|The Coach From Belem|
During an evening on the boardwalk, Fernando Bettega and I are discussing his training with Josuel Distak, when he reveals something curious to me.
"You know, I was surprised when I found out about Distak," Bettega tells me.
"Hmm?" I say, not really being able to sense what he's about to say.
"I always saw him with Anderson [Silva] and the Nogueiras and thought he was from Rio," he says.
"Nah, he's from Belem," I intercede.
"Yeah, exactly," says Bettega. "That really surprised me at first. But getting to know him, train with him, you can tell he's not from Rio."
It's not a unique commentary at all. Talking to many fighters from the north and northeast, or from the south of Brazil -- like Bettega -- there is often a gentle-but-undeniable contempt for those based in Rio, especially those from wealthier sections of the city. The image of the upper-middle class, party-hard, know-it-all fighter has been prevalent since the vale tudo era, and it's one that still exists today.
|Better Since AKA|
Fernando Bettega and I are sitting in the hotel lobby during a slow, rainy day in Santa Monica. He mentions that he's been keeping up with the Fighter Exchange online, and laughs that he likes the training highlights because they've made him look good.
"On the mitts, at Cesar Gracie's, it looked good," Bettega smiles. "I didn't know I hit mitts like that."
Bettega is totally on point. My mind flashes back to the first night of training at American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose. Bettega was so bad on the focus mitts, I started to feel a bit nervous. I'd seen him fight before, but instantly started questioning what I was seeing.
"Is he just jetlagged? How can he be this bad? These are just focus mitts," my brain screamed.
Then, he failed to duck underneath two punches Josuel Distak threw back at him with the mitts. The shots collided with Bettega's face like two massive claps of thunder, so loud the entire gym turned around and stared at a dizzy Bettega who was struggling to stay upright.
I bring up the incident, and Bettega laughs.
"Distak has helped me a lot since then," he says. "Before, on mitts and in drills, I like to go slow, practice my movement. I don't hit for speed or for power, just let my body flow. But Distak has been teaching me that a fight is only 15 minutes. You can't start slow, even during a drill. You have to attack with speed and power as soon as the bell rings."
|That's Not A Cut|
Following a day of training at Werdum Combat Team in Venice, Calif., Fernando Bettega complains about a cut on his left eyelid.
Initially, when hearing his eyelid was cut, I had grisly flashbacks to the second encounter between Randy Couture and Vitor Belfort. A cut above the eye is bad enough; a cut on the eyelid can be a complete disaster, especially with Bettega scheduled to meet Wayne Phillips in Strikeforce on Dec. 4.
"Let me see it," I tell Bettega. He closes his eye, and holds his eyelid down, stretching it out. It's barely a scratch.
"You think I can get a stitch?" he asks.
"Dude, I don't think there's anything to stitch. They don't make stitches that small," I laugh.
He winces and blinks, touching the cut some more. It seems to be a bit psychosomatic; his reaction to the cut -- nay, scratch -- is far more detrimental than the injury itself.
Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza offers reassurance, albeit in sarcastic form.
"Oh, a cut?" laughs "Jacare." "Man, that's not a cut. That's just nothing. Don't be a p---y."
His outright diss on Bettega causes immediate laughter from me and Jeff Sherwood both.
"Wow, your English is getting a lot better," Sherwood deadpans.
"Thank you, thank you," Souza smiles, before chiding Bettega some more. "Tsk, pretty boy."
|Some Day Off|
It's a dreary, drizzly day in Santa Monica; certainly not "California weather.” It doesn't seem to bother Fernando Bettega too much; not only is he a flexible sort of guy, he's used to getting the short end of the weather stick.
As a native of Curitiba, Brazil, he's used to cariocas and beach dwellers telling him his city is too cold, and not as nice as Rio. A gray sky and a light mist aren't going to dampen him. However, this morning he's running the Santa Monica steps, which will inflict some pain on just about anyone.
Bettega's workout is simple: from the bottom of the Santa Monica Canyon, run up the 189 super-steep steps, up onto the street, run a loop on the street back down into the canyon, back to the bottom of the steps. Rinse and repeat.
Initially, we're not sure how many reps of the circuit to make Bettega do. Trainer Josuel Distak lobbies for ten, holding up all his fingers on both hands. We look down the grueling incline of steps -- and consider the fact that this is supposed to be Bettega's day off -- and settle on six.
And Bettega runs. And runs. Watching him suffer up the 189 steps repeatedly makes me uncomfortable. As he reaches the top each time, and runs down the street, he shadow boxes. Distak and Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza encourage him from the side of the road. When he finally finishes all six laps -- that's 1134 steep steps, in addition to the uphill and downhill running -- Distak drags him over to the nice, spacious, BMW-laden driveway of some homeowner and puts a little more work on him.
Bettega lies on his back, Distak toe-to-toe with him, standing. Each time his back is on the cement, Distak barks a punching combination at him, and at the top of the sit-up, Bettega fires his hands into Distak's palms.
Initially, Bettega just flicks his hands into Distak's. Distak shakes his head, and tells him "Fernando, punch! For real!" Bettega complies, throwing harder, more realistic three and four-punch combinations into Distak's palms. Things are complicated when Distak calls for uppercuts at the top of the sit-ups, but Bettaga figures out the rhythm. Three sets of 10 sit-ups later, Bettega's morning workout is done.
Some "day off."