O Your Herbert had a workshop at home, in Niterói, on the other side of the bridge that flows into Rio de Janeiro. He renovated the interiors of cars that arrived there already very tired. Once, in a jiu jitsu teacher’s car, his three children discovered a kimono. It was an “old, ugly car”. The play of the boys, in uniform for the fights, gave that man an idea. “He asked the client to change: instead of paying, he would give us a few months to train”, says Gilbert Burns to Express Tribune, next to one of the rings at the Union of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), on Rainbow Boulevard, in Las Vegas, where several Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) athletes train.
‘Durinho’, as he is known, was in this town in Nevada to accompany the International Fight Weekwhich would have many attractions until the last day, Saturday, the day of days, the festival of fights and blows, in which there would be title disputes in two categories, with the empathetic Max Holloway challenging the throne of the destructive Alexander Volkanovski and with Jared Cannonier trying to steal the sky from the feet of the cool and calculator Israel Adesanya. As we speak, the children of some athletes who walk around are testing the mat and practicing maneuvers. “As long as my son takes it…”, says one of them, worried about the health of others.
Being on the street is unthinkable, with the devil blowing on everyone’s neck, causing the temperature to fluctuate between 38º and 42º. Las Vegas, where thousands of outdoors advertising the centers of great artists or magicians, but also the specialization of certain lawyers, was not designed to be lived in during the day. You can survive inside shops and casinos, with powerful air conditioning. Every now and then, to thwart what is radiant, one sees one or another decaying carcass dragging itself along, perhaps a victim of the promises that jingle at every corner or revolving door. When the sun goes to rest, the lights wake up, people take to the streets and the roulette of emotions blooms again. It’s like that every day.
Burns’ childhood wasn’t like a walk in Copacabana. “I had asthmatic bronchitis, it was very, very strong. My brothers had it too, but mine was very strong. Whenever the weather changed, I got really bad,” he says. “Sport has helped me a lot, it was one of the reasons why I started doing sports, it was because of bronchitis. Not today [a] I have more, I can say that it cured me, I don’t know what happened”, he says, with a serene smile.
This business, a prophetic light that howled in the mind of Your Herbert, would eventually work out. “My father said: ‘If you like it, you have to train hard, I don’t have the money to pay. They have three months to train for free. After that, if they’re not good, they’ll have to stop. If they are good, I might even ask if they can continue to pay and help you.’ So, we started, we liked it ‘a lot, in the second month we started competing. The teacher liked us. We had to help clean the gym to train. So it began.”
Gilbert Burns’ path in jiu jitsu has put him on the sport’s map. He was a three-time world champion and decided to make the leap to MMA, where he fights in the middleweight. This transition took place precisely in Las Vegas, where we are. From Niterói to the heart of the fight, the game, the glam and decay at once. “Face, it was hard, it was war”, he remembers how he got there. “The first fight was in Utah. I’ve been living in Florida since 2013, it’s been pretty cool.”
In the middle of the conversation, we introduced the topic UFC in Portugal, a phenomenon that seems to be growing and gaining time on the grid on Sport TV. André Fialho, born in Cascais, appears in the conversation. And Gilbert’s eyes open. “He trains with me! Long time. we have the same manager. It’s doing well’too much in the UFC. He just had a defeat, but he’s very young, he’s going to learn a lot. He has a bright future. I’m always rooting for him, we talk a lot. I was able to bring him to my fitness coach, it improved his game a lot,” he reveals.
About Fialho’s style, the two words ‘Durinho’ repeats the most are “technical” and “intelligent”. “In his fights in Las Vegas and Phoenix, I remember what I said to him: ‘You’re very smart, you’re very technical. The majority of faces they don’t have that intelligence, they don’t have your fighting IQ. Use this. Use your fighting IQ, intelligence. I always tell him that it will make a difference.”
“We have to create a tense environment, a drama”
Burns, 35, has been in the UFC for many years. There were many hits, few mistakes. You learn more and more, he guarantees. “I know who I am, I know where I came from and I know where I want to go”, he explains, linked to “principles and values”. He once lost his chance to win the belt in one of the UFC’s divisions, but he made so many mistakes that the promise of a glorious morning never came. “I learned a lot and now I’m on the road again.”
The Americans know how to sell a product and the UFC does not escape. Before the fights, there are all the press conferences, the weigh-ins, the face-to-face that spark and the words that herald hard blows in the near future. There is really a lot trash talkalmost a youth fever for the soft, high school insult.
“We have to create a tense environment, a drama”, concedes the Brazilian. “But nobody wants harm from anyone, we want to win the fight. That’s where the opportunities come from, we want to be champions. We have to do this drama. It’s getting more and more famous and it’s fashionable to talk more, it’s not really my style. I do a little, but I keep the respect. Everyone has to make a story. In the past there were two faces to fight, you just had to train. Now you have to know how to talk, give a good interview, have another understanding with the fans, it’s not just training and fighting. Even to have good fights and a lot of people watching, you have to create the character, drama and story. Has to have hype.”
Gilbert, a Fluminense fan who is delighted with the football played by the boys from the Laranjeiras neighborhood, has connections to Portugal. Grandmother Maria, on her father’s side, was of Portuguese descent. Perhaps from Porto, she risks. She has never been there, but she has been to Lisbon several times and even accompanies surfing in Nazaré. “I really like Portugal.” But home, home, it’s in Brazil, there in Niterói, near Vila Ipiranga. When he returns he is greeted as a hero. And he really wants to be a people’s hero.
“I’m starting a jiu jitsu project, I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time. It’s not easy. I want to do it within the community, so a politician comes and wants to be part of it, but I don’t want politicians helping”, he explains, feeling almost powerless. “Apart from the crime, which you want to be a part of, it is difficult. I just want to help. I’m having a lot of trouble, but I have this desire.”
The fighter is inspired by Instituto Reação, created by Olympic medalist Flavio Canto and his trainer Geraldo Bernardes, in 2003. At Rua Bertha Lutz, number 84, in São Conrado, Rio de Janeiro, people are promoted and social integration through judo. It is an educational tool for social transformation. ‘Durinho’ wants to do the same in Niterói in the wake of jiu jitsu.
“It’s hooked up,” he laments. “It’s hard, it’s a war.”
* This is the first of a series of reports that Tribuna Expresso did in Las Vegas, where it was invited by Monster Energy.