Growing up as one of seven children in a tough section of Belem, Brazil, it’s difficult to imagine anything phasing RUFF featherweight Sandro da Silva
. Having spent time fighting South American drug cartels as a Lieutenant in the Brazilian army, da Silva later became an accomplished performing artist and acrobat, traveling around the world, diving from impossibly high objects.
Constantly in search of new, thrill-seeking challenges, da Silva finally embraced a lifelong passion for Capoeira and Jiu Jitsu, finding solace in mixed marital arts competition. But on June 30, 2012, in his RUFF debut
, he suffered a devastating loss to opponent Wang Guan
, leaving behind cuts, bruises, and haunting emotional scars.
“For two weeks after that fight, I had bad dreams. I didn’t want to see people. I was mad,” explains da Silva. “When I see the video it pisses me off. There is a big, big amount of good wish inside of me to face Wang Guan again and make it different.”
No stranger to adversity, da Silva began his martial arts career as an apprentice and teacher at his aunt and uncle’s Capoeira school. Rapidly developing his skills in the dancing martial art as a teen, he took a try at Judo and Jiu Jitsu, claiming the Brazilian national BJJ title in the blue belt division before the age of 18.
da Silva eventually fled his native Brazil to pursue Capoeira performance and teaching opportunities in Germany, convinced he was destined for greater things. Then, after several trips around the globe, gaining valuable life and work experience, he returned home to enlist in the Lieutenant’s academy.
“Once I graduated, they sent me to the frontier between Brazil, Colombia, and Peru because I was very well rounded as a Lieutenant: I could fight, I could shoot, I could run good,” adds da Silva. “My profile would be of very good use in the frontier . . . [but] it wasn’t something that I wanted to do . . . so I quit army and I go back to do shows.”
Landing in Macau after a spell in Belgium, da Silva was cast in The House of Dancing Water
, an acclaimed water and acrobatics show, high diving from 25 meters, five days a week. But despite the good, consistent pay, he quickly tired of theater work, and gravitated back to the gym.
It was at this time, in early 2012, that da Silva first signed with RUFF, inking his name on a contract to fight Wang Guan at RUFF 4
, sealing a deal that would ultimately change his life forever.
In the lead up to RUFF 4
, da Silva endured a rather difficult weight cut, dropping nearly 25 pounds from his stocky, five-foot-six frame for the fight, far more than he had ever previously shed. Nervous about making a good impression in his first fight with the RUFF promotion, da Silva delved into unsafe medical territory.
“I was a little afraid of not making weight and I went over the top. I had three diuretics, I had laxative. I had all the shit that I shouldn’t have taken to make weight, and I suffered in the fight,” states da Silva. “Halfway through the first round my arms got pumped, my forearms got pumped, I couldn’t make grip anymore. I couldn’t breathe well. I was weak. I was so weak I couldn’t even close my mouth.”
Eating punch after punch, da Silva endured Wang’s extreme punishment, the impact of this barrage of strikes sending shockwaves throughout his body. Claiming to have not underestimated his Chinese counterpart, da Silva admits that the loss was anything but his finest performance, fueling his current mission of revenge.
“I don’t want to justify it, I don’t want to find a reason to say I lost because of this, this, this ,this. I lost because he was better that night,” admits da Silva. “I’m not saying I was not prepared. I trained . . . but, he threw everything he had: elbows, punches, kicks, low kicks, everything; and he couldn’t knock me out.”
Standing until the final bell, da Silva became the first man to go the distance against Wang Guan in a “Fight of the Night” performance, earning instant respect in the Chinese MMA community. His body and face battered, but his spirit never shattered, da Silva vowed instant payback, angered not only by Wang’s showboating in the cage and disrespect for a fellow fighter, but also what he perceived to be Wang’s false nice-guy image.
“In the cage you show who you really are. If I have a guy in front of me giving his heart, the last thing that I would do is being a knob because I could see that across from me there was another fighter,” comments da Silva.
“He got upset about fighting with [Yuan ChunBo at RUFF 5
] because the guy was trying to grapple . . . you see in his face that he’s losing control . . . in my fight, he was kind of [taunting], he was unrespectful. This pisses me off . . . if you want to be a bad boy, go out and say that you’re a bad boy. Don’t be a bad boy in the cage and go out and say that you’re a nice guy.”
Outraged by Wang’s actions, da Silva then seized the opportunity to comment further on Wang, rating the division leader’s most recent performance, a lackluster decision win.
“[Wang] goes there and talks about people is fearing his fists. And I think people don’t fear his fists. He fears people fighting MMA,” offers da Silva. “He thinks this is a Muay Thai match or a Sanda match . . . and until he proves to me that he’s an all around guy, I’m not gonna respect him . . . he’s just a Sanda fighter to me . . . he needs to embrace his Jiu Jitsu. He needs to embrace grappling because MMA is mixed martial arts.”
The theme of redemption seems to be a big topic in da Silva’s life these days, both in and out of the cage. He and his wife Nicola are currently expecting the arrival of their first son at any moment, and just as he wants another crack at Wang, da Silva wants a second chance at fatherhood.
“I got a little frustration that I couldn’t have a family with my first son,” admits da Silva, in reference to his six year old back in Brazil. “Your life objectives change . . . I want a healthy and a happy child. I literally will fight for that, and if I need to face 10 Wang Guans then I’m gonna. I don’t care.”
Matured by experience, da Silva recognizes that beyond the cage, and beyond the million RMB, his greatest test will come as a husband and father.
“I’ve been through a lot of things in my life: I’ve been to the army, I’ve been in the frontier of Brazil fighting against drug dealers, I’ve been in a cage with another man who wants to hurt me . . . but I think the feeling of really being there when she delivers, is gonna be something that I can’t explain,” adds da Silva. “I have an incentive to help me to do what I do, and that is my family that I’m raising.”
Currently training in Nuremburg, Germany after a first-round tapout-via-strikes victory at RUFF 5
, da Silva remains focused on his next challenge in the RUFF cage, a showdown with grappler Yuan ChunBo at RUFF 6
. He “lives for training,” as he puts it, enduring two sessions per day in Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai, boxing, and wrestling, running daily, working an extreme strength and conditioning program, and resting in the evenings.
Fine tuning his game plan, he has settled all his previous issues with his weight and cutting it, in hopes of that second shot at Wang Guan and the 2013 RMB 1,000,000 Super Fight
. But before he can fight for the million, however, da Silva will need to run the table at the final two RUFF events to earn a title shot.
“My main plan is not fight this guy that’s coming now. He’s my sparring partner. And the following one is gonna be my sparring partner too,” comments da Silva. “I’m training for Wang Guan.”
He then added that “if I manage to get in the final, the million bucks is just gonna be a detail because I’m going for a nightmare fight against Wang Guan. I’m gonna teach him a lesson . . . I’m gonna teach him how to fight MMA. For free.”
Sandro da Silva faces Yuan ChunBo at RUFF 6 in November 2012.