Rafaello Oliveira Looking To Make A Name At 155

Chuck sent this in:

Six years ago, in his first professional fight in mixed martial arts, Brazilian Rafaello “Tractor” Oliveira had to face a boogieman who was crushing opponents from his neck of the woods—the fabled Wigman Big Big. Wigman obviously has one the greatest, most mythological names in the sport. But, just as former basketball star Manute Bol had to kill a lion with a spear in his Sudanese youth—a feat that would raise the western world’s collective eyebrow for many years—that night in Pernambuco became a rite of passage for Oliveira.

“Big Big is a name of a gum in Brazil, just as Babalu is the name of a gum, only a cheaper gum,” he says. “His nickname was Big Big, and he was my first fight. He was undefeated, 4-0 at the time, and he was from another state. He used to beat everybody from my state but I beat him that night and then again later on, thank God.”

Thus Oliveira came of age. Nicknames aside, that night became the moment that the BJJ black belt and two-time North American Grappling Association champion realized there was nothing he’d rather be doing than fighting. Though he was already a well-seasoned practitioner of Jiu-Jitsu, a few crash courses in the other disciplines paid off for him in a hurry.

“I had been training Jiu-Jitsu for five years in Brazil and we had an MMA tournament, and a friend of mine was supposed to step into the cage but he got hurt,” he recalls. “So I studied for one month for a fight. I was just training Gi at the time, and I just took some boxing classes and I stepped in the cage after a month. I beat Big Big by a TKO, and it was the best feeling in the world. I just thought—I want to keep doing this.”

Five years later, he is, and on the world’s biggest stage. Now a resident of Tennessee and training in New Jersey at American Martial Arts (AMA) in Whippany with the likes of Mike Constantino, Jamie Cruz, the Miller brothers and Frankie Edgar, the lightweight Oliveira (9-2 overall) is looking to follow up on the buzz the preceded him. He became a highly-touted prospect for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was that, of his previous 11 fights, he has TKO’d, submitted or slammed seven of them. In short, Oliveira is exciting to watch. He has sick BJJ. He has a great chin. He keeps coming forward. What more could you ask for in a fighter?

But as he makes a name for himself in North America, Oliveira has had to do it with a fluid sense of adaptability. Not just to pugilistic techniques and clinch-work, but also in shifting opponents.

Originally set to take on Dan Lauzon at UFC 103 in Dallas, Oliveira ended up fighting the tough-nosed wrestler Nik Lentz in his debut when Lauzon got hurt. It didn’t matter to the man they call “Tractor”—a name given to him by Jiu-Jitsu teacher Latuf Kezen because, at 17 years old when he was just starting out, he was already so strong that he plowed forward against all resistance. He was just grateful to get his first fight in the Octagon.

“I was happy,” he says. “I was walking to the cage and I had good energy, and I wasn’t nervous at all. But once I got in the big cage, you know there are a lot of people watching, I just wanted to do good job and make Joe Silva and the owners happy. I wanted to win, but I didn’t want to do a [crappy] fight, or a boring fight. I wanted to put on an exciting fight. It was a good experience.”

Lentz was able to take the decision that night, but Oliveira gave him all he wanted in three back-and-forth rounds. He can indeed check one thing off his list—it was definitely an exciting fight, one that showed a lot of promise from the 27-year-old Brazilian John Deere. What’s more, his character showed through in defeat.

“No excuses,” he says. “I could use a little more strategy. I could be a little more smart, and I think I made some mistakes. I think he won the fight in the third round when he took me down in the last two and a half minutes and he impressed the judges. But no excuses.”

Oliveira was set to take on one of the sport’s legends in Sean Sherk at UFC 108 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on January 2, but with the rash of injuries and subsequent bout change he will now face another UFC debutant in John “Guns” Gunderson. Gunderson is riding a tidy three-fight win streak after time spent in the IFL and other promotions.

Though Oliveira was looking forward to testing himself against the “Muscle Shark,” he is very much up to the challenge of taking on a “dangerous” Gunderson, whom he has been studying on YouTube.

“He’s very well-rounded,” he says. “He’s 22-6, and he has good hands. He has a lot of submissions, he has some knockouts, so I think it will be a really good fight. I think I’m just going to feel it out, whether I want to keep things on the feet or take it to the ground. He wins more from submissions, so it’ll be a good challenge. I think he has 15 or 16 submissions on his record. But I’m ready. I just want to win this fight and improve my record in the UFC to 1-1.”

Oliveira is married and has three young kids in Tennessee, a six-year-old boy and two girls, ages three and six months old. He talks as warmly about being a father as he does about dropping haymakers. In fact, he comes off like the nicest guy in the world in a conversation. But there’s another thing that comes through, too—this is a very confident person.

And he wants you to see the best Rafaello Oliveira no matter if it’s Sherk, Lentz, Gunderson or one-time training partner/idol/friend BJ Penn that’s put in front of him.

“It’s the heart,” he says. “I’m always going to have a big heart and when I’m going to war, when I step into that cage I’m going to go 100%. In the UFC, I want to be in the cage all the time, and I want to go 100%.”

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