Nazareno Malegarie (top) represents Argentina and Brazil. | Photo: Keith Mills/Sherdog.com
Two of the biggest international rivals, Brazil and Argentina, are well known for the awesome soccer they have played against one another for decades -- memorable battles with a ball on their players' feet.
However, during last Americas Cup, neither country had great success and were surpassed by Uruguay and Paraguay, respectively. Now, the spotlight on Brazil vs. Argentina is turning towards other sports.
This Saturday in Rama, Ontario, Canada, the Bellator Fighting Championships cage will write a new chapter in the rivalry of nations when Argentinian-born Nazareno Malegarie takes on Brazilian Marlon Sandro, who has risen to prominence from the slums in Santo Amaro, Rio de Janeiro. At stake is a spot in the final of the Bellator Summer Series featherweight tournament.
Interestingly, after living in Brazil for 10 years, Malegarie has a BJJ black belt under UFC lightweight Thiago Tavares and considers himself more Brazilian than Argentinian, though he was born in the town of Arrecifes in the province of Buenos Aires.
However, Malegarie's affection for his home country -- soccer included -- is evident. The 25-year-old "Naza" relishes the chance to renew the Argentinian-Brazilian rivalry in the cage when he meets Sandro.
“In my opinion, the fact that I'm representing Argentina will turn this fight into a sports derby," Malegarie told Sherdog.com. “I feel I'm more Brazilian than Argentinian and would rather face an American fighter, but I'm a professional.
"I also believe it's going to be really interesting to represent Argentina," Malegarie added. "It puts a pinch of rivalry and a spice on the challenge."
Until his stateside debut at Bellator 37 in March, when he lost to Daniel Straus, Malegarie was undefeated in 19 fights, most of them in his adopted home of southern Brazil. It was in the loss to Straus that Malegarie adjusted his game and focused on his weaknesses.
“That was the first time I collided with a top guy from the rest of world. In Brazil, things are more amateur," the Argentinian confessed. “I saw a lot of details that I needed to fix in order to be at a higher level -- better striking, wrestling."
The attention to detail paid off. In his June bout with tough wrestler Jacob Devree, Malegarie showed off his improved boxing and takedowns before a third-round guillotine ended the fight in his favor.
"Devree is also a wrestler, but I trained harder and took him down like five times," boasts Malegarie. "I hit him more times also, dominated the whole fight and submitted him. I liked it."
However, even though he is developing well-rounded skills, Malegarie would rather use his grappling ability to attack Sandro, one of the most feared knockout artists in the sport.
“This fight will be decided on the details. Marlon is a really dangerous fighter: a knockout artist with a good chin, heavy and confident punches," Malegarie explained. "It's gonna be the most difficult challenge from my career; I believe jiu-jitsu will turn things on my favor. The winner will be the one who imposes his strategy.
“He commands a lot of respect; I met him at his last fight and saw how he is a good person," he said. "But I'm feeling like now it's my time to be a champion. I'm going to win it and go straight to Bellator's title."