With the mixed martial arts flyweight division starting to garner more attention stateside — thanks in large part to the efforts of Tachi Palace Fights — many U.S. fans on Dec. 2 got their first look at the fighter many consider to be the best 125-pounder on the planet, Jussier “Formiga” da Silva (11-0).
At TPF 7, Formiga took on WEC veteran Danny Martinez (13-4), a tough competitor that went the distance with title contender Joseph Benavidez while campaigning at 135. It was a dangerous test, but da Silva passed with flying colors.
“For me it was a dream come true,” Formiga told ProMMAnow.com. “Although I knew it was a guy from the WEC, I thought it was a good style match up. But I don’t think I was able to show everything I could in that fight. I hope I can do it in this next fight and show an improved version of myself to please the fans.”
A Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt and CBJJE world champion, da Silva showcased some impressive ground skills, taking Martinez’s back frequently and dominating the position battle. Da Silva said he’s been careful to focus on making his BJJ game work for MMA.
“Generally my training is based on that,” da Silva said. “I train with very tough sparring partners in the gym, guys like Renan Barão and Jorge Rodrigues. So I think the transition of my game to MMA couldn’t be better. Thanks to all the help I have from those guys and the specific training my coach Jair Rodrigues makes me do, I’m able to be comfortable with my ground game when I’m fighting.”
As good as his ground game is, no fighter in this era of MMA will last long without improving in other fighting disciplines. Against Martinez, da Silva also looked comfortable on the feet and showed good technique and timing on his takedowns to control where the action took place.
“Although the Americans think the Brazilians have terrible wrestling, ever since I started, I train to have good takedowns and I practice to mix it well with the striking part,” da Silva said.
Next up for da Silva is a feature bout at TPF 8 on Feb. 18 against Ian McCall (8-2), another talented WEC veteran that’s had success in the bantamweight division.
“I’m pretty sure Ian will come prepared to defend all that, so I think I will show more of my striking technique in this fight,” Formiga said. “Every day I look to evolve more in things that aren’t my strength, so I’m giving emphasis in my striking and on my wrestling. It’s not that I forgot to train Jiu Jitsu. I train everything so I can be comfortable everywhere the fight goes, and so that I can be ready for everything my opponents bring to the table.”
In McCall, da Silva faces an opponent with a good wrestling base and pretty heavy hands.
Asked how he thinks he matches up with McCall in the striking department, Formiga replied, “I watched some of his fights and I think he’s pretty good on the striking department. But I think he won’t want to trade punches as much as he’s a wrestler, so I believe he will try to take me down at some point. But I’m ready for everything. If he wants to strike, I’ll strike. If he wants to take me down, I will do my best to try to nullify that. And if I get in a bad spot, I’ll do my best to improve my position and use my Jiu Jitsu as best as I can.”
Da Silva also isn’t ready to concede that McCall will have the wrestling advantage, though he acknowledged that the ground battle with McCall won’t be the same as it was with Martinez.
“I think I can take him down as much as he can take me down,” da Silva said. “It can become a battle for positioning. The one who gets the takedown first will have advantage in the fight. He will try to bust me with elbows. I’ll try to do the same. He will try to come out of the bottom. I’ll try to use my Jiu Jitsu. About fighting wrestling guys, the training has to be different. And every fighter is a different fighter. I can’t prepare for him like I prepared for Danny. Although Danny was a wrestler too, there are differences in their games.”
While his focus is on McCall, da Silva now finds himself in a very talented TPF flyweight division that also includes current champion Ulysses Gomez, Darrell Montague, and recent signings Mamoru Yamaguchi and John Dodson. Yamaguchi and Dodson are both currently ranked in Sherdog.com’s top ten at 125, while Gomez and Montague aren’t far behind.
“The division is pretty stacked,” da Silva said. “They have Mamoru now, who is a very tough guy and will fight John Dodson. There’s also Ulysses, who defends his title the same day I fight against a very tough fighter in Darrell Montague, and there are lots of other great 125-pound fighters signed with Tachi. They have the best division and it’s an honor to fight for them.”
With so many talented fighters, da Silva’s current status as being the best of the best isn’t an easy crown to wear. Formiga discussed whether he feels any extra pressure, knowing that a group of tough guys all want a shot at him.
“I don’t feel any pressure because here in Brazil the public doesn’t really care about it,” da Silva said. “I know that in the U.S. people really look to that, but to me it is like my first fight. I fight like there is no pressure, because if you fight afraid of losing, you will end up losing. I have to go in there and do my job, and the one who trained more and is more prepared is going to win. That’s how things work.”
Of course, to become the best you have to beat the best. When da Silva defeated longtime Shooto champion Shinichi “BJ” Kojima, he did exactly that.
“I didn’t even know he was the number one of the flyweights at the time,” da Silva said. “But to me it was very important because it was my first international fight, so I believed that I had to give everything I got. Although back then I had just started to train boxing and kickboxing, I was able to use my takedowns and Jiu Jitsu to win the fight. I was very happy with the win, and much more later when I found it he was the number one guy in the world.”
Jussier asked to include the following thanks:
First of all, I want to thank God, because without him none of this would be possible.
And I know people don’t like when fighters thank sponsors in interviews and everything, but they need to understand it’s important for us to do that, because that’s part of the deals we do, and that’s how we make a living. So I’d like to thank my primary sponsors for this next fight BAMF Fight Gear and Clinch Gear. I also want to thank Jeff Sherwood. He really helped me ever since the first fight, even giving me gloves and other things, and he was the one that made the deal with Clinch Gear happen.
I want to thank my manager Matheus Aquino, although he didn’t want me to, and Sean Frank from Intrepid Sports-Group, who also helped me with the sponsorships for this fight.
And more important, I want to thank my team Kimura/Nova União, my coach Jair Rodrigues, my personal trainer Thiago Macedo, and my training partners, especially UFC’s Renan Barão, who helped me a lot to prepare for this fight.
Also, Alan Henderson, a man who I see as my number one fan in the U.S. He’s going through a tough situation in his life and yet he find ways to help me. Please go to AlanHendersonFund.org to learn more about him.
At last, I want to thank everybody who has shown support for me, the people who donated for me to fight for my Shooto South American title last year, especially Tomas Rios, Jordan Breen and Nick Bailey, because they made people know about it. Also, the people who showed support to me in my first fight and who congratulated me after the fight, all the friends I’ve made from Team Ochoa and everyone else who roots for me.
You have all changed my life, and I hope God gives me the power to pay you all back someday. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.