|I Love It|
The last day of the Fighter Exchange for Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza is a fairly low-key affair. With an evening flight to Sao Paulo, where he will meet up with family before heading back to Rio, he's hanging out with at the Jiu-Jitsu Pro Gear shop in Lawndale, run by his manager Gilberto Faria.
We enter the shop, and it's deserted in the front. The store is just a silent showroom for t-shirts, shorts, gis and gear. We go through a series of hallways and tunnels into the back, where we meet Faria. Behind him, it's a product photoshoot: "Jacare" stands in a black Koral gi in front of a white background, beside a pile of gis he's already modeled today.
When Greg Savage, Crave VP John Keefer and I enter, "Jacare" lights up and greets us with handshakes and backpats.
Keefer presents "Jacare" with a gift bag. We know that the last two weeks for Souza have been arduous, leaving behind his eight-week-old son, Enzo Gabriel, with his wife Larissa. Throughout the trip, every time "Jacare" saw an infant, his disposition changed. Every so often, I'd catch "Jacare" looking thoughtful, and I'd ask what was on his mind. More often than not, he'd tell me that he was thinking about his newborn son, or simply "I miss my family."
The gift bag is in an appropriate vein: some baby clothes that Keefer's wife's company made, as well as a stuffed alligator. The alligator brings particular joy to "Jacare," a plush version of his namesake.
We migrate to the front of the store, but it's still a full-out family discussion. Savage, Keefer and "Jacare" all discuss their children.
"I'm so excited to see my son again," says Souza. "He is only eight weeks. I've been away for a big part of his life!"
"Jacare" explains to us that it's he, not his wife, who puts his son to sleep each night. Twice each night, Souza wakes up to turn his son over to make sure he's comfortable in his crib.
"You're not going to get a lot of sleep doing that every night," Savage tells him. "Hard to train doing that."
"But I love it," he beams. "I love it."
As I'm packing up from my hotel room in Santa Monica, getting ready to check out, there's a knock on the door. I open the door, and it's a smiling Fernando Bettega.
"Hey, Jordan," he says. "Just came to say goodbye before I left."
"Oh, I appreciate that," I respond. "If you ever need anything, you've got my number."
We shake hands and have a quasi-man hug. The discussion we have isn't particularly interesting, but its importance is more the fact it's happening at all. When I first met Fernando Bettega, I was disappointed by how shy he was and was fairly anxious about doing the Fighter Exchange, following him for two weeks, thinking that he wouldn't be a particularly interesting subject.
Over that time, however, Bettega got comfortable and came out of his shell. I got to see his real personality. Him making sure he came to my hotel room to exchange goodbyes reaffirms what I've seen over the last two weeks: he's just a damn good dude.
Earlier in the week, I was talking to "Jacare" about Bettega. I wasn't concerned with what they thought of him in the gym, just what they thought of him on a personal level.
"Fernando is a great guy," "Jacare" told me. "He's just great, you know? Nice guy; very, very funny. The kind of guy you want to have as a friend."
It's a great encapsulation. It's so trite to call someone a "great guy," but there is an organic congeniality to Bettega that you just don't find too many places.
"I might be in St. Louis for Strikeforce in December, for your fight," I tell Bettega.
"Oh, that's great!" he says, with real enthusiasm. "We'll hang out, man!"
He flashes me a shaka with his hand as he goes to the elevator. He smiles and means it.