Paulo Filho has an open invitation to join Imperial Athletics. | Photo: M.Alonso/Sherdog.com
Former WEC middleweight champion Paulo Filho has an important ally in mixed martial arts.
Imperial Athletics owner Rob Cannova has left an open invitation for Filho to join his team in Boca Raton, Fla. The team already includes former Sengoku Raiden Championship middleweight titleholder Jorge Santiago, Carlos “Guto” Augusto Inocente Filho, Vitor Miranda, Danillo Villefort, Yuri Villefort and Brazilian jiu-jitsu coach Sergio “Babu” Gasparelli, a Brazilian Top Team staff member.
Cannova has long revered Filho, a Pride Fighting Championships veteran who was once looked upon as one of the top two middleweights in the world.
“Fan is not the word,” Cannova told Sherdog.com. “I told my wife the only time she would ever see me cry is when Paulo Filho walks through my door. Sometimes you watch athletes and, suddenly, you see ‘the guy’ -- the guy you want your kids to be like. I don’t know him, but I’ve seen him in TV interviews and in fights. Everything he has done in his jiu-jitsu and MMA careers makes him the best. He was the top guy in Pride and the WEC, and it was everything for me to watch him. Filho is my guy. If someone makes a doll of him, I want to put it on my table.”
Whether or not Filho joins Imperial Athletics remains to be seen, but the fighter plans to keep busy. He has fought seven times since his bizarre loss to Chael Sonnen in November 2008 and will face Frenchman Norman Paraisy in an X-Combat eight-man grand prix on May 20 in Rio de Janeiro. Eight days later, Filho is scheduled to fight under the 100% Fight banner in Paris.
Filho remains in the most difficult stretch of his career, as he attempts to regain his conditioning and rhythm by booking as many fights as possible. He appears to have recovered from a serious Rohypnol addiction. Cannova has stayed a loyal admirer through all of it, and his unwavering support touched Filho.
“I got really moved when I listened to his words, even though he knew about my problems,” Filho said. “I felt embarrassed when he said he wanted his kids to be like me because I could have made much more of myself than I’ve made. I’m here rushing against time to fight, and I’m happy to be respected and see those great guys with this strong team. He can be sure Imperial Athletics will be my first choice if I decide to move to the U.S. to fight or to become an instructor.”
Cannova even offered Filho the opportunity to join a three-week program at Imperial Athletics.
“One thing we love to do here is open our house. We’d love to have him here, as a guest first, taking part in our program, in what we do,” Cannova said. “I want to see him back in shape again and feeling good. We’ll do everything we could here for him. Filho can be a champion again if he takes 85 percent of his abilities into the cage with him. If he joins us and spends some time with our guys, he won’t get beaten. In the 185-pound division, who would beat him? Nobody. He knows it. Everyone knows it. If Paulo focuses his mind and body, he will be a champion.”
For now, Filho cannot accept the invitation. He has elected to stay close to his parents, both of whom are ailing.
“I’m an only child and, believe it or not, I’m their pillar of support,” he said. “I can’t just leave them here, but Rob is a guy who earned my trust and made me reconsider concepts in my life. We often forget how we can help people.”