The day began with another interesting mini-revelation. It was nothing diastrophic or earth-shattering, just another reminder of what an acute listener Fernando Bettega is.
During some post-sparring downtime yesterday, trainer Josuel Distak told Bettega that, although his kicks and his submission game were good, he needed to work on his physical strength. Formerly a middleweight, the lean Bettega is a good size for the welterweight division, but definitely doesn't seem especially powerful. Standing next to Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, it's clearly two different classes of athlete.
Bettega casually asked yesterday if I knew where any gyms were, near the hotel. Imagine my surprise when we met Bettega this morning, and I asked, “What'd you do last night after you went back to your room?”, only to have him reply, “Oh, I went to the gym to work out. It was a little far, but, not too bad.”
Fernando Bettega can definitely listen.
In his first round of sparring for the day, Bettega worked with AKA up-and-comer Nate James. As the first part of a sparring session always is, it was a lower contact affair, with both fighters focusing on their movement, throwing clean combinations -- even if just for show -- and getting their blood circulating.
Bettega's Chute Boxe roots are still obviously present: even as he tries to work on his hands, he can't resist the urge to step to the side and throw leg or body kicks, or swim to the Thai clinch. However, X-Gym trainer Josuel Distak is clearly helpful as he tries to improve Bettega’s boxing instincts.
After the first rotation, Distak told Bettega that if he wanted to throw a low kick, to come back with a strong jab off of it. Distak quickly walked him through a few reps of an inside low kick, double jab, right cross before partners rotated. As the second round of sparring began, Bettega found immediate success with the combination against partner John Davis, much to the satisfaction of the watchful Distak.
Middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva is famous for his impressions of his fighting contemporaries. His X-Gym cohorts, Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza and trainer Josuel Distak, might be looking to follow in his footsteps.
Standing in the hotel lobby during a lazy mid-afternoon moment, the all-world grappler and his chief second suddenly shouted "Nick Diaz!" before breaking out into a full-blown slap boxing routine as an homage to the Strikeforce welterweight champion.
As far as playful impressions of fighters go, the competition was intense: the punches had more sting than you'd expect, and both stayed true to Diaz form, throwing full combinations. The in-gym competition at X-Gym is notoriously rugged, with the likes of Silva, Jacare, Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante, and the Nogueira brothers really throwing down. The ethos even carries over into play-fighting, evidently.
The winner of the exchanges? Distak, of course. The seasoned boxing trainer put a very Diaz-esque left hook into the body of his pupil Souza, who scrunched his face and had to walk off the sting around the lobby, much to the confusion of the hotel staff.
|Hitting The Mat|
It was a rough night of getting acclimated in San Jose for Fernando Bettega as he stepped onto the mats with Strikeforce middleweight champion Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza at American Kickboxing Academy for the first time.
Most of the renowned gym was closed off as UFC camera crews filmed unbeaten heavyweight ace Cain Velasquez in his preparations for his Oct. 23 title challenge against Brock Lesnar at UFC 121. However, while "UFC Primetime" sought choice footage, Bettega and Souza took a slice of mat space to get acquainted.
Under the watch of Souza's head trainer, Josuel Distak, the pair went through several rounds of half-speed MMA drills. Despite his jiu-jitsu black belt, as well as his black band in muay Thai under former Chute Boxe coach Rafael Cordeiro, Bettega struggled to keep pace with the bigger, stronger Souza’s rapidly improving boxing and world-renowned jiu-jitsu.
Clinch drills seemed to pose the greatest challenges for Bettega, as he looked like a simple randori partner for "Jacare," who began his grappling career in judo rather than jiu-jitsu. Foot sweeps, reaps, trips and kneetaps were all on liberal display as Bettega hit the mat over and over.
"Fernando is great, a humble guy," said Souza after their first session together. "I'm happy to work with him and help him however I can."
Oddly, the best offense of the session came from the least likely man in the room -- the X-Gym leader Distak. While doing a focus mitt drill, Bettega wasn't fleet enough to duck under a combination Distak threw back at him with the mitts. The Curitiba native got smacked with what sounded like two claps of thunder from the stocky trainer, turning heads all over the gym.
Welcome to San Jose.
|Fernando Bettega - Bio|
Though the nexus of the sport now lies stateside, there was a time not long ago when the best fighters in mixed martial arts traveled to Brazil to train. In that era, there was little mat space more coveted than that at the Chute Boxe Academy in Curitiba, Brazil.
Chute Boxe deputy commander Rafael Cordeiro has been responsible for a slew of top talent. Today, another of his students, Fernando Bettega, looks to make his mark on MMA.
The 30-year-old Bettega is hardly your Brazilian fighting stereotype. Though he sports a black belt from Cristiano Marcello in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and a black band in muay Thai from his master Cordeiro, the Paranaense also graduated from the Pontifical Catholic University of Parana with a degree in business. Bettega’s father is a renowned pulmonologist in Curitiba.
Bettega cites his wife, Elaine, as a constant source of support.
"She would give anything for me. She's always believed in me, and she's done whatever she could to support me," says Bettega.
Now, Bettega will travel to the U.S. to train in hopes of rewarding that encouragement by joining the long list of great Curitibanos in MMA, such as Anderson Silva, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Wanderlei Silva