Renato "Babalu" Sobral Interview

By Pedro Wrobel Nov 23, 2004
The thirteenth of July 2002 was a night of beginnings. Not for the MMA world as a whole perhaps, but it certainly was for the UK, and especially for me. It was the night that I saw my first MMA live show, the night that the UFC colossus finally brought its brand of brutal battle to the ancient shores of the British Isles. It was also the night that Lee Murray first came to the attention of a world-wide audience, with his controversial KO of Tito Ortiz during the after-show celebrations.

A spot of background. The (soccer) World Cup had dominated that summer. It finished a mere thirteen days before the Brawl at the Hall, with Brazil having beaten England in the Quarter Finals on route to a decisive victory over Germany on the final day. None of this would be relevant, I thought, as I made my into the historic venue.

I was wrong about the World Cup. The crowd had been enthusiastic throughout the previous proceedings. In a venue that is renown for hosting art exhibitions and classical concerts, we were listening to Bruce Buffer and watching the sort of fights that had previously only been available to us on video.

All this was to change as a tattooed figure with messy hair appeared at the top of the ramp, a huge Brazilian flag wrapped around his shoulders. The crowd turned ugly, starting to boo loudly. It took me a moment to understand what was going on and then the soccer chants started. "Enger-land, Enger-land, Enger-land!". The memory of a closely-fought soccer defeat lives long in the English psyche. To his credit, the Brazilian never reacted to the crowd. He ignored the boos and made his way to the cage, and the boos turned to cheers as his opponent, the personable Aussie, Elvis Sinosic, entered the arena.

On that day Babalu proved a number of things to me. He showed that not only is he an excellent and well-rounded fighter, he is also an extremely nice guy. I met him after the event, where he signed a copy of the night's programme for myself and for my little brother. He also thanked us for being two of the few Brazilians present in the crowd, and for being two of about four people cheering for him in the packed arena.

Babalu won that match, but was knocked out by Chuck Liddell in his next and last UFC appearance. Since then he has gone five matches unbeaten, including an amazing and victorious performance at the IFC's Global Domination tournament. This has not been an easy time for the tough Brazilian, who has changed teams and suffered a long injury lay-off.

Babalu is back now, not only to full time fighting but to England. And he has a point to prove. He will be fighting at Cage Rage 9 this weekend, taking on Cyril Diabate, who is best known on these shores for defeating UFC veteran James Zikic at the Extreme Force show in 2003. took the opportunity to speak to Babalu again.

For those who have been hiding under a rock, perhaps you can start by telling me your martial arts background. At what age did you start training?

My background is in wrestling. I started training when I was about 10 or 12 years old.

On the same theme, how did you get into vale tudo, and what led you to the Ruas Vale Tudo team?

The move to Ruas Vale Tudo was a natural move for me since I was interested in other fight styles. As Vale Tudo grew a lot in Brazil, along came the opportunity to join this style. I took it.

What was it like training with Marco Ruas, Pedro Rizzo and the other guys at RVT?

It was always a very good, the guys are all tough and very experienced, this helped me get started.

Why did you make the move to Gracie Barra team, and how have you found the training there?

Gracie Barra came to me with an ambitious project to put together a strong, experienced and effective fight team, and I was pleased to be involved. The training is great, their ground technique is really fabulous and we also have strong boxing and wrestling techniques.

How is a typical week of training for you?

We train two times a day, morning and afternoon from Monday to Friday and sometimes Saturdays. We also have special physical, conditioning and cardiovascular training.

Do you use a special diet?

It is important to eat well to have energy for so much, but we cannot gain weight. Usually there is no special diet, I just keep eyes open not to gain weight.

What shape are you in? Are you ready to fight? All healthy?

Yes, I am completely ready to fight and in great shape! I'm currently weighing in at 93 kg (205 lbs).

Have you made any improvements to your game since we last saw you at IFC? For those who didn't see your fight against Pele, how has your game changed since training with Gracie Barra?

Yes I have improved a lot, especially my ground techniques because of the strong training with master Carlos Gracie Jr and also Roberto "Gordo" Correia. I feel more confident when I am on the ground now and the month I spent in Cuba this year was also important to consolidate even more my wrestling abilities.

Where are you based right now?

I am based in Rio de Janeiro where Gracie Barra Combat Team is.

You've been fighting professionally since at least 1999. You spent most of your career fighting for the RINGS promotions, but you've also fought in the UFC, IFC and various other organisations around the world. How do you rate these promotions? What was good or bad about them?

They are all great events. I have the best impression of these organizations. It's sad that RINGS no longer exists. UFC and IFC were great experiences, both very important for my career development and I just hope they keep growing and giving me and other fighters more opportunities to show our abilities in MMA.

As far as I'm aware, you have only fought in England once - at UFC 38, when you beat Elvis Sinosic. What did you think of England, and are you looking forward to fighting here again? What led you to the Cage Rage promotion?

Yes I am definitively looking forward to fighting in England again. I had the best impression when I was there before and I know MMA fights have grown in England - as well as all around Europe - so I believe the crowd will be very enthusiastic. Cage Rage is a great event, I have been wanting to fight there since Cage Rage 7 in July, but I was injured last June while training in Cuba preparing for the fight.

In 2003, you won the IFC tournament, beating top fighters like Trevor Prangley, Mauricio Rua and Jeremy Horn. You fought like a real champion and impressed everybody. Some people expected you to then continue that momentum and take bigger and bigger fights. But you didn't step back into the cage until October 2004, when you beat Pele at Jungle Fight. What was the reason for your time off?

I was deciding to change team and making the move took time. After the move we started training and getting acquainted with the new team. It was a time of great change for me. As I mentioned before I was supposed to fight in Cage Rage 7 but I got injured and had to recover.

Okay. Well at Cage Rage 9, you'll be fighting against Cyril Diabate, a very quick and dangerous French striker and actually the man who you were supposed to be fighting against at Cage Rage 7. How much do you know about him? Have you seen any tapes of him? Do you have any opinion about him as an opponent?

I have seen some of his fights and I think he's good., epecially at Muay Thai. But he will get hurt and I will beat him up!

What do you hope to achieve by fighting in England? Do you want the Cage Rage title or is this just a chance to stay active?

I want the title of all the events that I participate in and I am ready to be the next Cage Rage Champion

Where do you see yourself heading after this? Do you want to go to Pride? UFC? Is there anyone you really want to fight?

Well, every great fighter wants to get to Pride. I am expecting my chance at Pride to come soon. As I have said before I want to win the title of all the events I fight in, so when I get to Pride I want to have a chance to fight Wanderlei Silva, the current champion of that promotion! I also want to get a chance to fight again at UFC and I am sure this will also come soon.
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