It seems like every week I have a new and amazing experience here in Rio, and this week was perhaps the most amazing opportunity yet. A journalist, Simeon Tegel, is here for the week to write an article on MMA training in Rio. During his stay he is sitting in on and participating in training at the famed Nova Uniao. Luckily for me, Dennis was able to arrange the opportunity for me to train with the pros at Nova Uniao as well and help Simeon around Rio.
This blog is written by Connection Rio team member Torryn Heffelfinger. He’ll be blogging weekly on life and training BJJ in Rio de Janeiro. In the following excerpt from his weekly blog “Training the Dream”, he talks about training at the famous BJJ and MMA gym Rio, Nova Uniao.
My week of training at Nova Uniao began on Wednesday when a large group of us from CR came to train BJJ in the Gi. The gym is located in Flamengo in a large gym called Upper Academia. NU is located on the top floor and has two large mat spaces and a boxing ring in the middle. When we first got up there they were finishing up a Muay Thai training session and we were able to watch some great training.
While Nova Uniao has some bigger guys they are known for being a small guy gym. Most guys there were within 10 kilos of me and as a result all of the rolls where fast paced and intense. In the last roll I trained with one of their MMA fighters who fights in the UFC Middleweight division. While we flowed and technically rolled (he could have smashed me if he wanted) he offered tips and advice. The guys in the gym genuinely seemed to care and take interest and how we were rolling. For instance Arlid, one of the guests here in the CR flat, submitted one of the blue belts (he is a white belt). The instructor praised him and cheered him on giving him tips and coaching him during his remaining rolls. The training in the Gi was phenomenal, but after class I was looking forward to the next day, when I would have the rare opportunity to workout and spar with their professional MMA team which is typically by invite only.
Photo by Simeon Tegel
MMA Training at Nova Uniao
Thursday arrived and Simeon and I made the trek in to Flamengo where we met Dennis who took us up to the training session. On the way up their we were introduced to Marlon Sandro, a fighter in Bellator who was previously ranked as the #2 featherweight in the world. He is a nice guy who welcomed Simeon and I to the training session. Before the sparring session started they had a quick photo session for the team website. During this time one of the things I noticed was just how much the MMA team is like a family. Everyone was smiling, laughing and joking around. While they were finishing up, we watched Dudu Dantes, the Bellator Bantamweight Champion hit Pads. He would blaze through combos with amazing speed, and his kicks echoed throughout the gym. As the photo session ended the tone shifted in the gym. Gone was the playful attitudes, they were replaced with an intense atmosphere of grit and determination.
The gym was divided into four parts, and the first rounds of sparring began. It took me and Chris (the American guy I had met the night before) a few minutes to understand the structure of things. The guys with fights were scheduled stay in for four rounds with fresh opponents working in at specific intervals, otherwise known as shark tank. Depending on how far out you are from your fight, you will have fresh guys rotating in on you at different intervals. The guys who don’t have fights coming up work in against guys, coach, and give water and encouragement in between rounds.
With a number of guys not in training camps and wanting to get max sparring time there is bit of a mad dash to get your sparring in. I learned quickly that you can’t sit back and expect to get in, you have to step up and get out there before anyone else.
The first guy I rotated in against was a tall lanky guy with very solid striking, and from what I saw great takedown defense. I went in and we had a couple short exchanges before I shot in on a deep high-crotch takedown attempt. I first tried to switch to the double, he defended, then I switched to running the pipe, again no luck. He was catching me with a few nice shots so I pressed him against the wall and tried to elevate him, again he defended. Using his hip sagging (to defend the lift) I took him away from the wall, brought one hand up to his head and drove his head over his leg as I ran the pipe (a takedown that Chris Weidman and Frankie Edgar hit a lot). Finally he went down, but before I could fully cover him his was back up on his feet. After the round I got some good advice on technique.
Dennis introduced me to Andre Pederneiras (the head Coach at NU) who asked me about myself and my background. As the session went on I worked in more and more frequently. It didn’t take long for people to realize I was a wrestler, so any guy who was training for a fight against a good wrestler I was quickly and repeatedly thrown in against.
Meeting the Champ
At one point as I was rotating out I turned to see who was coming in and there was Jose Aldo, the UFC Featherweight Champ. I briefly talked to him, and found out he is a really friendly, super chill, and above all a really humble guy. To meet him you would never know he is considered one of the pound for pound greats, he is just another member of the team.
The training was phenomenal. The fighters are incredibly well rounded, I was constantly being pushed in all areas of my game, and feel that even from that one session I am a better fighter. During the last sparring session I was working against a judo and bjj blackbelt who is 12-1 (all submission wins). The round was going good both of us- we were landing shots and had good scrambles on the mat. He threw a cross that glanced my cheek and immediate backed off– the punch had accidentally cut me. The guys looked at it quickly (it wasn’t bad) and I continued on finishing the round with a solid takedown and top work.
After I showered and cleaned up the cut the guys took a look at the cut. It really wasn’t bad at all and two of the guys took the time to use some new skin adhesive to close up the cut for me. To me that just shows the type of good people NU has on the team. They took the time to help someone whom they had never met and made sure everything was ok.