted the instructors to handle the classes while I focused on private lessons. However, the business didn’t go well, and it couldn’t have. It was a tough but essential lesson. My academy, which had reached 200 students, dwindled to just over 80. I had to go back to teaching group classes and reorganize my schedule. During this time, I started giving between 10 and 12 classes per day, including private and group lessons, a number I maintained for many years.
Yet, a delicate issue arose: what to do with the instructors who, for various reasons, couldn’t meet my expectations but still depended on the academy? Those instructors were Leo Vieira and Fernando Tererê. I decided to exchange one of my private students, whom I taught at home, for Leo, ensuring he was financially covered, and I also managed to secure an academy in Moema for them to teach. In my mind, I had found a solution to work around the crisis, allowing me to get back to my students while offering a new opportunity to the instructors. However, looking back, maybe it was a poorly planned step or, at the very least, not well-discussed, as it eventually led to a silent distancing of Leo from the training sessions. There were no fights, just a gradual separation.
Tererê returned to training and eventually started teaching in some time slots, and the academy carried on. However, unbeknownst to me, a ticking time bomb was forming.
Despite the challenges, life went on, and as usual, I embarked on my seminar tour across Europe. Finland and Germany were my primary destinations, visiting Helsinki, Turku, Berlin, and Frankfurt. It was during this last stop that I had a meeting that would change my history and that of Alliance as a whole, but that’s a story for next week’s chapter.
2001, My Last World Championship, and the Beginning of a Crisis.
The year started well, and the work continued as usual, with managing the academy as a top priority. I traveled to international academies for seminars, with fixed routes to places like New York, Helsinki, Frankfurt, and Berlin, while also exploring new destinations to expand our influence.
Gigi in Rio and Jacaré in Atlanta followed the same routine, taking care of their academies and traveling for seminars with the same purpose. This was the business model of jiu-jitsu at that time. Initially, it was exciting to travel the world and get paid in a strong currency. However, it started to take a toll on our daily life, as the more academies we expanded, the more time we needed to spend away, which, of course, affected the growth of our own academies. It was a challenging equation to balance, as we lacked a properly organized team that could manage the business in our absence. Gradually, we realized the need for qualified staff not only on the mats but also off them.
Nevertheless, our training sessions were going strong, and our team was very formidable. The São Paulo team was more mature, and even though Leo Vieira was away from the academy (though he was still part of the team), Tererê, Leo Negão, Demian, and many others kept training and improving every day.
We arrived at another World Championship, and I, at 31 years old, felt great. I had Rodrigo “Cumprido” Medeiros as my partner in the same category. He was already a two-time absolute world champion, but we had never reached the final together. In the semifinals, we faced two Gracie Barra athletes – on my side, Fabio Leopoldo, and on his, Jeferson Moura. We won our matches simultaneously and qualified together for the final for the first time. At that time, it was common for teams to close out categories without fighting, and usually, the more senior athlete would be awarded the title. However, since the finals were broadcast live on Sportv, we decided to compete in a prearranged demonstration match. I secured my fourth black belt world title, but Alliance once again failed to win the team title, maintaining the pattern that when I won individually, the team didn’t, and vice versa. I never fully celebrated a victory, but I also never left Tijuca without a title as long as I competed.
This marked my farewell to world championships – a difficult but necessary decision. Learning to make transitions was essential, requiring preparation for the new phase while letting go of what had already been established. It meant giving up something I was good at to venture into a phase where uncertainties were present. Overcoming doubts and facing the risk of failure in this new position was challenging, but it was what drove us forward. I left the position of four-time world champion to prove myself as a jiu-jitsu professor and coach of a jiu-jitsu team. I felt ready, but I didn’t anticipate the obstacles that were ahead, making my plans more complicated.
After the World Championship, I focused on developing my academy. I remember my father calling, concerned about how I would manage without being in the spotlight of the sport, questioning whether the students would continue training without me being the champion. I had the same doubts, but I believed that dedicating myself 100% to my students and shedding the selfish side of being a champion could make my academy grow. I explained this to reassure my father.
I was still at Projeto Acqua, an academy with excellent facilities. However, rumors circulated that the building would be sold, and since we were in a prime location with a booming real estate market, the situation became untenable. Instead of being transparent with their professors and tenants (my case, as I paid rent for the space), the academy management created difficulties for the students, even preventing them from entering the academy on one occasion. The situation became unsustainable, and we needed to find another place.
I met with two great professors and friends, Fabio Guimarães, a renowned gymnastics instructor who had been at Projeto Acqua for many years, and Kiko Frisoni, who ran a successful squash school within the academy. The three of us were tenants, and we decided to leave together and open our academy.
We found an amazing place in the same neighborhood, but it required a substantial investment, which we didn’t have. We sought investors and found a willing student, but after several meetings and planning, we couldn’t reach an economic agreement, and the dream had to be abandoned. We were about to be left without a place to teach in just a few months.
On the other side of the avenue, there was an academy called Olimpia, which had just ended its contract with Ryan Gracie’s team. The owner approached me to inquire if I was interested in occupying the space. The proposal was fantastic, and after two conversations, we agreed on the general terms of our agreement. The students wouldn’t feel the change as we were less than 3 minutes away.
With the problem resolved, it was time to work hard in 2002. The change of academy renewed our spirits. We implemented a methodology for the professors, strengthened our competition team with the arrival of Marcelinho Garcia, who had moved to São Paulo with Tati Tognini. Everything seemed to indicate that 2002 would be a good year, but it was not to be…
Next week, I will discuss the most challenging period in Alliance’s history and its consequences.
A Difficult Year
The year 2002 began with excitement due to the change of academy. New surroundings always motivate us to review processes and strive for improvement. The academy had a solid number of students, around 200. Additionally, I had a busy schedule of private lessons, and we had struck a good deal with the Olimpia Academy, which would take 20% of our earnings, including all the infrastructure for electricity, water, cleaning, and valet services. All our students would also have access to the weightlifting area (I will remember an interesting case related to this right in a future chapter). So, we moved to Olimpia.
In the new space, we had an office, a nice reception area, and an excellent mat space. For the first time, a curtain separated the back of the mat for my private lessons. I continued with my routine of five private lessons in the morning, main training at noon, a break for lunch, and then back at 4 p.m. for more private and group classes until 9:30 p.m. Things were going well.
The IBJJF calendar was not as defined as it is today, but we had a highly competitive and fun championship to look forward to, the Team Brazilian Nationals. Each team would field 7 athletes per weight class, with 3 weights in the colored belts and only 2 in the brown/black belts fighting together. This championship was scheduled for the beginning of the year.
One day, I received a call from Luizinho from Nova União, a kind of patron/investor of the team technically led by the great André Pederneiras, known as Dedé, and Wendel. He told me that he had had a falling out with Carlinhos Gracie and was setting up a federation to compete with CBJJ/IBJJF. He offered money to the athletes, arguing that it was absurd for them to fight only for medals at that stage of the sport. I listened to the explanation and the plan, but it seemed more like a revenge issue than a proactive movement for the sport’s growth. In the same call, I argued that dividing the sport into two federations was not a good idea, as it had already been tried in 1997, with some teams even boycotting the Brazilian Nationals. I suggested that we should talk and find a good solution for everyone, but he was adamant. Finally, I said that I couldn’t support this movement that clearly challenged the federation, which, in my opinion, was beneficial for the sport. Lastly, I suggested that he shouldn’t hold the event on the same date, as he initially proposed, so he could prove that his championship was better, and the market would decide the best structure without the need for a rupture. He didn’t agree and claimed that he had already spoken to some of our athletes, and they would compete. I explained that this was not how things worked within our team, and we ended the call on friendly terms.
Afterward, our athletes requested a meeting to express their view, which basically was “we want to fight for money.” Today, I understand this desire, just as I did back then. However, I questioned whether it was possible. Was there a system to support this desire? Where would the money come from, and for how long? Would it be worth it to confront the federation? I raised these issues and recounted my conversation with Luizinho, but they weren’t convinced and continued with internal movements and discussions among the athletes from my academy and others who were part of our competition team. The movement gained strength and influenced almost all of our competition athletes. In my academy, we had Tererê, Demian Maia, and Eduardo Telles, as well as those who hadn’t attended for some time, like Leo Vieira. The Rio de Janeiro branch was also strong at the time, led by founders Gigi, Traven, Magrão (my brother), Castelo Branco, and Vini, as well as Jacaré, who already lived in the USA. We scheduled a meeting to discuss and decide whether Alliance would participate in the championship or not. Vini was traveling, and Jacaré also didn’t participate since he was in the USA, so we had five valid votes. My position of not participating won by 3 to 2, and the matter seemed settled. But it wasn’t.
A few days after the meeting, the athletes individually called Vini, who was on a plane when he answered the call, and they managed to get a “it’s okay for me to compete” from him. Next, they called Jacaré, who was also out of the overall context, and received the same response. Thus, they declared that they had changed the vote and had gained the right to compete. This could be called a lack of legal certainty in any serious place, as we had already decided, and votes outside the discussion table and without hearing all the arguments couldn’t be valid. This turned into a dispute.
The CBJJO adjusted the schedule so that the black belt competitions wouldn’t happen on the same day as the CBJJ championship, but both championships would take place on the same weekend.
I didn’t agree, I didn’t authorize it, but I couldn’t prevent the athletes from competing. They fought on Saturday in Rio and came back to fight on Sunday in the CBJJ championship (we lost in the final to Gracie Barra).
The next day, I felt a mix of anger and deep disappointment. My students had disregarded my authority, overriding my decision and violating all the principles that had always been inviolable in our school. I called the three of them for a conversation. My desire was to expel them from the academy and the team and never look at them again, but I knew that making decisions with emotions running high would not be wise or productive. The conversation was sad but calm. There were no fights or offenses, they reiterated their respect for me, and each one expressed their reasons for competing in the championship. To my surprise, there were three different reasons at the time. I decided not to expel them because, despite the anger, I loved those boys. I proposed a 90-day suspension, which was immediately accepted, as they probably expected a harsher punishment.
However, the problem wouldn’t end there. During that suspension period, the world championship would take place, and they wouldn’t be allowed to compete. But, of course, they didn’t think about that when they received the suspension and didn’t accept to miss the most important tournament of the year. Once again, CBJJO organized a tournament on the same date, only with different schedules, which led only a few athletes to compete in both organizations, creating the separation that I had predicted before.
After they refused to comply with the suspension and with the support of the other athletes, the situation became unsustainable, and the split was inevitable.
Upon leaving, all our athletes were invited to join the movement, with phrases like: “You have to come with us, Fábio will be left alone.” Although I was almost alone, I wasn’t completely alone, a lot of unfair things happened during this period, which made me rethink the values of friendship, loyalty, and respect. On the other hand, other demonstrations made me continue to believe in all of this with even more conviction. One name that stood against this whole movement and started writing a new chapter in our team’s history was Marcelinho Garcia, still a brown belt at the time. He had the personality to decline all the invitations from those who left the academy, and that’s why he will be the character of our next chapter, next week.
The year 2003 began in a very difficult and sad way. I couldn’t believe that our team had split so drastically and unexpectedly. It was a mix of anger and disappointment, along with a fear that my life’s project had somehow faded away.
The competition team practically disbanded. Our academy’s athletes and along with them, almost the entire group from Rio and Vitória, which were our main hubs, left. When this happened, our students started receiving calls and invitations from all sides to leave as well, and a few did.
The academy was in a bad atmosphere, lacking energy, with only a few students. Our team was left with an athlete who wasn’t even a black belt yet, but everyone recognized him as a talent. Despite being a champion in previous belt categories, efforts were made to recruit him, but he resisted the idea. He stated that he had moved to São Paulo to train with me and had no plans to change that. Marcelo Garcia decided to stay, and this gesture had a fundamental importance in our history. Apart from that, he was one of the most dedicated and disciplined students I had ever had. He did something greater for me – he brought me back from the bitterness and ingratitude I was feeling. I realized that there was someone I could help and who didn’t deserve my bitterness. I quickly returned to focusing on training, and we started building victories together. Marcelinho became an example for everyone in the academy, and our team slowly began to grow again.
One fine day, we received an invitation for him to compete in an event in Campos dos Goytacazes. I remember he wasn’t too enthusiastic about it, but I encouraged him because I knew there would be great names in the event. Despite the poor logistics, he went for it. It was a no-gi tournament, a discipline he didn’t have much experience in since he had started training with us in São Paulo already as a brown belt. I recall the day when Tati, my student, and his girlfriend at the time (now his wife, a black belt, and mother of their children), brought him to a no-gi training session back at Projeto Acqua. He had never trained without the gi before. Not long after, he became the standout in a tough tournament full of stars.
That championship opened up the opportunity for him to compete in the ADCC trials in Rio. There we were, heading for another major test. Once again, Marcelinho was the sensation of the tournament, submitting all his opponents until the final. However, he was stopped in a tough and frustrating match, and we missed the spot because only the winner of the trials would be selected. Daniel Moraes became the champion.
As always, whether in defeat or victory, life went back to normal on Monday, and we kept working. Months later, the official ADCC event took place in São Paulo. Since I didn’t have an athlete competing, I had scheduled a lecture for a company in Bahia. However, on Thursday night, just before the weigh-in scheduled for Friday, the organizer of the trials, my friend Marcelo Tetel, called me and asked, “Fabio, is Marcelo on weight? There’s an American who couldn’t make it, and there’s a spot for him, but he needs to be here to weigh in tomorrow morning.” I called Marcelinho, who obviously knew he wasn’t on weight, and I told him to grab his sneakers and come to the academy because he was going to compete in the ADCC! He didn’t even question it, but he arrived almost 3 kilograms over the weight limit. Running and dehydration were necessary to make the official 77kg weight. The next morning, everything worked out, and we were in the ADCC. However, I couldn’t be there since I had already traveled on Friday for the event on Saturday. I followed the two matches of that day over the phone, which were against Shaolin and Renzo Gracie. I had never wanted to be somewhere so much, but I couldn’t be. I arrived early on Sunday, and we went to the finals. Marcelinho continued to shine and became the champion in the 77kg division. But what always set him apart was that he was never satisfied. He also signed up for the absolute division and put on another show, only being stopped by Pe de Pano in the semifinals.
The world opened its eyes to that kind-hearted, shy, and extremely talented kid. This marked the beginning of one of the most successful careers in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a new era in understanding how to fight without the gi. Marcelinho would go on to revolutionize techniques like the hook guard, the X-guard, the one-leg X-guard, the seat belt control from the back, and many more.
We shared indescribable moments of joy and success. There was a connection I had never had with any other student, and each victory was a source of immense pride. Of course, we also faced crazy defeats, but our relationship was one of growth. I am extremely grateful for the trust placed in my work and for the generosity of understanding how much I needed that support. Alliance is definitely what it is today because of Marcelo Garcia.
The rest of the story is well-known. Marcelinho became one of the greatest names in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu history, winning over the world with his charisma and skill. Wherever he may be, my heart will always be with him.
One step at a time.
The phase with Marcelinho was intense and a lot of fun. There were many arranged fights, championships, seminars, and trips. However, Alliance still remained off the podium in the competitive scene. Attending tournaments, which I never stopped doing, wasn’t pleasurable. I still carried a negative feeling, a non-acceptance of why all of that had happened to our team.
On the other hand, we continued working on the methodology not only in our academy in São Paulo but internationally in our branches. These years were full of intense travel for me, trying to implement the system in various academies and facing the expected resistance from the instructors. These travel periods were usually at the end of the year, in the harsh European winter – weeks in Finland, Germany, England, and wherever else we could expand. I tried to explore the places, learn about other cultures, improve my English, and share our plans with our affiliates – explaining the importance of the methodology. It was a slow and steady effort, which sometimes felt like it wasn’t making any progress from one year to the next, but gradually it started to make sense to instructors who were more aligned with our team.
In the US, Jacaré was growing his academy in Atlanta. After a period of not getting involved in the split, as he believed we could still resolve the situation, the tension reached him. One of the members of the new team formed under the name Brasa pressured Jacaré to pick a side. They accused him of sitting on the fence and demanded he decide whether he would stay with Alliance or join Brasa. In response, our master said: “I’m sorry, my dear, but that’s not the issue. I’ve always been Alliance and will never stop being Alliance. This group you’ve formed (Brasa) means absolutely nothing to me. I care about you all, and I had hoped that this situation could somehow be resolved. However, understanding that this is not possible, I will stay exactly where I am. You all can go your own way.”
This moment was, in a way, important for our team. Having Jacaré not fully engaged weakened us and made the phase even more challenging.
It relieved me somewhat because I felt betrayed, and at the same time, I saw my master maintaining relationships with people whom I believed were the cause of all that suffering. But of course, this was a personal and likely distorted view of reality. I had no choice but to wait and keep working, which I did until we finally had our master back, focused on rebuilding our team.
Gigi, who continued to teach in Rio, was focused on his private students and his small academy in Leblon. But he joined us to work on organizing and implementing the methodology. We went to New York to record DVDs with the programs. Our affiliate in the city, Professor Fabio Clemente, was also a video maker and organized our filming setup in his academy. We spent great days in the city and discussed Alliance’s plans for the future extensively. We understood that rebuilding the competition team would take some time, but the methodology would help us have better academies. At that moment, that was our focus.
During this time, the São Paulo academy experienced a drop in the number of students. We had to renegotiate the rent and cut our space in half. It felt like we needed to start from scratch, and that’s what we did. We dedicated ourselves to implementing the methodology rigorously. We divided the class levels and followed the program, and it began to work within a short time.
Our academies were restructuring and gaining more students. The methodology worked exactly as we had envisioned, and that was encouraging.
Private lessons were happening in large numbers, and I continued to give 10 to 12 lessons a day. This culture we were creating in the academy would make a significant difference in the future.
During these years, the World Championships were still held at the Tijuca Tennis Club, and our only representative in the black belt division was Marcelinho. In his first black belt Worlds, he reached the medium-heavyweight final against none other than Tererê. It was a terrible situation, and I really wanted him to win, but it didn’t happen. He got caught in a triangle, and we were defeated. It was a difficult feeling to digest, but we moved forward – there was no other option. Marcelinho would go on to become a champion in 2004 for the first time at the black belt level. In 2005, he was injured and couldn’t compete, but he would come back to win in 2006.
In 2006, we still didn’t have a strong team, but the lower belt levels were starting to show some results. The atmosphere at the championships was getting better. Marcelinho won, and for the first time, I noticed a talent that would help us transform our story once again. The featherweight division was contested between the favorite, Márcio Feitosa, and the newcomer to the finals, Rubens Cobrinha Charles, who represented TT, Telles and Tererê’s initials. I was watching the fight from the stands when Tererê’s cousin, Elan Santiago, sat beside me. I asked him, “Who is this guy destroying Feitosa?” He replied, “It’s Cobrinha!” I said, “Impressive, please congratulate him for me. Refined jiu-jitsu!” In the course of the conversation, he told me that Tererê wasn’t doing well, couldn’t teach classes or be at the academy, and he thought Cobrinha deserved an opportunity. We agreed to talk about it and said goodbye.
I would meet Cobrinha in person in a few weeks, and I’ll tell you about it in the next chapter. Until next week.
The year 2007 was marked by changes, and two characters had a significant impact on our history. Everything was proceeding as usual within our team, and the focus was on refining our methodology and unifying our teaching, which is always a slow and challenging process. However, our academies were improving in all aspects. We were delivering better jiu-jitsu to our students, and although there was still resistance from some team members, we continued to evolve. The unwanted separation caused by the previous split years ago was helping us solidify the implementation of the method with fewer objections.
Everything was going well, but our team, despite showing signs of recovery, had not fully regained its strength. It seemed that we were about to face a significant setback. Marcelinho, who at that time was starting to travel extensively for seminars and fights, received an offer to move to the USA. Losing Marcelinho at that point was like losing a key piece of the team. He was the main reference. However, not allowing Marcelinho to go to the USA could be even more costly in the long run. The offer was for him to join our branch in New York, which would, in a way, strengthen our team there. During this time, our team was becoming quite decentralized, with champions coming from various places such as Finland, New York, Atlanta, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro. This diversity would be crucial for the future success of our team. The decision was made: Marcelinho needed to go. It wasn’t easy to see him leave, but even by departing, he had fulfilled an important mission. He kept the name of our school alive and left a lasting mark on all the students who shared the mat with him over those nearly 5 years. I was excited about everything that was happening and felt content.
In the midst of this process, I received a call about the athlete mentioned earlier, Cobrinha. We arranged for him to visit the academy. When he arrived, I had no idea that I was standing before one of the key figures in the history of our team. The conversation began with me asking what brought him to me, to which he replied that he needed a coach. A wise choice! Over the years, I had received many athletes who wanted to join a championship team, seeking to ride the wave of success. This approach often demonstrated a weakness or lack of confidence in themselves, as if the athletes wished someone else would do what was necessary for them to become champions. I preferred Cobrinha’s approach, as it demonstrated a life choice rather than a momentary one. We continued the conversation, and he told me that he was a student of Tererê and had no intention of leaving his academy. However, Tererê had been ill for some time, and Cobrinha was concerned about missing the right time for the peak of his career. I asked if he had discussed this with Tererê. He then told me something that made me very pleased: Tererê had actually suggested that he reach out to me, as he couldn’t assist him at that moment. It was a surprise for me. At that time, there was tension due to the departure of some members. Although Tererê was a competitor in tournaments, we had a genuine connection and mutual affection. To receive this endorsement from him was a demonstration of admiration and fondness. He was sending me his top athlete, who from that moment would also be mine.
We trained that day, and I quickly realized that I had a gem in my hands. His talent and disciplined dedication inspired all the students. The training sessions gained intensity, marking the start of a new phase at our academy. Cobrinha needed to fine-tune some details in his game, but these were minor adjustments. Once taught, he would train tirelessly, further perfecting the techniques. This process brought a new training method to our school, with the introduction of drills influenced by Cobrinha. The perfection in movements and exceptional commitment to training began to make a difference, and competitions became a showcase of what we already knew would happen. The overall level was rising, and the serene dominance in the featherweight category became comfortable enough to challenge him to compete in the absolute category. With numerous championships and impressive results for a featherweight, the following years only confirmed what I had already noticed: we had one of the greatest names in the history of the sport. Cobrinha possessed all the qualities a coach could wish for immense talent, unwavering dedication, loyalty, courage, and tireless determination.
Cobrinha entered the academy with the statement that he was there for himself, not speaking on behalf of anyone or representing a specific group. However, his arrival opened doors for other athletes who would later join our team in the pursuit of the world title the following year. Although Cobrinha won the 2007 World Championship, the Alliance came in second. We were once again in the running for the title and closing in on the GB (Gracie Barra). The team grew, we regained the title, and that will be the story I will share with you next week.
The world championship had moved to California, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu took a significant step towards its internationalization. Alliance had been making this move for some time, starting with our expansion to other countries through seminars and later with Jacaré’s relocation to set up our headquarters in Atlanta. However, the relocation of the main championship to the USA would undoubtedly be a significant change.
I remember the adventure when the CBJJ (there was no IBJJF yet) held the first Pan American Championship in Orlando. Many didn’t have much faith that it would succeed because Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu didn’t exist in the USA at the time, at least not enough to host a major championship. The competitors who attended came from Brazil, and we, from Alliance, didn’t participate. We watched the growth each year and joined in starting from the 1996 Pan and thereafter in all official championships.
As I mentioned in the previous chapter, we weren’t champions in 2007, but we presented a very strong team and some names that would forever be part of our team’s history. Cobrinha became the champion, but another athlete emerged as the black belt revelation: Lucas Lepri, who had come through his instructor Elan Santiago and, along with a group from Uberlândia, had his first camp with us in São Paulo, winning the lightweight category convincingly.
In this phase, our team truly expanded. Serginho and the Cohab Itaquera crew joined us, Cobrinha brought his students Michael and Michel Langhi, and the team kept growing. The 2008 championship promised a lot, and I felt we had a competitive team, albeit still very young.
The pyramid was no longer unfamiliar, but many athletes from our team were going to the USA for the first time, which was a concerning factor. There were many distractions when we needed all the energy and focus to regain our championship status.
The significant sign that we were close to returning to the top of the podium was the victory at the 2008 Pan American Championship, which we won a few months before the Worlds. The team united in a way we hadn’t seen in a long time. The training sessions were vibrant and extremely tough. New athletes began to arrive, and our São Paulo academy became the desired place for any Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu athlete.
Jacaré was doing solid work in Atlanta, where high-quality athletes like Chris Moriarty, Ian MacPerson, and many others were emerging.
Our colored belt team was also reinforced with the arrival of Leo Nogueira, Gustavo Junqueira, and others. Our athletes who had been with us for some time now had higher-quality training and evolved significantly. Antonio Peinado, Tarsis, Piuhim, Soluço contributed a large share of the results, and our team was ready.
We went to the World Championship, and when the competition began, we realized it wasn’t just our São Paulo athletes who shone. We made champions from New York to Finland, from Atlanta to Alliance, it was strong and vibrant, and our athletes stepped onto the mats confidently. The results began to appear; we produced champions, runners-up, and third-placed competitors, and the points kept adding up. We did calculations as the days of the championship passed and the divisions concluded. The final day of the black belts was decisive, and we had a very high-quality team. Our team put on a show; we produced two black belt champions and two runners-up.
Cobrinha secured his 3rd world title, while the surprise came from Serginho Moraes, who entered as an unknown because it was his first time competing in the USA. In the draw, he was paired with one of the favorites in the first round, none other than Kron Gracie, Rickson’s son, who was making his black belt debut but had an impressive track record in colored belts, with a ridiculous submission rate and no losses. Serginho had a perfect match, opened up a significant lead, and finished with a rear-naked choke. The arena was in awe, but that wouldn’t be our athlete’s only achievement that day; he would submit other big names on his way to the title. Serginho became our second black belt champion and secured our team title after a 9-year wait. We also finished second in the juvenile division and third in the women’s division. Alliance was back, and it would be very difficult to remove us from the top for a long time. But that’s a topic for our next conversation. See you next week.
We were once again world champions, and this attracted more people to strengthen our team. I was 100% dedicated to the competition team, traveling to all championships and personally leading the daily noon training. However, this couldn’t keep me away from my private lessons or hinder the evolution of the methodology we had realized would be our differentiator over time.
My routine started early. At 7 AM, I was already giving my first private lesson. Then, every 45 minutes, there was a new student: 7:00, 7:45, 8:30, 9:15, 10:00, 10:45, and 11:30. There were six lessons before our team training, which now included reinforcements from Leo Nogueira, Bernardo Faria, and Bruno Malfacine, in addition to all the others mentioned earlier in this story. The training sessions reached a new level of technicality and competitiveness with so many talented individuals in one place.
With my dedication to the competition team, I could sense that pressure was building up. There were many champions, all wanting to make a living from jiu-jitsu. I had already experienced such a situation and had an obligation to have learned something from it. We needed to be a platform for opportunities, and the team’s success greatly contributed.
Training with that group kept me in shape and, most importantly, brought me closer to my athletes. I could feel how hard they worked, and I strived to give my all to live up to that trust.
Even though it seemed that the training sessions couldn’t get any better, when the World Championship came around, we flew to Atlanta. All competitors completed their training in a camp, where we would be highly focused and under the guidance of Master Jacaré. In addition to leading the training sessions, Master Jacaré had a very strong team that would assist us in winning our fourth title and the second consecutive one.
We reached six finals out of ten possible in the black belt division. The colored belts also put on a great show, and we won our fourth world title with a significant lead over the second-place team. Our team showcased impressive and dominant jiu-jitsu. Alliance had returned to the top of the world with full force!
Malfacine made his debut with the team and secured the gold. Cobrinha confirmed his favoritism and became a three-time champion. Michael Langhi won his first world title in the black belt category, creating one of the most memorable moments of the tournament. In the celebration of his final match against Gilbert Burns, Durinho, who had defeated Lucas in the quarterfinals and celebrated in a way we considered disrespectful by pretending to cut his opponent with a sword, at the end of the fight, Serginho, who would close out the medium category with Marcelinho, entered the mat imitating Durinho’s sword gestures. Michael immediately pretended to draw a shotgun and shoot at his aggressor. Serginho fell backward, pretending to be dead, and the crowd went wild in the stands. Tarsis took the silver, and Gabriel Vella, who had joined the team a year earlier, also won in the Super Heavyweight category.
The year 2009 also opened our eyes to the importance of other championships such as the European, Pan American, and Brazilian championships. We created a new challenge: to win all the championships in what we called the Grand Slam in a single year. In the European Championship, we finished second in the men’s division but won in the women’s, juvenile, master, and beginners divisions. We narrowly missed dominating all divisions. This new goal left us unsatisfied and motivated us to work harder. We finished third in the Pan American Championship but won the Brazilian Championship. We were definitely back in the competition and seemed much stronger and more motivated than our competitors. It was only a matter of time.
After the championship season, our athletes needed something to motivate them. I understood that it was time to reduce my international travels to be able to dedicate myself even more to the academy and, at the same time, create an opportunity for income and international experience for the athletes.
Cobrinha moved to Atlanta, where he was under Master Jacaré’s supervision and further contributed to our team’s continuity there. Lucas was already in New York, where he replaced Marcelinho. Michael, Bernardo, and Malfacine traveled for months to Europe to fulfill their seminar schedule, gaining international experience and funding for the entire year of training. The system was working, and the team continued to strengthen. I had found a model that seemed sustainable to me, but I didn’t know for how long.
In 2010, we would face some surprises. See you next week!
Chapter #19 2010
Our team was solidifying itself as the dominant force of the moment, winning various championships and the latest world championships. Our team was young, motivated, and incredibly talented.
I continued with my pace of private lessons and dedicated myself greatly to the competition team, not only in training but also during trips to all the official championships.
The results kept getting better, and I decided to issue a challenge to the team. Some athletes and students already had tattoos with the Alliance eagle, but I had never had a tattoo, and at 40 years old, the chance of me getting one was very slim. However, I promised the team that if we won the European Grand Slam, Pan American, Brazilian, and World Championships, I would get a big tattoo, on my ribcage, which experts considered the worst and most painful location.
The young athletes pushed me in training, and I felt deeply involved. It had been a long time since I had competed at such a high level, and I was already 40 years old. Nevertheless, I decided to compete in the European Championship. I registered in the heavyweight adult black belt category, managed to win my two fights until the final, and found myself facing what was likely: my student and super champion Bernardo Faria, who graciously allowed me to win, making me a champion and possibly the oldest champion of a Grand Slam tournament in the black belt division at 40 years old.
Our team won the European Championship! We also won the Pan American Championship. In the Brazilian Championship of that year, we ended the day with more than 50 points behind Nova Uniao. It would be a tough mission for the brown and black belts. It was during that time that we began to call this generation the Golden Knights. Not only did we win the championship, but we also secured a significant lead. It was amazing, and only the World Championship was left.
We had an excellent championship, well-balanced in all belt categories, and the competition remained fierce up to the black belt category. Once again, we broke records, putting six athletes in the black belt male finals, an unprecedented achievement and a record that still stands today.
The finals were scheduled for a few hours later, at 4:30 PM. When they began announcing the first fight, it was between Romulo Barral and Tarsis, a rematch from the previous year. Tarsis had been having an exceptional championship but didn’t show up on time for the final. He had gone out to eat and got confused about the timing. The organization was pressuring me, and I was trying to locate him. I couldn’t believe that an athlete qualified for the final would forfeit, and it was about to happen. When he finally arrived, running and out of breath, I looked at that and thought that if he fought like that, he had no chance of winning. I went over to him, and I could see the certainty on his face that he would get reprimanded for being late. But instead, I spoke to him very calmly, telling him to slow down and not get caught up in the federation’s frenzy, to take his time in the locker room to prepare mentally for the fight. That’s what he did; he came back to have the fight of his life and became a world champion. Malfacine, Michael, Marcelinho, Vella, and Bernardo also won. Cobrinha was the runner-up after four consecutive titles. Gabi and Luana led the women’s team, and we also won the women’s championship.
I returned from my trip and called my friend Serginho from Tatooyou to settle my bet. Alliance was the only team to win all the championships of the Grand Slam in the same year, an unprecedented achievement never reached by any other team. As promised, I chose to get a large eagle tattoo on my ribcage.
Still in the mood of celebrating the year’s titles, I received the news that the academy where our team trained in Sao Paulo would be sold. We had a good agreement with the former owners, and I was sure that it would be impossible to maintain something similar with the new buyer, which was the Bodytech chain of academies and operated on a quite different model. Although they tried to reassure me, I understood that I needed to act quickly, and I started looking for another property. The academy was already small, but when things are working, we are often tempted to stay in our comfort zone. Now, I needed to move fast.
I managed to find a property recommended by a friend. It seemed very large and very expensive. At that time, I had around 250 students and would need to carry out a major renovation on the property, not to mention negotiating the rent. I decided that I needed to take this step; Alliance deserved its own headquarters to serve as a model. We were already the best team; it was time to become the best academy as well. We inaugurated the new headquarters of Alliance Sao Paulo in December 2010. What a year!
The year 2011 would be a very important year for Alliance. Besides all the championships and results we were continuously collecting, including another Grand Slam with the European, Pan-American, Brazilian, and World Championships, we were beginning to understand the need to organize ourselves not only as a team but also as a company.
I invited a brown belt student at the time to help me organize my affiliates, seminars, royalty payments, and methodology courses, as well as to organize our relationship as a team with the IBJJF. The chosen person for this role was Ricardo Caloi, whom we will talk about extensively in our history.
We started working together in my newly established office at the new headquarters of Alliance Sao Paulo. I began to reduce my private lessons and put more energy into organizing the team as a whole. Together, we began to talk to Jacaré and Gigi to align our way of working so that one day we could have only one rule in practice at Alliance. This was a challenging move, and Ricardo was a key figure in building trust among all involved, founders, and affiliates, that we were there to build something beneficial for everyone.
We had a lot of work ahead of us, and even though we were six-time world champions, our structure was extremely amateurish. We needed to standardize everything, and we didn’t know where to start. Everything seemed distant and difficult, not to mention unlikely. We focused on what we did best, the methodology. We began to organize in-person courses and provide DVDs for teachers to study at home. We created auxiliary materials, developed the website, and kept improving despite a lot of resistance from affiliates who couldn’t see the importance of changing a winning team. However, I was fully aware that this was extremely necessary.
We also improved the exchange of seminars for our athletes. This was crucial for them to stay in Sao Paulo and focused throughout the season. After the World Championship, the team would scatter to Europe and the USA, where they would spend two months working, learning English, experiencing other cultures, and helping us spread our culture.
Below is a letter we sent to the affiliates that reflects the moment we were experiencing in 2011.
Dear friends of the Alliance Association,
The year 2011 was another year of growth and victories for our team. As many of you already know, once again, Alliance became the World Champion, adding the sixth world title to its record. In addition, we also won the European Championship, the Pan-American Championship, and the Brazilian Championship. This solidifies us as the best Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu team in the world today. We want to thank everyone who contributed to these achievements, directly or indirectly, and who contribute to the growth and development of the best Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu team on the planet.
There are still many areas where we can improve, and thus, Alliance has been working hard to create new programs and products for you to offer in the coming year, with the goal of organizing and professionalizing our association. To quote our co-founder, Fabio Gurgel:
“Getting to the top is easy; the hard part is staying there.”
To maintain our position as the best in the world, we will try to strengthen solidarity within the schools spread throughout the world. To continue being successful, we see the need for better-organized schools that can pass on our teaching methods to their students. From California to Bahrain, passing through Brazil, our mission is to teach the same standard of Jiu-Jitsu to all schools. Currently, our team is divided into three major groups: Fabio Gurgel, Romero Jacaré, and Alexandre Paiva. Each has its own Alliance association with some differences in their support systems, standards, and requirements. Starting in January 2012, we will merge the schools into a single organization. This will be a necessary and indispensable step to solidify the work started by Master Jacaré years ago in Rio de Janeiro. Below is a figure that shows the transformation that will begin in January 2012:
With that said, in 2012, we will offer many products to help our affiliated schools grow. We intend to send our Black Belt World Champions to spend an entire week teaching and sharing knowledge at each affiliated school. We have adopted this exchange in Finland, for example, where school owners more than doubled their investments in this program, even with five schools condensed in the same area. Schools support each other by traveling to the school hosting the seminar. By doing so, schools grow stronger, the collective benefits financially, and camaraderie is reinforced.
We will be offering a standardized line of merchandise worldwide, priced in such a way that school owners can comfortably mark up their prices by up to 100%. High-quality kimonos, patches, shorts, rash guards, and other products will be available. We will also offer different teacher courses that will give you the opportunity to attract different demographics. We intend to increase and diversify your student base. Personal defense courses for teachers, classes for children, Module I and Module II of the adult curriculum will all be offered in 2012.
We will also keep you informed about the news and changes that will occur in our organization. Along with this letter, we are sending a registration form for better control. We ask that each affiliate fill it out and return the file electronically or by mail.
In conclusion, we know that you share our vision of success and growth for the future. We also know that many of you will encounter difficulties in implementing our programs. This is expected, and we promise full support in what we believe in. Please implement our products and programs and give us feedback so that we can better assist you in your success.
We wish you all a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.
We couldn’t do everything we planned in 2012, but we made significant progress and matured the idea of unifying the networks of academies led by the founders, creating a single rule for all.
The challenges never end, but this year was undoubtedly a turning point in how Alliance positioned itself, no longer just as a competition team but as a company
2012 World Championship | A Difficult Defeat to Digest
We arrived at another World Championship as favorites. Our team was strong, well-rounded, and complete. This year, we had the chance to equal Gracie Barra’s record of 7 world titles if we won. We always lived with the possibility of losing, and I never went to a championship with the certainty of winning. I had confidence in the team, but we still depended on each individual to win their category to accumulate the necessary points for the team victory. We were always tallying the points and analyzing the remaining categories to see our possibilities, a practice that continues to this day.
In 2012, it was the year for our heavyweight athletes to shine and lead the team. Bernardo Faria and Leonardo Nogueira would be the highlights of our team throughout the season. Bernardo would win the European and Pan American Championships, and Leo would secure the Brazilian title. We entered the World Championship with the certainty that they were in their best form. We lost the lightweight dominance, as Michael Langhi and Lucas Lepri, perhaps the best pair in history in any weight class, were defeated by the phenomenon Leandro Lo.
Our prediction came true, and Bernardo and Leo closed out the super heavyweight category for Alliance. There was no fight, as was customary between teammates who trained together. Leo won the title, as they had an agreement, having shared so many titles, and it was Leo’s turn to take the gold.
They were also our pair for the absolute division, and we had excellent chances. We reached the semifinals with both of them. On one side, Bernardo vs. Buchecha, and on the other, Cara de Sapato vs. Leo. It was a direct confrontation with Checkmat and two great athletes. Bernardo and Buchecha had a war, but Bernardo was in a better position, winning and on top with his “over-under” guard pass locked in. Buchecha made an illegal grip inside Bernardo’s pants and created a lever to attempt a sweep. The referee Muzio de Angelis witnessed the move but let the fight continue. With the sweep in the last minute of the match, there was no more time, and Bernardo lost in the semifinals, finishing in third place.
We went to the other match, and we started losing, with Cara de Sapato taking the lead. The fight didn’t look good for us until around the 5-minute mark when Leo managed to get on top, reach half-guard, pass the guard, and open up a wide points margin. We were in the final.
Leo Nogueira was one step away from the double gold at the World Championship, a feat our team had never achieved before. The fight began, and Leo dominated the action, scoring two points and controlling the match. He was playing guard, and Buchecha got stuck in a 50/50 position with less than a minute left in the fight. There was no way to break that position and score in time, and the title was in our hands. But Buchecha wasn’t the greatest champion in the history of the Worlds for nothing. He forced the fight out of bounds, which required the fighters to restart in the center of the ring while standing. There were only 12 seconds left, not enough time for anything. The crowd was going wild, and the referee allowed the fighters to get very close. When the signal was given, Buchecha executed the only takedown that would be fast enough, a single-leg or double leg. Leo couldn’t defend it, and to avoid giving up the points, he tried to get up by any means. Buchecha scored the two points he needed and even got an advantage for almost achieving a mount. It was all very quick and unbelievable. The victory slipped through our fingers. It was one of the most difficult defeats to accept that I’ve experienced as a coach. Leo had always been an extremely technical and strategic competitor. What had just happened to him was devastating. If it was hard for me, imagine how it felt for him, having just lost the most important title of his career. We felt it together, but minutes later, we were celebrating his world title in his weight category and another title for our team, the seventh and fifth consecutive one.
Returning to our 30-chapter story after a necessary break to take care of urgent matters, I apologize to those who were following the sequence, but now let’s move on to the last 8 chapters where so much has happened.
The year was 2012, and our office was commanded from within Alliance SP, Ricardo Caloi and I were threading the rules that all academies would need to follow. The attempt to help Jacaré and Gigi manage their branches in the same models gradually showed us that this was the way, but we faced a lot of resistance from affiliates who were accustomed to a model with much less, or almost no commitment. This was going to change quite a bit over the next few years, but the year 2012 was the start of this movement.
In São Paulo, the academy continued to grow a lot, and the competition team was at its peak. It was unthinkable to imagine so many champions at the same time training under the same roof, all focused on a single goal: to be a world champion and to be able to live off Jiu Jitsu.
A path that I had taken, which worked for me, was to balance my classes with training and also with international travel for seminars. I understood that I needed to start moving out of this routine and get the athletes to embark on the same path. The affiliates complained at the beginning, but we came to an agreement that the athletes would stay 15 days instead of a week, as I used to stay. This broke the objection, and everyone was satisfied. The athletes did seasons of up to 2 months in Europe and managed to save good money that would finance the rest of the year’s training, the affiliates had the chance to train and learn from the current champions for 15 days, and I would be able to put my energy into taking care of my academy and students. At that time, I still taught 10 to 12 classes a day and also took care of the association by organizing the rules and thinking about the future of our team.
The 2012 championship season started as usual with the European in Lisbon. We didn’t do well and lost. We recovered in the Pan American, winning, but we came in second again in the Brazilian. However, when it was time for the world championship, and we went with our full team, we were simply on another level. Our team was complete and consistent, and we won another year, reaching the incredible mark of 5 consecutive titles in the adult male category. We also won the female category again with a wide-point advantage.
However, there was something we hadn’t won in a long time and that was a desire of all of us, the main title of the sport, that of absolute champion in the adult male black belt category. That year we were in the final with our champion Leo Nogueira, who had closed the category with Bernardo Faria and was in the final against Marcus Buchecha. We knew the fight would be tough, but we had no idea what fate had in store for us. Leo dominated the entire fight, opened the scoring with points, and then increased his lead with advantages. With less than 30 seconds left in the fight, the title was in our hands. Leo, one of the most experienced athletes on our team and a smart fighter who played very well with the rules, but on that day a succession of small mistakes would cost us dearly. Buchecha was trapped in a 50/50 with less than 30 seconds left and simply rolled out. The referee ordered the fight and the clock to stop and reset the fight standing up. We were 2 points and one advantage ahead; there was no time for anything. The clock marked 20 seconds, Leo stood facing but very close, Buchecha sensed the moment and went for a devastating double leg. We could have taken the fall, but Leo tried to avoid it at all costs, and took an advantage, but the fight for the takedown continued. Buchecha secured the takedown falling straight into the mount. Leo defended, but the referee scored another advantage for our opponent, and there was no more time for anything. We lost the absolute title and perhaps the most winnable fight our athletes had ever had. It was unbelievable and very crazy, that defeat, but we were champions. Imagine for Leo, the pain it must have been. This in no way diminishes his history on our team and his numerous feats for our team, but it hurt all of us, it did!