I remember the first time I saw Rodrigo. He was this rather short, smiling, silly-eared guy, with a Brazilianesque swagger and quick-footed catlike agility about him. He was the new BJJ black belt in town, and I suppose I expected a sort of emanating superiority about him, but it was absent, seemingly because he was fairly young. Still, there was something quite intense about him. His gaze was extremely focused, and coupled with his permanent grin Caporal resembled a dragon: eagerly yet calmly waiting to attack any obstacle in his path. With that attitude, he has indeed met very few setbacks in life.
When I first saw him at home in the gym, teaching enthusiastically and rolling gently with students, I didn’t see how deep that intensity went. He’s definitely a motivating coach and very vocal, yet it’s all positive energy. When I saw him in BJJ competition, I finally understood how he lets that intensity out. And everyone in Southeast Asia felt it too.
Caporaaaal – as he’s known to friends and opponents alike because it’s chanted when he fights – spent his whole life in Brazil before he moved to Asia. He fought in BJJ competitions and MMA promotions all over the country, but he never thought about relocating until the urging of Hong Kong Versus Performance’s coach Quinton Arendse. Caporal had a friend who was a brown belt teaching in the Philippines, and since his friend had good words to say about Asia, he decided to come over for a few months, do some seminars, teach a little, travel a little, see what was up.
“Wow. Nice place.”
Quinton asked, “Want to stay?”
For that first year, Rodrigo did miss his home.
“Of course, I did miss my family. I did miss training with Durinho, Guto Campos, Calasans, Mendes bros. But here, now I have nice friends too. They are now my family.”
His BJJ career has been prolific and stellar so far. At purple, he was the World Cup Champion and National Champion. At brown, he was the Brazilian National Cup Champion. He dominated Freitas in the San Diego World Pro Trials, upset Romulo Barral at the Worlds, and won by a pass against Davi Ramos at the World Pro Finals. Caporal ripped through almost every competition in Asia and in 2011 closed out the Absolute division in the Shanghai Abu Dhabi World Pro Trials securing a paid trip to compete in the World Pros. His team Atos, under the guide of Ramon Lemos and especially his coach Andre Galvao have also been dominating the sport.
|Courtesy Galvao Jiujitsu|
Since in Asia, Caporal’s MMA career hasn’t received the same attention as his BJJ. Only recently was he signed to a promotion, RUFF in China, probably because everyone knows the strength of his grappling and is afraid to make matches. But he has been fighting – and built up an undefeated streak – on promotions mostly unknown, therefore the wins he’s accumulated haven’t been listed on his Sherdog page.
“I had three fights in China, one in Macau. I also had more in Brazil, but they were on smaller shows, not big ones listed like Predator and Max. 11-3 is my correct record.”
Caporal possesses amazing strength. He specializes in wristlocks and the butterfly guard. I’ve seen him play very calmly and cautiously, and I’ve seen him come out of the gate like a raging bull. In fact, the only time I’ve personally witnessed Caporal bested was against Leandro Issa back in 2009 at the Thailand Open.
“Before then, I’d only fought in Brazil – it was my first time to fight overseas. I fought his friend Almiro in BJJ at the 2011 Thailand Open this year.”
In the no gi day of that tournament, Caporal entered the elite division which included Andy Wang, Dan Simmler, Jon Olaf Einemo and Sergei Kharitonov. Jon Olav and Sergei were last-minute entries, and Caporal was pacing like a caged tiger in anticipation of meeting the giants on the mat. However, due to what some considered erroneously awarded points to his opponent but not to Caporal when he did the same technique, he was on the low end of the score card of a preliminary bout and didn’t get the chance to meet Jon Olav or Sergei.
“I don’t like to lose. That fight was a good fight, I got a takedown and a sweep. I think it’s normal to have decisions that don’t go your way – but – don’t correct me. I will correct me. Next time I know I will finish it. I have the video. I’ve watched it – everybody’s watched it.”
Leandro Issa is now fighting MMA out of Evolve in Singapore, so I asked Caporal if it would ever be possible for the two to meet inside the cage. I think Issa is a bit lighter than he.
“No, no, Leandro can fight at my weight – 68-70kg. A promoter called me and asked me to fight him, but it didn’t happen.”
So would he take the match now?
“Ya, ya. I would fight him.”
Caporal now coaches and fights out of GRIPS/JAB in Hong Kong. The managing director is Andrew Wong Kee, a professional rugby player with a black belt in Kyokushin and a background in boxing. The head boxing coach is Samoan Cruiserweight Lawrence Tauasa, ranked top 5 in the WBF and WBO, with an impressive record of 140-12-1. I asked how he feels about his stand up game now.
“My boxing coach is Lawrence. For me, he is the best. He trains me, spars with me every day. I also work on my stand up with Muay Thai guys Vuyisile Colossa, Irshaad Sayed and Shinji Ichinose. Having these three guys to spar with is good for my stand up. I also teach two MMA classes a week, plus jiu jitsu. My students are all willing to help me train, Andy, Yousef, Brendan – Brendan said ‘I will train with you, I want to help you’. Everyone is great.”
Caporal’s next MMA fight is coming up this weekend at RUFF 2 in Chongqing, China. Originally he was set to meet Zhang LiPeng, a well-known staple on the Chinese MMA scene. Zhang is a prolific fighter so there is a lot of footage of him for Caporal to study. However, Zhang broke his hand in training and was put on medical suspension. Next in like was Xi’an Sports University’s Ta Yier, who was previously submitted by Zhang and is a closer match in size to Caporal. But less than a week before the fight, Ta Yier pulled out. Scrambling for a last-minute replacement, RUFF picked another Xi’an guy, HasiTieer TeerJiang to step in.
“I work to my opponent. Chinese have good stand up. Against Zhang, I worked on him being taller, I worked on using less space. Then they change. I think Ta Yier is good for me. Then they change again. This new guy is 183cm, so I keep my previous training. All fighters in China are similar, come from the same background.”
Does his tournament experience – meeting vastly different opponents on the same day – help when it comes to facing MMA card changes?
“Yes. No problem. Fighting Brazilians, fighting Chinese, it doesn’t matter who I fight.”
Zhang and Ta Yier are both well-known in China. I wondered if the Chinese knew anything about Caporal, and apparently now they do. RUFF’s broadcast partner Chongqing TV came to Hong Kong for a full day of taping Rodrigo in his element. A television special entirely on him was featured on Monday night as a lead up to the weekend’s fight.
I asked Rodrigo what he thinks of the level MMA fighters in China and Asia.
“I think it’s a good level. Very good. The thing is, they don’t know jiu jitsu. MMA is not jiu jitsu, MMA is MMA, but they need jiu jitsu. 50% of the fighters are good for MMA. I can help them get better with jiu jitsu. My first opponent (Zhang) lost by a triangle, then he won by an armbar. He was training more jiu jitsu. Look at the improvement!”
What are his plans for the future?
“First I will be the Champion at RUFF.”
Aside from MMA, what are his BJJ plans?
“My plan – go to Brazil first. The Mundials, Mundials no gi. Then the Pan Ams and Abu Dhabi Pro. I will take my students with me to compete, I have built a good team. ‘Rodrigo Caporal Jiu Jitsu, Atos – it is MY team.”
Since he’s begun to teach MMA, I asked Caporal if he aslo has plans for his students to fight MMA.
“MMA is new here, I’ve only been teaching it a couple of months. I have students who are really good, they train every day. I want to build a strong team – maybe in 6 or 7 months I will have them ready to fight.”
As Caporal seems so intent to have an MMA team, I wanted him to share his thoughts on why he thinks MMA is so important.
“MMA helped my life. Before, I was so aggressive. But now I am calm. When you train MMA, you’re tired, you only want to go home. Also, in class, you may have to fight your friend. It is very good discipline. Your opponent may punch you in the face, or kick you really hard. You can never get angry, you must always respect. This works your mind, not only your body. It’s also good for kids. It gives them focus, and a team atmosphere, and they must respect the teacher. After only 2 months, I’ve had parents tell me ‘Thank you, before my child didn’t respect me, didn’t go to school. But now, they listen to me.’ MMA is a good sport.”
I’ve spent a good while speaking with Rodrigo, and it’s now time for his evening BJJ class to begin. To wrap up our conversation I asked him to share his personal teaching philosophy and some inspiring words for all BJJ/MMA athletes.
“I’m not a ‘teacher’, all my students are like my brothers. They help me and I help them. But of course I want to be an example to them, because I think the students reflect the teacher. Example: if I drink, they will drink with me. But they see Caporal, ‘no party, no drink, only training, but very happy’. So this is good. I want anyone to come to train with me. I welcome all people to come to train. Especially black belts. We are a small group and we should work together to help each other.”