Brazilian fighters have been making a name for themselves competing in Asia since the dawn of modern MMA competition when Rickson Gracie would submit multiple opponents in a single night at Vale Tudo Japan.
Today, the sport has evolved almost beyond recognition, but fighters from the same country that gave us the Gracies are still holding their own in Asia. Among them is Rodrigo Caporal, a long-term resident of Hong Kong, who recently became the 155-pound champion of China.
Caporal (9-4) has won five fights out of five since signing with RUFF, a Chinese organization that is government sanctioned, giving its fighters the right to call themselves national champions of the most populated country on the planet.
The 30-year-old, who holds a black belt in BJJ, won the title at RUFF 8 in February by defeating Haotian Wu in a rematch. In addition to the belt, he received one million RMB (160,000 USD) in prize money.
“Winning the belt meant a lot to me, to see all my hard work and dedication pay off made me very happy. My plan is to use the money to help my family and to help build my life together with my girlfriend,” he said.
Caporal’s record competing in Brazil was unremarkable, but he has won six fights out of six in Asia and believes that his skillset as a BJJ black belt gives him an edge against the predominantly Chinese opponents he has been facing.
“In Brazil, there was always more of a focus on the ground game because a lot more people practice Jiu-Jitsu. In China and in Asia, Jiu-Jitsu is growing in popularity, so today people are expanding their ground game and I am seeing more similarities,” he said.
Caporal moved to his adoptive home of Hong Kong in 2009 in order to share his submission skills and has been there ever since, training and teaching at Grips MMA. The country is slowly getting on board the MMA bandwagon and he believes that the sport is on the verge of enjoying the same sort of explosion in interest we have recently witnessed in Malaysia and Singapore.
“MMA isn’t huge here yet, but I think in one or two years a lot of doors will open here in Hong Kong with RUFF expanding, UFC coming to China, and if ONE FC do a show here it will definitely help increase awareness and popularity of MMA.”
After handing out its first five titles at RUFF 8 in February, the promotion took a break but returned in May for the start of a second season. Caporal expects to fight again next month, but says that a brand new lightweight title will now be up for grabs.
“I won’t have to defend my belt I already won because this belt is mine. My next fight is Aug. 24, and it will be the first in a series of upcoming RUFF fights for the new belt championship.”
There are some quality fighters on the RUFF roster, including featherweight champion Guan Wang (11-0) and bantamweight titleholder Irshaad Sayed (6-2), but only mixed martial artists who are either of Chinese nationality or living in Chinese territory and in possession of a valid work permit are able to compete.
Having already beaten all the best fighters in his division, Caporal will be a strong favorite to win the second season. But MMA is growing rapidly in China and dedicated camps like the X’ian Sports Institute and China Top Team are helping numerous high-level Sanda fighters who want to try their luck inside the cage.
Caporal has firmly established himself as the most dominant lightweight training and competing on Chinese territory. He maybe 10,000 miles from his hometown of Sao Paulo, but the Brazilian says he has plenty of fans there who follow his career.
“I have a great fan base in Brazil who like my fight style; their support is what keeps me going.”