Sherdog Q&A: Sperry on Past, Present and Future

By Gleidson Venga Jun 13, 2006
Brazilian Top Team leader Mario Sperry spoke to’s Gleidson Venga about the politics of managing BTT while being an active fighter, what he thinks of Wanderlei Silva’s participation in the PRIDE Open-Weight Grand Prix, and why Brazilian Top Team fighters have not fought in the UFC.

Ze Mario also answers questions about his up-and-down career, what we should expect from Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, BTT fighters competing in the U.S. and who best adapted his Brazilian jiu-jitsu game to mixed martial arts. In light of a half-year that hasn’t started very well with your loss in PRIDE 31, what do you expect from yourself for the rest of the year?

Mario Sperry (Pictures): I had good plans for this year. I was excited, feeling like I was in the best shape of my life. Well prepared, training well with everyone, both wrestling and ground fighting. In that respect I was feeling very good about myself. If I had won, I would be in this Open-Weight Grand Prix. I hurt my knee and my hand, and this disturbed my plans a little. My hand is still not 100 percent. My goal right now is to get better; it’s my main objective. After that I will study the offers, like Cage Rage and PRIDE. Meanwhile, I’ve been dedicating my time to train the guys. We are planning a new event in the near future. I’m focusing my energies in other points, plus my training, for now. You had lost some fights to fighters theoretically weaker than you, but had important victories in fights when you were the underdog, just like against Igor Vovchanchyn (Pictures) in PRIDE 17, when he was in his prime. How do you analyze this?

Sperry: I analyze that unemotionally. It’s evident that MMA is not a sport like the others. It is a blood sport where you can’t miss a thing and this is evident in both cases when I had the advantage in technical terms, experience and strength. But for some reasons unrelated to my will the victory flied from my hands. That shows how MMA is an ungrateful sport, when any mistake can be fatal.

Sherdog: What can we expect from “Minotauro” on this Grand Prix?

Sperry: About Nogueira, he has a very big chance to be the champion this year. He is stronger, heavier. It was something I was trying so hard for a very long time and I couldn’t do: an athlete who is very strong and very technical. Stronger, I think he can count on more weapons, plus his techniques. Besides that, Fedor, who is notoriously a hard fight for anybody — and he showed to know how to stop Nog’s game — will not fight. Because of this, his chances get higher. What do you think about Wanderlei Silva (Pictures)’s participation?

Sperry: Other than being lighter than Nogueira, Wanderlei is a hard fight for anybody. He was the best light heavyweight and, in my opinion, has an excellent contract — which he deserves — and [faces] a new challenge: fighting in the heavyweight division to give more emotion to his athletic life and improve his career. I believe that with him this Grand Prix gets more interesting. I think that he can offer a great expectation from the fans in relation with how he will present himself, and even more, with him replacing Fedor, we will have a more exciting Grand Prix with parity. Fedor, even being the best in the world, doesn’t show many surprises in his fights. And Wanderlei does. How is the situation between Ricardo Arona (Pictures) and the PRIDE organization?

Sperry: Arona still has a contract with PRIDE. He has a contract until the first half of 2007, with more three fights, if I’m right. They have interest in using him. He was invited to this Grand Prix, but he injured his foot in the fight against Wanderlei. He was unsure about putting his name in it, because he wasn’t recovered from this injury until February. Because he didn’t want to fight, they took him off the card. But he is recovering himself and is back to training. With the end of the Grand Prix and starting to reduce the absence of fighters from the GP … I believe that Arona will be back in September. Now, Paulo Filho (Pictures) is the best BJJ fighter of BTT? And who is the best striker?

Sperry: I like to work with statistics. Paulo is very good on the ground, but I wouldn’t say he is the most complete. He could not impose his game against Murilo Ninja, who didn’t have a good fight against Paulo. We have more athletes with a good BJJ game, like the Nogueira brothers. It’s all about having the chance to show your game plan. Everyone on BTT has improved a lot in boxing skills; we are more confident about using Muay Thai and boxing. We’ve been working on that a lot. In my eyes those who have better boxing skills are Rogerio Minotoro, Rodrigo Minotauro and Edson Drago (Pictures), for now. Murilo Bustamante (Pictures) has a good boxing too. But he has a different style. Rogerio is the Brazilian champion. We have excellent boxers and ground fighters, but Paulo is the one who knows how to use his ground game better in MMA. Who are the possible BTT athletes to dispute the middleweight belt this year?

Sperry: We are in several negotiations. There are a lot of rumors, but those who choose the fighters are not the PRIDE promoters, not even the athletes. Those who choose the fighters are the Japanese crowd. It’s their choice. There is a tendency that I see in my travels to Japan, in a title shot against Wanderlei, that maybe happens against Rogerio “Minotoro.” But for that happen, we have considering his fights on this Grand Prix. If he wins a couple of fights it will be difficult for him to go back to fighting in the middleweight division. But if he fights it will probably be against Rogerio. If that does not happens in September, it will be on New Year’s Eve. Before that Rogerio will have one or two more fights. What are the plans of the team in the USA? Would you think of putting someone to fight in the UFC or other organizations like IFL and WFA?

Sperry: I am in a huge struggle with the Ultimate Fighting Championship. We are keeping contact before the events, but we have a big barrier, the visa, which is a complicated point. I’ve already sent a lot of DVDs of our athletes, but they never give us the visa. It’s part of our plans to put one of our guys to fight over there, especially in the UFC. We are keeping contact with other events also, but the visa always is the main barrier. I don’t know how far it can go, but it is our biggest problem.

Sherdog: BTT has various top athletes in the same the weight division, like yourself, Arona, “Minotoro” and in past days Murilo Bustamante (Pictures) and Paulo Filho (Pictures), who are lighter know. How do you guys do the management, considering that it’s not always possible for everyone be fighting at the same event, and there are not many events that pay as well as PRIDE? Considering that, is it hard to be a fighter and manager at the same time?

Sperry: It’s a little complicated, but this is the kind of problem all teams wish they had. We have top athletes, and this is good. We let them know that those decisions come from the promoters, but definitely nowadays being a great athlete is not enough. Your position outside the ring counts a lot, your image, etc. It’s PRIDE’s choices, not ours. Sometimes, considering the physical condition, we point out one or other. It’s not usual, but happens. In my position of being an athlete and manager, its evident it stays a little complicated. But I’m focused on fighting, different than the other managers, because I’m training and living every situation inside and outside the ring, which helps me in my decisions, choosing the best situation to the athletes. As a manager, I have to benefit the athletes. My participation in the ring helps me in my work as a manager. Sometimes I’m absent, but I counter balance being at training with my opinions, which gives me advantage to the other managers. Tell us about your times with Carlson Gracie’s Team, of Carlson influences in BTT and about a possible tribute to him on BJJ championships.

Sperry: Carlson was very important in our history. It was in his gym that we, BTT leaders, started our careers. But unfortunately destiny put us in different ways. During that time, under his influence, we always had a lot interest in training mixed martial arts and that was because in the 1990’s, Carlson’s Team stood out in MMA. And this is BTT’s way, being successful very quickly. Under his influence in our lives we reached success. About the tribute, we were thinking about joining all gyms for a single BJJ World Championships and I agreed with that, despite that I’m not that focused on gi tournaments, but I will support it. We’ve made a shirt to honor [Carlson] and wore it on the last PRIDE editions. All kinds of tributes to Carlson Gracie, I will support. Do you think that, someday, a new generation of fighters as talented as yours can emerge from BTT’s history?

Sperry: I think so. That will depend a lot on working on it, especially if we can keep the energy from our athletes on training. We give it at BTT; I think this made us different. Our biggest incentive is to keep them on hard work, offering them access to all the competitions. I like to emphasize they are in a privileged condition, in privileged times, on a privileged team, with teachers in contact with the organizations. In my personal opinion, I try to motivate them, giving the example, showing myself always motivated. To finish this interview, would you like to send a message to all BTT fans?

Sperry: I would like to thank everyone who supports Brazil as the top of MMA World. It doesn’t matter if they like BTT or not, critics and admirer are always very important, once we improve with them. Thanks to everybody, I wish you all the best.
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