by Evan South
Me: What did you think of the Olympics being in Brazil this year?
Mario: Everyone would like to have the Olympics, as the biggest sport meeting in the world. To be honest, I don’t think it was the right move to be done concerning the problems we have over there, we have economic problems going on for a while now and now we have the impeachment of the President, the downhill that we’re going, is going to stop and things will get better in the future, but concerning the Olympics I think we spent too much money. Was it nice? Yeah, it was nice, I saw it on tv. But at what cost?
Me: What do you think about either BJJ or MMA becoming an Olympic sport?
Mario: I don’t know about MMA, but I truly think BJJ is going towards becoming an Olympic sport. If you think about which sport has grown so much. BJJ is growing so fast, even in Brazil! Every corner has people training, not just BJJ, but the BJJ lifestyle. People want to train BJJ, they want to work out, do Yoga, stretching, weights, CrossFit, because of the fighting business, because of BJJ. They want to enhance their physical qualities to be a better fighter. So I’ve seen BJJ bring all types of people. Sometimes they stop doing BJJ but keep going doing other healthy things like CrossFit. So I think that’s the legacy of BJJ today is bring people to this healthy environment. People are looking for more healthy foods, avoiding smoking and drinking. And I see this in many parts of the world because I travel around. Some countries like the UAE, the BJJ federation is working very hard to put BJJ in the world games. As a matter of fact, BJJ is already in the Asian games. They’re going to do a presentation in the Asian games. So I think in the next decade most likely we’ll have BJJ in the Olympics.
Me: Along the same lines as BJJ, there are a number of submission grappling tournaments, like Eddie Bravo’s Invitational and Chael Sonnens Submission Underground. What do you think about the success of these types of events?
Mario: It’s a very interesting phenomenon. I was in the Worlds Master JJ tournament, there were 2600 students/players. I was impressed! With much more people interested in BJJ/grappling, you’re going to see many more tournaments. I believe it’s very important to have different tournaments with different rules to increase the fighters quality, not to just stick with one rule. If you are a complete fighter you are able to compete in any environment. So I think it’s very interesting with different shows and competitions. It’s amazing! And it shows how BJJ is growing!
Me: Do you split your time between living in Brazil and the USA?
Mario: I did that a while ago, but now I am living in Miami. I just moved in January, I’ve been here for 9 months. I’m doing my work Visa now and I’m going to stay here for good!
Me: Why Miami?
Mario: That’s a good question. First of all because Miami is very nice, I love it. The weather is good; it’s 8 hours from Brazil. My parents are in Brazil so it’s easier to get in contact with them. I came here in America back in 2012 to work with the Blackzilians. I always liked Miami but I didn’t have a relationship with Miami. I always liked California and the California way of life. In 2012 the management of Blackzilians invited me to be a coach, and I fell in love with Florida. I stayed in Boca Raton, every weekend I was in Miami with my family having fun, and there was Orlando, the weather, the people. So after 8 months of going back and forth to Brazil and living in Florida, I created a relationship with this place. Then in 2015-2016 I said I was going to try to move to America. So I thought where was I going to go? To Miami! It’s right here on the corner, I have a lot of friends there, and the opportunities are there. So that’s what I did and I’m still there, I’m living there, I’m very happy, it’s a nice life there, very safe.
Me: Do you have a school? What are your long term plans?
Mario: This past 9 months I’ve been doing seminars to understand the American market, try to find out what kind of gym or kind of concept of gym I would have. Pretty much I’ve been all over the USA. For sure next semester I’m going to have my gym in Miami. I want to start teaching in a conditioning gym of a friend of mine in Miami. I’m going to put some mats down; we’re going to see how the market behaves. I don’t want to spend 1-2 hundred thousand dollars on a gym without any clients. So economically thinking it’s better to have something easy done, like put some mats down in a gym and see what happens and create my clients, spread the word that I’m around and make my students. And then when I have like 60-70 students or so I’ll open up my gym so I can break even easier. So instead of paying 5-6 thousand dollars rent I’d rather pay 1000 and get a cash flow and then open up my gym.
Me: That’s where that degree in economics comes in handy!
Mario: Exactly! (laughs)
Me: Are you looking to do BJJ or MMA (for the gym)?
Mario: You know, that’s a good problem that I have. I have 3 UFC fighters that have already contacted me to work with them for future fights. I am divided. For sure I’m going to have my BBJ gym. The concept I want to do is exactly this: If some pro fighters want to work with me, we will set up a model, set up packages. For instance, you have a fight, but you want me to just take care of your ground game, that’s a package. Maybe they want me to set up a strategy, but they don’t need me to be at the fight. Or they want a full commitment, they want me to take care of training, to build up my strategy and be in their corner. It really depends on what they want and I’ll be there. I love BJJ and MMA, I pretty much love fighting. But definitely my goal now is to build up my gym and my students and from there we have to go with the flow.
Me: What makes a good fighter and what makes a good coach? Not all good fighters can be coaches and vice versa? You’ve been both.
Mario: At the beginning of my career as a BJJ fighter I opened up a gym in 1993. But why open up a gym? I had to make money to survive. But I always love to fight. I opened up a gym to be near my training. My goal was not to make money to have a nice car or apartment; it was to subsidize my training to fight. I went to South of Brazil, there was no BJJ there. It was a good source of business because there was no one there. But it was bad for training, so I was at a crossroads. My mind changed at the time because everything was about secrets. You can’t show this to this guy… You can’t train with this guy from this other gym. I’m an open minded person concerning training. I always search for new information. I remember Carlson Gracie, he didn’t want me training boxing. We were the first ones to cross train as MMA. Back in the day it was BJJ vs Karate, BJJ vs boxing. I realized back in the day it wasn’t martial art vs martial art, it was best athlete vs best athlete. Who was better prepared? I realized BJJ was very good, especially if you didn’t know anything about the ground game. But it wasn’t enough. The complete fighter would be someone who would be good at one thing? No. I realized the best fighter was someone who set up a strategy and could follow it. How can you do that? To avoid a situation where you cannot follow your strategy you have to train in everything. So coming back to the gym, back in the day with the BJJ fighters who are closed… I remember from my training partners saying “Hey, are you crazy, you showed all your game. “ Of course, I’m going to show what I do. I won’t lie to these people; show them something that won’t work. I’m going to do the best thing I can do, and the best thing that I can do is something that I do well. So what I did with my students is the same thing. I didn’t have students to train with me, so I said “You know what, I’m going to make them better than I am”. I’m going to show them what I do best. And what happened? After a while, they started giving me a hard time with the things I like to do best. So I couldn’t do the moves I used to do, so I was forced to develop new things. That’s why my game opened up. And of course I was training, boxing, Muay Thai, wrestling, judo… I was always looking for information. One thing that I did and I think I did well, I was learning the techniques of other martial arts, and was always paying attention how those guys would pass information to me. Meaning I was paying attention to the coaches, too. How they behave, how they talk, how they keep your attention, how they treat the guy who has difficulty, how they treat the well-rounded guy who is a good fighter and had good abilities. Sometimes I can be a very good coach but I realize also the best coaches don’t know everything but they look at you, your body type, and know what the best techniques, the best ways are. So that’s what I think I do best. I’m good in making up strategies for fighters. I see the fights, I take a look, and I set up training and strategy. To enhance the things I think you should do in the fight. Enhance your qualities and abilities. I was a BJJ fighter with no skills in boxing or muay thai. Luckily I was very smart in that as a BJJ champion people wanted to treat me differently, but I said I wanted to start from the ground up. Muay Thai, wrestling. I started to learn everything from the bottom. Ground zero. I don’t believe in short cuts. When I see a storm, I don’t run away from it, I run towards it. If I see a problem I go after it. So if I’m going to get better I know what to do. I’m going to start as a white belt from the very first class and gain my recognition as I deserve. So in this path, I had the opportunity to train with outstanding coaches and with the best martial artists ever from many different generations because I still train today. I’m going to be 50 at the end of this month and I still train. So to answer your question, when I had the opportunity to train in different martial arts I always tried to get better but always trained focusing on how the message was passed to me. The most important thing of all is that I never, ever kept information to me. I always passed it. And I realized after a while, when started doing seminars, that when you pass your information, you’re teaching hundreds and hundreds of people and they come up with different questions. At the end of the day you do the positions so many times for so many different people they ask so many different questions, after 3 or 4 seminars, you became a master of the position. You became much better than you were before. I truly believe in good energy and whatever God is, whatever energy exists, passing what you learn, you’re going to be paid back. And being paid back in helping people is exactly this: You grow, you get even better. Even today, I was teaching those kids and I start to remember things I wasn’t able to do in a long time. Moves started to come back in my head. In every seminar in every class there is someone asking a different question. They were very important because you develop different situations and scenarios that this position or move happens and you become much more complete. That’s why I think I had some success as a coach and as a fighter because I’m always interested in being a good coach and passing everything I knew and trained and was good at. On the other hand, when I was a fighter I had no ego to learn from scratch. I wanted to start from the very first class. I wanted to learn how to put the straps on my hand, how to put on the gloves. That’s what I think I did well.
Me: I love your analogy of the storm, and it reminds me of your first fight in Pride. They gave you Igor Vovchanchyn.
Mario: Exactly! Why not? It was a good chance, I was so relaxed. The guy was second in the world. I remember I was supposed to fight in Pride and I prepared myself and the fight didn’t happen. I kept training and training. Then the second time, the same thing, it didn’t happen. So the third time, I was going to the gym, the guy called me and said, “We got you a fight. You’re going to fight Igor Vovchanchyn.” I was like “Oh my god, couldn’t there be an easier thing for me?” So I negotiated a little bit. I could see the guy on the other line was testing me. It was to see if I really wanted to fight. “Ok, if I win I want 50% more.” No problem. There was nothing for him to lose. And this was one week before, they had me fight Vovchanchyn 1 week before. But I was ready. The storm was there. I was very fortunate to take him down, and I was feeling very good. I punched him, 3 really good punches on the ground, and he was kind of dizzy and he made a mistake. We fight ourselves. I saw the challenge, and it was a good chance to put my name higher. That’s what I did.
Me: Your last mma fight was against Lee Hasdell in Cage Rage. Did you make a decision before or after the fight that it would be your last mma fight?
Mario: I was in a very delicate situation. I left Brazilian Top Team. PRIDE was over. I had my family. I was 42 already. I felt very good, strong, and fast. But I couldn’t be egocentric and think about me, I had to think about my family. So I had to run after all the things to support my family. To be honest, I got kind of depressed because I couldn’t try to be the best anymore. I could train with the other guys like Nogueira and Arona, I could see they were getting much better than I was. I realized I could keep going a little more… Every time I fought, the money was good, but I wasn’t fighting for the money, I was fighting to get better to prove I could be the best guy. Many times I wasn’t the best guy but I was trying to be, to prove that I could be, but one day I woke up and said I can’t be the best anymore, I can’t even try to be the best anymore. It made me really sad, and I tried to get away from fighting. It was a stupid thing to do, but I felt that way. So I worked with different things in BJJ and MMA. I trained regularly with the Nogueira brothers, Anderson Silva, all those guys. They would invite me to go to the fights, and I was like I don’t want to go to the fights. The fight made me not feel very good. At the end of the day I wanted to be there, but I had to accept the fact that I couldn’t. I was at a crossroads in my life. I kind of laid back 3 years without watching fights. My wife said I was crazy, I should do it, I should go, this is your life. But I dedicated my life more to surfing, going to Indonesia to look for new challenges. Always testing my skills and abilities. I was kind of disappointed with my situation of getting old, but now I’m feeling good, and I’m teaching and training, spreading the BJJ word around and I’m very happy. I understand everything has a time. You have to accept that.
Me: Do you have plans to return to ADCC?
Mario: If they invite me.
Me: What are your plans with other BJJ tournaments?
Mario: It’s a matter of getting an invitation. If I get an invitation and I’m capable of preparing myself, why not? Get someone my age, I’d be cocky to think I could fight someone 30 years old, I don’t have the strength, but I’m not dead. I’m old, but not dead. I’m still training with those guys. I like the challenge.
Me: So right now with the seminars you’re mostly concentrating on setting your gym in Miami?
Mario: I have my business in Brazil, too, but right now with the economic crisis, they are very slow, but in 2 months I’m there for 10 days. My focus now is to set up here in America. Set up my association, my clothing line, and maybe have my website ready, mariosperry.com. We can’t predict what happens. My goal is to open up my gym, work with MMA guys if they want, if they invite me. Maybe if there is a show that has old men fighting, I’ll be here!
Me: Maybe a legends division. When you do your seminars, what is it you love about your seminars?
Mario: I love to teach. It’s a great opportunity to make more friends. Go to different places, different countries. The people are different, the environment, nature, weather, and the cities. 95% of the time you are welcomed by local people. You travel, you take your holiday to anywhere, and then when you get there, you get the local people to take care of you. You understand their customs, they take you to eat, and you do extra activities. They gladly like to please you. You understand the culture, you make new friends, you do sightseeing, and you do what you love! You train. It’s a win-win scenario. At the end of the day you even get paid to do that! I’m pretty blessed to go anywhere in the world, naked with no money, and know I will get a place to eat and sleep, and I’m going to be well treated. I feel very blessed every day I wake up and realize that.
Me: You find something you love to do and you never work a day in your life!
Mario: Exactly. It’s kind of weird to say this is a job. This is a vacation for me. Feeling healthy, eating healthy, doing healthy activities. Work with young people, half my age, they treat me equally. My body is not the same but my spirit is still young. I feel happy, I feel alive. What can I say? Outstanding feeling.
Me: On a side note, you ever confuse the Nogueira brothers?
Mario: To tell you the truth, I’m pretty bad with twins, but not with them. They’re totally different. I never made a mistake.
Me: Do you miss the “good old days” with the BTT?
Mario: Oh yes, all the trips. Actually, Nogueira, we have a project together, we’ve been talking to each other. I’m the vice-president of the Brazilian JJ federation in Brazil. And the president is my partner, longtime partner Walter Mattos. We represent UAE BJJ. We organize the Abu Dhabi BJJ tournaments in Brazil. Nogueira, I brought him in to be the technical director of the business. So we’ve been in contact, pretty much every week we talk, we travel together. It’s been nice to remember the old days. So many stories, man, so many stories…
Me: That will be another interview for you and I some day!
Mario: I remember the other day I was checking my old passports. When Brazilians go to Japan, you need 2 pages. One they stamp, and then they have to stamp it again. I have a pile of passports like this. Do you know how many times I went to Japan in 8 years? I went 52 times! One year, maybe 9 times a year. So can you imagine traveling with those guys, 30 hour flight to Japan, all the crazy shit? You have no idea man… Now they are polite, they’ve seen the world but 16 years ago, Nogueira, he could barely speak. Now he’s a very polite man, he knows how to eat, he couldn’t eat properly… They were animals man! I had to teach those guys how to talk. To fight was easy! But how to behave… Now they are gentlemen. They always were good people, good energy, they wouldn’t harm anyone, but they were raised in a tough environment. They were just tough. They were not used to rough people. Now they know how to behave everywhere. Thanks God!