When Pride Fighting Championships met its end, the value of mixed martial arts teams seemed to diminish, too, as athletes were emphasized more for their own value, independent of the team they represented.
This trend has increased even more in Brazil, as Brazilian Top Team and the Chute Boxe Academy suffered several cuts and stars such as Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Paulo Filho, Wanderlei Silva and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua left their respective training camps. The only team not to suffer any major losses during this period was Nova Uniao. Names like Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro, Thales Leites, Wagnney Fabiano and Jose Aldo -- born and raised on a team led by Andre Pederneiras -- continue to shine in international events.
According to Pederneiras, Nova Uniao has about 50 professional athletes on its roster, including Ribeiro and the young Eduardo Dantas, who fought Masakatsu Ueda for the Shooto 132-pound championship last weekend.
Made famous in the 1990s by the brilliant showings of its lighter weight athletes in Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitions, the team made a seamless transition to MMA, winning titles in major events like Shooto (Ribeiro), Cage Rage (Ribeiro), the International Fight League (Fabiano) and Pancrase (Marlon Sandro).
“Our team went from BJJ to MMA,” Pederneiras said. “As we already had a very strong team in the lighter weights, basically my BJJ team migrated with the same success to MMA, so we just continued the work. But we’ve also proven that we can do it with heavier guys. Thales Leites is an example. The more that come here, the more we’ll do it.”
Although the recognition has come only in recent years, the team began to take its first steps more than a decade ago, with Pederneiras himself fighting in international events and Rafael Carino emerging victorious at UFC 9 in 1996.
“Rafael Carino was my first athlete who fought in MMA, then Joao Roque and some others,” Pederneiras said. “Even when I fought, I did not have an MMA team. I called some people for training, but most of them had never fought MMA before. Only when Shaolin began fighting MMA could I bring in more people. Then we really had a team.”
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