Fernando Bettega: Jeff Sherwood | Sherdog.com
When predicting the fates of two training partners who are competing on the Strikeforce “Henderson vs. Babalu II” card, Fabricio Werdum speaks with all the confidence of a man who recently toppled the presumed-unbeatable Fedor Emelianenko.
“[There is] 100-percent [chance] of two victories for Kings MMA. Two victories, for Fernando and ‘Babalu,’” said the heavyweight grappling champion.
“100 percent,” he reiterates. “I know because I train every day together with both.”
“Babalu,” as most mixed martial arts fans know, is Renato Sobral, a longtime UFC veteran with a lengthy resume of victories who is facing Dan Henderson in Saturday’s main event.
“Fernando” is Fernando Bettega, a name which probably rings unfamiliar to all but the most dedicated of MMA devotees.
A native of Curitiba, Brazil, Bettega has been training in California in preparation for his undercard bout against American Kickboxing Academy product Wayne Phillips. Both Bettega and Phillips were featured as part of the Sherdog MMA Fighter Exchange program, where Bettega was paired with Strikeforce middleweight champion Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza for two weeks of training.
How has Bettega inspired such confidence in Werdum?
While the Brazilian lacks a signature victory -- just one of the six opponents he has defeated currently owns a winning record -- Bettega has been mentored by some of the most respected names in the sport today.
Bettega owns a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Cristiano Marcello and is a Chute Boxe muay Thay black belt under Rafael Cordeiro, credentials that bring to mind names such as Anderson Silva and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.
In his homeland, however, Bettega was never able to focus exclusively on fighting. Demands on his time included studying (he owns a business degree) and working as a helicopter pilot. Such endeavors made it difficult for Bettega to reach his full potential.
“Now, I live just for fighting,” Bettega says. “It's not easy, but I'm better now.”
The Fighter Exchange program served as a microcosm of the type of quality experience that can be gained on U.S. soil. The day-to-day work with Souza -- as gifted a grappler as there is today -- proved invaluable for Bettega.
“I enjoyed [the training] a lot. I learned some things,” Bettega said of his time with “Jacare.” “He's so strong in the guard, and in the takedowns too.”
Bettega's time at AKA, Gilbert Melendez's El Nino Training Center and the M-1 Global facility only reinforced the notion that the U.S. has surpassed Brazil as a training hub.
“I saw the people training. It's more professional,” Bettega said. “I learned a lot from everybody...all the teams. ...I learn a lot with the professional guys here. Brazil, too, but here I can train like a professional.”
Serving as one of the opening acts on a major Strikeforce card is easily the grandest stage of Bettega's career. It’s a chance which Werdum says his teammate will not waste.
“Fernando has a big surprise to show everybody, because [he] waited a lot of time before, but now he has the big opportunity,” said Werdum, who has known Bettega for approximately four years. “Now, he has the opportunity in Strikeforce to show the world Fernando is a very good fighter.”
Bettega himself recognizes the magnitude of his showdown with Phillips.
“It's very important for me. I trained every day. I put [all] my thoughts in the fight. All my life now, I just [focus] on my eating, my training, my rest,” he said.
“My family and my wife support me in everything for the fight. Everybody knows it's one big step for me. I need it to [put on] a great show for everybody.”