Japanese magazine Kakutougi Tsushin in June 2004 asked me to report on Shooto lightweight champion Vitor Ribeiro, who was scheduled to defend his title for the first time against Mitsuhiro Ishida. After interviewing Ribeiro and trainer Andre Pederneiras at Nova Uniao headquarters, I asked the team’s leader to introduce me to a few prospects with the most promising futures. The first person I met was a 19-year-old from the Amazon who was about to make his debut at a regional event in northern Brazil. It was Jose Aldo.
Pederneiras also pointed to Marlon Sandro, Marcos Galvao and Leonardo Santos, jiu-jitsu champions who were transitioning to MMA. However, it was the younger Aldo who broke through first, as he captured the World Extreme Cagefighting featherweight championship and then won the Ultimate Fighting Championship title in 2011. Meanwhile, Sandro struck gold in Pancrase and Sengoku, while Galvao followed suit by winning the Ring of Combat and Bellator MMA bantamweight belts. In 2013, Santos won “The Ultimate Fighter Brazil” Season 2 welterweight tournament and now finds himself in the middle of a 12-fight unbeaten streak during which he has compiled an 11-0-1 record.
More than a decade later, Sandro and Galvao have retired. Santos and Aldo remain active in the UFC. In fact, Aldo will face Petr Yan for the vacant bantamweight championship at UFC 251 on July 11 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Yan, who idolized Aldo during his rise through the ranks, once visited Brazil to train with the future hall of famer at Nova Uniao.