Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante vs. Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal: Dave Mandel | Sherdog.com
Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante was a prospect with an unlimited ceiling when he ran up a 7-1 record in his first eight fights -- the only loss coming by disqualification after an illegal kick -- including three straight knockouts leading up to his Strikeforce debut in June of 2009. The talented light heavyweight was a highly-touted prospect who seemed destined for great things in the sport of mixed martial arts.
That was before an out of shape “Feijao” ran straight into a Mike Kyle right hand that sent him down to defeat at the hands of an opponent for the first time, and left quite a few fans and pundits alike wondering what all the hype was about.
“Feijao” answered his critics loudly and clearly by knocking out Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Muhammed Lawal in the third round on Saturday at Strikeforce “Houston,” staking his claim to the title many thought he was well on his way to when he joined the promotion last year.
There was a notable difference between the fighter that was knocked unconscious by Kyle and the man who stood toe-to-toe with Lawal. He was clearly in much better shape -- the best shape of his career he told me after the bout.
Cavalcante had to cut an astounding 18 pounds in just 16 hours to make weight for the Kyle match, and he had little in reserve when he stepped into the cage that night in St. Louis, Mo. It was the epitome of learning the hard way, and the charismatic Brazilian went back home and took a long look in the mirror.
“I went back to my home and talked with my parents and my mom told me, ‘If you are going to do this you need to do it 100 percent,’” said Cavalcante. “This is all I have wanted to do since I was 10-years-old and I didn’t want to lose this.”
So he went back to the drawing board and hit his diet hard. No more eating whatever he wanted; he understood this would be the key to becoming the champion he always dreamed of becoming.
“I realized we are not all horses, we can’t eat whatever we want all the time,” Cavalcante joked.
Acknowledging that he was aware many people had given up on him, “Feijao” explained that he had never even entertained the thought of giving up.
“I know there might have been some people who didn’t believe in me, but I always knew I could do it,” said the newly minted champion. “My teammates and family always believed in me and I knew I could do it.”
One of his most influential teammates, Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira -- the man who brought him from his home in CuiabÃ¡, Brazil, to become part of his team in Rio de Janeiro six years ago -- called Cavalcante while we chatted after the fight. His mentor called to congratulate him and “Feijao” was beaming as he bantered back and forth, reminding Nogueira that he was a champion now.
It seems like an eternity since he was splayed out on the mat, staring up into the lights above, wondering what just happened as Kyle paraded around the cage, but “Feijao” says he wouldn’t trade a moment of the path to the championship for anything.
“If I didn’t go through all of that I would not be the man I am today,” said Cavalcante. “Everything I have gone through, the journey, it has made me the champion.”
It is always easier when you have good role models to follow in life and it has been no different for “Feijao,” who boasts a team full of mixed martial arts royalty.
“I want to be like the Nogueira’s and Anderson Silva,” declared Cavalcante, “I think they are champions because they are not just good fighters in the Octagon or the cage, but because they are good people.”
After rededicating himself to the sport and putting in all the hard work that led to his stunning upset, “Feijao” looks to be well on his way to following in the footsteps of his hallowed teammates.