Finding Ricardo Arona

By Gleidson Venga Jul 29, 2008
Nearly 16 months have passed since Ricardo Arona (Pictures), a man once universally received as one of the world’s premier light heavyweights, appeared on the mixed martial arts scene. A former open-weight winner at the Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships, the elusive 30-year-old holds wins over Wanderlei Silva (Pictures) and Dan Henderson (Pictures) and went the distance with Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures).

Arona last fought in April 2007, when he succumbed to strikes against Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou (Pictures) at the Pride Fighting Championships swan song -- Pride 34 “Kamikaze” -- in Japan.

With all due respect to Simon and Garfunkel -- and Joe DiMaggio -- Arona’s disappearance left many MMA fans wondering, “Where have you gone, Ricardo Arona (Pictures)?”’s Gleidson Venga and Premiere Combate’s Paula Sack recently tracked down the 2005 Pride middleweight grand prix finalist. Ricardo, you have been out of the ring for more than a year now. What happened?
Arona: It’s already been a year since I fought, but that was by choice. Actually, I had invitations to fight in Canada, Japan and the USA, but I chose not to fight. I’ve been competing in jiu-jitsu, submissions and MMA since I was 15 years old. I decided to stop and watch from the outside, in order to be able to see everything that happens inside fighting. I had to find myself. It’s my aim to fight once or twice by the end of the year, but the most important thing is to come back well prepared, to come back different from what I was. I want to be a much more dynamic fighter in the next phase of my career. My desire to fight is still great. I’m watching everybody fight, observing what’s changed and what hasn’t. This time off has been as important to me as training; it’s part of my training.

Sherdog: Do you think all this time spent away from competition will keep you out of the loop?
Arona: That’s why I dropped out of the scene. Sometimes, it’s more difficult to negotiate the fights. All the business stuff is no good, but I’m a fighter who never worries about that. I really worry about my performance. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in the past that resulted in me losing, and I don’t want to make those anymore. This next phase of my career is going to be a much more conscious phase. I’m going to put the same pressure on myself to win and use the same adrenaline. I’m going out there to win, but I feel I’ve matured. I’m going to fight more focused. I want to fight differently from now on. Do you want to continue to fight in Japan, or do you see yourself coming to America?
Arona: Actually, I’m connected personally to Japan. There is a lot of respect for the fights and fighters there. I have a great link to Japan, because I’ve spent years fighting there. I have fans, and I’m accustomed to that scene. In America, the crowd’s nosier, more agitated and wants to be entertained. For them, sometimes it’s not important that an American wins. They want to watch a great fight, and we have to adapt ourselves to that. I like the Japanese people a lot, and I would like to fight in Japan again, but if America is dominating the market, I want to be there. I’ve already fought against almost all of the top fighters. I want very much to be part of this new market. I’m waiting on a good contract to make my comeback. I’m doing my part to be well prepared, and I’ll be back to dominate the scene. I read an interview where you said the UFC rules for made for you. Why do you believe that?
Arona: When I arrived at Carlson Gracie’s gym at 16 years old, I already wanted to fight in MMA, and one of my specialties was taking my opponent down, striking him and hurting him from that position. This was cut from MMA when I went to fight in Japan. In the UFC, you can use the cage, which is perfect for me, because once you have your opponent in the corner, there’s no escape; it’s excellent to use to get the takedown. Once on the ground, it’s perfect for striking; it’s fatal. With those rules, I guess the referee will have to stop a lot of my fights quickly, because my great strong point is striking from above, from any position. The third factor I see is that anyone in the ring who gets tired in five minutes is in the wrong place. I’m accustomed to fighting one 10-minute round and two five-minute rounds. In the UFC, it’s three five-minute rounds, which is like child’s play for me. I’m flying in and out with that time. I wouldn’t even stop to wipe my forehead. The UFC rules were made for me -- no doubt about it. What’s your current relationship with the Brazilian Top Team?
Arona: I’m still on the team. Nothing has changed. I’m not training there by choice, but I still have a connection with Murilo Bustamante (Pictures), and I don’t have any quarrels with them. We always made it clear that if our opinions ever changed, we would sit down and talk. What motivates you to fight?
Arona: Fighting in MMA involves many things. Sometimes people only see the fight in the ring, but the preparation, the training, the nights we’ve spent thinking about our lives and families … all these things are involved until the day of the fight. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had 20 victories already; what matters is victory that day. There’s no way I can explain what it feels like to start and finish a fight. It’s what moves my life and makes my blood flow in my veins. In the fight, time and money don’t matter to me; only victory is important. Besides that, there’s the personal satisfaction I get. I get enormous pleasure out of going into the ring, looking into the eyes of my opponent, starting and finishing the fight and then receiving hugs from everybody. As long as I feel that, I’ll continue to fight. My age will not be a limit. What would be your perfect scenario under which to come back to compete in MMA? Which promotion and which opponent?
Arona: I think the promotion would have to be the UFC, because it offers the best proposals and the best fighters, and it’s the best event and the best show. The best opponent for me is whoever has the belt, but I don’t think there’s any way to come back and fight right away for the belt. Do you see a rubber match with rival Wanderlei Silva (Pictures) as an option?
Arona: My relationship with him has already been settled. If there’s still a problem between us, it’s in his head, because from my side, everything has been settled. It would be a great fight, but in time. I’ve stopped thinking about what would be the best fight, who would be the best fighter. I have to be prepared to face any of them. When I come back, I want to win, against him or anyone else.

Premeire Combate’s Paula Sack contributed to this interview.
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