“I wouldn’t trade my team for an athlete like Roger Gracie.”
The phrase above sums up tidily the thoughts of Fabio Gurgel in regards to his work in Jiu-Jitsu. The commander of Alliance values teamwork much more than a big name, even though Gurgel doesn’t hesitate to declare Roger the greatest Jiu-Jitsu talent at present. “Despite his losses, he’s at a level above even Xande, who is also a great competitor,” he assays.
In the run-up to the 2010 Worlds, where Alliance will pursue its third team title in a row and the general’s fifth, we found Gurgel in the team’s São Paulo headquarters.
The midday training session reserved for the upper belt levels is packed. Rolling on the mats are beasts of the caliber of Alexandre “Gigi” Paiva, Rubens Charles “Cobrinha”, Michael Langhi, Bruno Malfacine, Lucas Lepri, Bernardo Faria, Tarsis Humphreys, Antônio Peinado, Luana Alzuguir and Gabrielle Garcia, among others.
During a short break, Gurgel speaks.
Keeping with the opening phrase of this post, Gurgel reveals what to him makes a winning team. “First off, it should be serious about the job at hand. Then, the athletes need to feel confident about the team’s leadership. Third, each piece in the team needs to feel it is making a great contribution to the whole, even if it’s not training or competing.”
A fourth requisite for success is discipline, and there’s no lack of that at Alliance. As an example, Gurgel hollers at an athlete who, dazed from a bout of rolling, sprawls out on the mat. “Are you at the beach?!” the chief belts out, calling attention and ordering the student to sit with his back against the wall like the others.
Preparations for the biggest event of the year carry on unperturbed, even after taking second at the Brazilian Nationals, a setback Fabio Gurgel understands and makes no excuses about: “On Saturday we lost seven semifinals in a row, and in the end that makes a difference. Even so we scored 90 points to CheckMat’s 96.”
Gurgel’s smile returns when queried about the rebirth experienced by the team, which in 2002 suffered one of the biggest splits in Jiu-Jitsu history: “Truth is that the solid results of recent years are not the fruit of five years of labor, but of 25. During the split we lost several top black belts and brown belts, but the school remained the same. We continued to produce athletes in the same manner and we learned from our mistakes. Now Alliance athletes know that we did things right; they will have great opportunities in life. It’s not without reason that we haven’t had any more dropouts, except for Gabriel Vella, who truth be told joined up and, then, left.”
What about 2010? What’s a good result for Alliance? “At black belt we want to make it to 5 or 6 finals. This championship will be one of the toughest. If we have favorites like Langhi, Malfacine, Cobrinha, Tarsis, Lepri, Marcelinho and Bernardo Faria, the other teams have great athletes too. In relation to last year, I think we’ll show up just as strong.
If Alliance has great talents in several belt groups and, mainly, several weight groups in the black belt category; in the absolute, since Rodrigo Comprido in 2000, the team has not produced one world champion. Does that bother Gurgel? “No. I feel we have athletes who can naturally put up a front in the absolute. If registration for the absolute were today, we’d sign up Bernardo and Tarsis. Faria is in great form, having won the Pan and the Brazilian Nationals; and Tarsis is someone who can fight on even terms with anybody no sweat. At Alliance we’re concerned with producing champions and the absolute will come naturally.
To finish, Gurgel talks Cobrinha. The four-time featherweight champion is training hard with the team in São Paulo to make it to his fifth, an unprecedented achievement for being five times in a row in the same weight group. However, the threat to Cobrinha’s dream answers to the name Rafael Mendes, the Atos JJ prodigy who left their last two outings (the ADCC and Brazilian Nationals) the victor. Gurgel doesn’t skirt the issue: “Rafael is a without a doubt great talent, but I don’t feel he can handle Cobrinha if the two open up their games. Cobra is someone who feels fine in any situation; he’s very versatile. For that reason Rafael against him plays just to beat him; he uses that guard that stalls the game to go for the attack at the very end. For this Worlds we’re working on Cobra not letting the fight get caught up in that guard. With a free-flowing game, my money’s on Cobrinha.”
There’s less than a week to go till the Jiu-Jitsu World Championship. Do as the beasts at Alliance do and hurry to sign up. The deadline is 11:50 pm on May 26 California time. Click here to sign up.