This interview took place at the Gracie Barra America school in Lake Forest during preparation for Babalu and Pe de Pano’s appearance in the upcoming UFC. Babalu spoke English while Pe de Pano was translated with the help of Marcio Feitosa. Before the interview begins, I would like to share briefly some of my experiences training with and watching Pe de Pano and Babalu. Pe de Pano has been an instructor at GB America for a while now and it is great to see his conditioning transform so much from when he first arrived to teach and compete in bjj, to his first UFC fight, to now. He was dangerous when he was out of shape and won the Pan Ams last year, but he is exceptional with his new drive and focus. He is training hard and it’s always enjoyable to watch any world class athlete. Hate him or love him, he has serious mat skills.
The same sentiment applies for Babalu, he is a world class athlete. His submission skills are sick and the guy just does not run out of gas or heart. He has a very complete game and it is impressive to see what it takes to be at the top of any sport. It was mind opening to be a part of his training. Two words for Babalu – pure aggression.
Kevin Howell: Pe, in the US, you have yet to become popular, especially amongst bjj fans; how do you plan to change the negative perception that people have about you?
Pe de Pano: All that I can do is be myself, I can’t change people or what they think of me. I will let my fighting speak for itself.
Babalu: I agree completely.
KH: Babalu, in contrast to Pe, you have gained a lot of popularity in the US; why do you feel that the fans have accepted you?
Babalu: It is simple, I have paid my dues. I have fought a lot over here and I will fight anyone. I think that is what the fans respect.
KH: How is the training at the Gracie Barra Combat Team?
Pe de Pano: The training is awesome. They have great conditioning, boxing, wrestling, and jiu-jitsu. It is amazing how intense and aggressive the training is. Soon, I think everyone will start to see how good this team is.
Babalu: I know that this team will be the number one MMA team in the next couple of years. We not only have great training in techniques, but there are doctors and therapists that cover the inevitable injuries and recovery. It is very professional. For me, I knew I had to improve my submission skills and there was no other choice for me but GB Combat. I feel like I have made great improvements in my submission game.
KH: Babalu, do you hold a belt in jiu-jitsu?
Babalu: Yes, I am currently a brown belt.
KH: Do either of you have any plans to compete in either submission wrestling or jiu-jitsu in the future?
Pe de Pano: No, not for now. I am focusing all of my energy on no rules. I need to make some money and that is why I need to put everything into MMA.
KH: So, no plans to compete against Jacare?
Pe de Pano: No, my goal is now to be the UFC heavyweight champion. I am very happy with my accomplishments in bjj and submission wrestling and I want to continue my development into a complete fighter.
Babalu: For me, I would like to compete in the Pan-Ams of wrestling next year and I definitely would like to compete in the trials. I have competed in the gi recently at the Brazilian Equipes (Team Challenge where brown and black belts compete together), where I was a part of the Gracie Barra team that took first place in the heavyweight division; it was a great experience. I enjoy all competition.
KH: Babalu, how long have you been wrestling and any plans to compete in the Olympics for wrestling?
Babalu: I have been wrestling for a very long time, but I love to train everything – jiu-jitsu, boxing, wrestling; it’s all great. As far as the Olympics, I would love too compete in them, but there is too much politics involved.
KH: Who would you guys like to fight in MMA?
Pe de Pano: It doesn’t matter. I just want to get the belt. I have worked hard to improve any weaknesses in my game and I will continue to work hard until I get the belt. The opponent does not concern me, instead I will stay focused on the goal.
Babalu: I don’t seek any revenge or hate anybody from the past. I only hate my next opponent.
KH: Babalu, who has been your toughest fight?
Babalu: When I lose a fight I watch the tape so many times. I watch all of my old fights and I know every mistake that I have committed. I have learnt so much from all my losses. I have five losses and I have taken lessons from all. One fight I didn’t have enough skill, another I ran out of gas, the other I did not enter with my spirit focused, and another I did not have luck on my side. The important thing is that I know where all of my faults were and it is easy to control the fight when you fix your strategy.
KH: So was there ever just an incredibly tough opponent?
Babalu: Yes, Fedor was very tough. It was a fun fight, but I lost on a split decision. The good thing is that I am aware of my mistakes and I know what to improve if I fight him again. I have watched that fight so many times. I would fight him again, but I do not seek revenge. I only hate my next opponent.
KH: How do you guys feel before a fight?
Pe de Pano: I don’t change much, I keep my temper and just feel normal.
Babalu: When I think of my opponent before the fight I feel a lot of hate in my heart. That is all I can say, I have hate in my heart for whoever I face.
KH: Any plans for either of you to fight in Japan?
Babalu: I don’t care where I fight. I will fight anywhere that pays me good money.
KH: Pe de Pano, can you describe your daily training routine?
Pe de Pano: Man, it is very tough. There was one week where I got punched in the face for seven days in a row every morning and afternoon! It was so intense. Babalu is a very tough partner, he trains like a maniac.
KH: Has your stand-up improved since your last fight?
Babalu: Let me answer for Pe. I can say that he has improved a lot and he is much more comfortable on his feet. I just don’t want to say too much so that everyone can see for themselves next week.
KH: Who are your favorites in jiu-jitsu, MMA, and submission wrestling?
Babalu: In jiu-jitsu I like to watch the lightweight divisions because they move so quickly and show such great techniques. For wrestling, there is a fighter named Saitiev who is incredible. For boxing, I think De La Hoya has great technique. In MMA, I like to watch Vanderley, Minotauro, and Fedor.
Pe de Pano: In jiu-jitsu: Roger Gracie, Jacare, and Marcelo Garcia. For no-gi, I like Marcelo Garcia. For no-rules I like Fedor and Babalu. Babalu is great because he is so aggressive.
KH: Last question, what do you like and dislike the most?
Babalu: I like sex the most, what I hate the most is… interviews!
Pe de Pano: I like training the most and I don’t like interviews either.
Babalu: We are only kidding. We are so busy with our training, but we always like visiting our friends and getting some good training. For friends, I will even do these painful interviews!
KH: Thanks for the time guys and good luck
Babalu: No problem, thank you. Watch out for Gracie Barra Combat Team!
Pe de Pano: Thank you, good to see you all again.