RIO DE JANEIRO — Tucked in the back of an up-market country club is the home of the famous Brazilian Top Team. Home to many fighters over the years, BTT has produced some of the biggest names in Brazilian MMA, including former UFC champ Murilo Bustamante, former WEC champ Paulo Filho, Pride veterans Mario Sperry and Ricardo Arona and American Top Team co-founder Ricardo Liborio.
Though dominated by a huge blue and yellow matted area, the facility has the feel of old school boxing gym. Magazine clippings and signed photographs cover an entire wall, faded and peeling. A bench runs alongside the mat, shared by many. Spend an hour there and you’ll see professionals resting between rounds, amateurs wrapping their hands before training and spectators quietly taking photographs. A steady stream of people come and go, and TV crews are a regular presence — so much so that nobody so much as bats an eyelid if a camera is pointed in their direction.
In this hive of activity, middleweight Rousimar Palhares stands out. While his teammates wander on and off the mat to check their phone, grab some water or chat with new arrivals, he’s training. He’s the first person on the mat before the pro session begins, and he’s the last to leave. He laughs and jokes while training, yet he never stops working.
“He’s the kind of guy I have to pull out of the academy, because if I don’t he’ll spend the whole day here,” said his coach, Murilo Bustamante. “He loves to train, basically.”
It’s not surprising Palhares loves life in the gym — a career as a professional fighter might seem a struggle to some, but it’s nothing compared to the life he once led.
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