Leo Santos (7 Time BJJ World Champ Interview) Attn promoters Leo is ready to fight in 2011!

There was a time in MMA’s infancy when facing a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

black belt resulted in an almost instantaneous loss by submission if

the fight hit the mat.  Sport grappling virtuosos like Fabricio Werdum

and Demian Maia generated such a buzz when they crossed over that they

may as well have tread to the cage upon a trail of red roses.  If major

promotions were not immediately throwing out offers, their eyes were

keenly trained on how these submission wizards fared.

Nowadays, full contact fighters at the black belt level are not

uncommon.  In fact, any inferior skill level could be perceived as a

chink in the armor to be exploited.  The standard procedure for these

highly decorated grapplers is to start off in MMA against a safe

opponent; to cautiously dangle their toes into foreign and dangerous

waters rather than dive in head-first and swim with the sharks.  Then,

to determine their true potential after they quickly twist their foes

into complex shapes, the question rests on how they would perform

against the elite competition at the top level of the sport.

This creates a familiar issue, in which finding opponents for these

unreal grapplers becomes a Sisyphean task, as fighting them is often

considered a lose/lose scenario:  without having proven themselves to

be formidable, beating them does little for an established fighter, and

the risk of a loss is quite high as few can hope to survive if they’re

unable to remain standing.

Leonardo Santos — brother to UFC bantamweight Wagnney Fabiano and

cousin of Nova Uniao co-founder Wendell Alexander — is immersed in

that same perplexing situation despite venturing down a different path

after transitioning from BJJ to MMA.

What makes 8-3 Santos so different than other ridiculously decorated

sport grapplers?  He took on Takanori Gomi, the vicious knockout artist

who would eventually become the world’s top lightweight, in his first

MMA fight with less than three weeks notice — and survived to a

decision despite losing.  It was devastating Chute Boxe striker Jean

Silva that stood across from him in only his third full-contact tilt,

and Santos’ third loss came via a competitive split decision to

Kazunori Yokota (a wily Grabaka product with wins over Michihiro

Omigawa, Mizuto Hirota, and Eiji Mitsuoka).  Excluding one win apiece

by decision and DQ, Santos has finished all of his other fights by

submission … except one by head-kick KO; a rare feat indeed for an

inexperienced grappler.

Extraordinary accomplishments like this in addition to his laundry list

of BJJ medals and world titles start to elucidate why no one wants to

step into the cage with Nova Uniao’s Leonardo Santos.


DW:  Explain how you started with martial arts, and how that evolved

into winning several BJJ championships?

LS:  I got into Jiu-Jitsu at 8 years of age with my cousin Wendell

Alexander.  Despite not really liking to train, I went to the gym

because I had many friends.  I actually wanted to be a soccer player.

One day I went to see my brother Wagnney Fabiano compete and he

finished his opponent. The stadium and the crowd began to shout his

name and from that moment I decided to train more — to one day hear

the crowd scream my name, too.

Having a teacher like I had who always encouraged me and forced me to

train hard, along with a brother who always inspired me and was my

idol, it made me want to be a champion and helped shape my game.

DW:  Can you list all of your BJJ/grappling accomplishments, and tell

me which you’re the most proud of, and why?

LS:  Seven-time world champion in CBJJ and CBJJO, I also performed well

at the Pan Am, National GMT, and the black belt GP, and won 3rd and 4th

place in the ADCC.

I think I have two very import titles.  The first was the World first.

I was 15 yeard old and winning the adult category. The black belt and

the GP was the most import in the black belt.  I won all my fights, and

not score points on the body or the advantage of me, and after this

tournament I was voted the number one lightweight in the world.  It was

perfect.  It was a nice moment in my career, and I I was proving the

best lightweight fighter, no matter what confederation [CBJJ or CBJJO].

DW:  Why did you decide to enter MMA after having so much success in


LS:  I think to have won everything I ever wanted and to be considered

the number one lightweight in the world in BJJ — the sport I love —

really helped me decide to change to pro MMA.  Many thought I was crazy

for changing from BJJ (where I was number one), but I wanted to try and

be number one in MMA as well. I think I got to the point of wanting

something new, with new challenges, and I thought that MMA would

provide me with those things.

DW:  Tell me about your transition from grappling to MMA?

LS:  It was a little difficult because Jiu-Jitsu has no punches or

elbows, so it’s hard to change the things you did for so long.  I had

to slightly change my thinking, my way of fighting, because now with

punches, you have to be alert all the time.  But I thought I could

learn and adapt to MMA really fast. I was always a fighter, so it was

only a matter of time before I knew I would learn it.


DW:  With your grappling specifically, what changes were the hardest to


LS:  I think my biggest difficulty was to have no grips to hold. I was

considered a very technical fighter, so I always relied on my grips as

they are very valuable in BJJ.  But, when I took off the gi, I felt so

lost, so it took me a while to make changes in my game.

DW:  How often did you train without the gi before you started in MMA,

and how often do you train with the gi now?

LS:  I had not trained much without the gi, since there weren’t very

many No-Gi championships.  I dedicated myself to training in the gi,

because I had more competitions and I loved fighting championship Jiu

Jitsu.  I started training more no-gi when I came to fight MMA, but

sometimes I still put on the gi for training and to teach some classes.

It helps me to relax and review some techniques.

DW:  In any and all areas of MMA, what things did you learn quickly and

easily? What aspects were the hardest for you to adjust to?

LS:  I guess nothing was easy, and I can say I’m still learning.  But,

being a grappler, I think the wrestling was easier to learn.  Muay Thai

was harder to learn because. where I trained, the training was hard and

the fighters wouldn’t go light. They always tried to knock you out, so

I had to learn how to survive.

DW:  When and how did you get hooked up with Nova Uniao?

LS:  My cousin and my teacher, Wendell Alexander, and Andre

Pederneiras, started Nova Uniao when I was very young. I was part of

the beginning of this wonderful team which I consider to be one of the

world’s best Jiu-Jitsu teams. I gave my blood for the team and fought

hard to defend them and to develop the team. After a while we become

the best team in Brazil; beating teams much older than us. Being a part

of Nova Uniao has always been a pleasure for me.

DW:  How has becoming a part of the Nova Uniao family and training

under the great Andre Pederneiras changed you as a fighter?

LS:  Dede is a great teacher, and as a person he is amazing.  I think

that after I began training with him I matured a lot, because I had

access to a person who thought differently from my teacher, Wendell. It

was great for me because I learned a lot and in many different ways

with two great teachers. Wendell loves sweeps while Dede loves to play

on top and pass guard. I do not think I could have chosen a better team

for my career.

I consider Wendell and Dede the best teachers in the world. It’s easy

to take a high-level athlete and say that you train him, but it’s much

harder to take an average person and turn him into an athlete. This is

what Dede and Wendell can do, so I thank God for having had the

opportunity to work with two great teachers.

DW:  What are some of the things that make the Nova Uniao school so

unique and successful?

LS:  I think the secret, and why most of the time the Nova Uniao team

does so well, is because everyone starts in Jiu-Jitsu and then moves to

MMA.  We try to maintain the hierarchy of Jiu-Jitsu in MMA, meaning

"respect the people above you". It helps keep order and arrange

training sessions or even to give advice. Beyond the respect, we have

no superstars; we are all equal and help each other. Every team has

problems, but when the problem is large, we pass it to Dede and he

decides what to do.

DW:  Of course, you nailed a beautiful flying armbar on GSP at ADCC.

Since he is such a superstar in MMA, did defeating him in grappling

affect your confidence in MMA?

LS:  I do not think it affects a lot, because I was in the grappling

tournament, so it was normal for me.  I was a grappler then, but when I

do MMA — for sure, it changed my confidence because he’s a great MMA


DW:  You said that GSP is "a good person".  Did you two become friends

after your ADCC match?

LS:  No, I knew GSP before, but we’re still friends after that fight

and he also came to Brazil to help me a lot for my fights in MMA.  He

even invited me to Canada to help him with training.

DW:  Your first opponent in MMA was a young and undefeated Takanori

Gomi, who was blowing through some of Shooto’s best fighters. Describe

your mental state before the fight? Were you nervous, or confident you

were prepared for the test?

LS:  This fight was a great experience for me.  I had never done any

MMA training, and had only twenty days to prepare for the fight.  Based

on experience, I don’t know why I accepted the fight, but I had always

dreamed of fighting in Japan; therefore, I accepted the offer.  It was

very, very difficult, because I had to learn to punch and fight MMA in

twenty days, but I knew that my Jiu-Jitsu could be a great advantage.

I was very calm and very confident, but I knew it would be a tough

fight. Today I can tell you I shouldn’t have accepted this fight

because I didn’t have the experience and knowledge to fight an athlete

of Gomi’s level. Even with the short training time, I was very willing

to fight, and I did what I could .. but unfortunately, I lost the

decision.  Regardless, it was a good experience, because I could see I

had the talent and heart to fight MMA.

DW:  Shortly after, in your third fight, you took on Chute Boxe killer

Jean Silva, who had more than twenty fights at the time. Did you

intentionally want to face the best competition that early in your


LS:  I always wanted to fight, no matter with who. The big problem was

when people saw I was a fighter of high level in Jiu-Jitsu, many would

not accept the fight. I took fights when I could, but they were always

against people far more experienced in MMA than I. Today I don’t care

as much because I’m so well trained and already have a little more

experience. At the beginning, it was very difficult though.

DW:  How do you think that facing such steep competition early in your

career changed you as a fighter?

LS:  On one hand it was good, because I saw what they were doing well

and could tell what I should be doing. While it certainly made me a

better fighter, the losses are on my record and today it counts a lot.

Despite these losses, I feel more mature and a better fighter because

I’ve seen the worst up close.

DW:  Since your last fight with Maxi Blanco fell through, will that be

your next fight in Sengoku? Is there anyone else on their roster you’d

like to face?

LS:  I had a neck injury that took me out of the event.  I think

everyone in Japan wants to see this fight, and when I return I think

this will be my next opponent.  My first fight against Yokota was hotly

contested because I controlled the whole fight then in the final

moments my opponent tried something. I assumed I had won, as did many

others, so when they gave him the victory I was very sad.

In a rematch I’m sure I would fight better and end the fight with a

better result, so I would like to consider that fight in the future.  I

think my first fight back will be Maxi, but I don’t care who my

opponent is. I want to be the champion in Sengoku — and if I want this

— I can’t pick my fights.

DW:  Are you interested in joining your team mates Jose Aldo, Amilcar

Alves, and Wagnney Fabiano by coming to the states and fighting in the


LS:  As a fighter, I want to fight were the top competition is, and

right now that place is the UFC. Before, my dream was to fight for

Pride, but today I certainly would like to be inside the UFC’s Octagon.

DW:  How do you think you would match up with some of their lightweight


LS:  The UFC has the best fighters in the world. I don‘t know exactly

how I would do, but I think I have many great training partners and a

good team of coaches that would get me ready for a war in the Octagon.

DW:  Is there anyone in particular you’d like to fight, or enjoy

watching in the octagon?

LS:  I really like watching B.J. [Penn] fight, and I trained with him

for a long time at Nova Uniao.  He was always very good, but it has

been very cool to see what he has become. I am very happy to see him

winning in the UFC. I also like to watch GSP, as my brother was his

first teacher. I knew him before entering the UFC, and GSP is a good

person who deserves to be where he is.

DW:  What should MMA fans expect from Leo Santos in the future?

LS:  You can always expect the best of me, because I train a lot and I

go into every fight prepared to win and put on a show for my fans and

friends.  Thank God for giving me my health to keep me training and

fighting.  Thanks to all my team at Nova Uniao and to all my friends

and fans.


by Dallas Winston

TechGasp Comments Master

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