Fighter Profile: Gabriel Gonzaga

Fighter: Gabriel Gonzaga

Nickname: “Napao” (“Big Nose” in Portuguese)

Height: 6’2 (188cm)

Weight: 242lbs (110kg)

Division: Heavyweight (205lbs – 265lbs)

Hometown: Rio de Janeiro. Brazil

Professional Record: 8 – 1 – 0 (Win – Loss – Draw)

Training Camp: Gabriel Gonzaga is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt under Wander Braga, and currently trains with Marco Alvan at Link BJJ in Ludlow, Massachusetts.

 

PRO MMA CAREER RECAP

Gonzaga began his professional MMA fighting career in January of 2003, competing in a K-1 event. He would go on a 3-0 run, culminating in a triangle choke submission of Hammer House fighter and UFC veteran Brandon Lee Hinkle.

To end 2003, Gonzaga faced fellow BJJ black belt and Abu Dhabi star Fabricio Werdum in the Jungle Fight promotion. The war raged into the third round before Werdum stopped Gonzaga with strikes. He remained in Brazil, scoring two more submission wins (one by sheer exhaustion) and then made his move to the US.

Gonzaga debuted in the Ultimate Fighting Championships in November of 2005, with a third round KO of XFO veteran Kevin Jordan. He was also scheduled to face The Ultimate Fighter season two contestant Brad Imes, but visa problems kept Gonzaga out of the fight.

Gabriel returned to stop American Top Team heavyweight Fabiano Scherner at UFC 60, submit beefed-up light heavyweight Carmelo Marrero at UFC 66, and put the proverbial cherry on top with a stunning first round KO of PRIDE FC golden boy Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic at UFC 70. With the win over Cro Cop, Gabriel is 4-0 in the UFC and the #1 contender for Randy Couture’s UFC Heavyweight title.

 

STRIKING SKILLS

He wowed us with his KO of Mirko Filipovic, but he stopped two of his last three opponents with strikes as well. For a “Jiu-Jitsu guy,” Gonzaga has shown improved stand-up skills, and has obviously spent time in the cage to improve his overall fight game.

Marco Alvan also commented on Gonzaga’s striking, stating, “Gabriel is training Muay Thai daily with Elcio Machado, and all the combinations that they are working are fantastic. His hands are getting faster and heavier, his kicks…damn!”

GRAPPLING SKILLS

What can you say here? He’s a monster. After all, we are talking about a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, a four-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu National Champion, a five-time Sao Paulo State Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Champion, a 2004 heavyweight BJJ Black Belt Grand Prix winner in 2004, an ADCC Trials Brazil Champion, and the second place finisher in ADCC 2005.

SUBMISSION SKILLS

Though he has five wins by submission on his record, Gonzaga has actually used Jiu-Jitsu technique to tap three of his MMA opponents. He successfully applied both an arm bar and triangle choke for the win.

If you ask his coach, you get a different answer. “His best submission in my view is the bear hug,” stated Marco Alvan. “Those who train with him know what I am talking about.” Alvan also says, “Some students in our camp call Napao a Sasquatch, saying that he should not fight humans. It sounds funny, but I agree.” Something tells me Sasquatch is Gonzaga’s secret nickname; it is doubtful anyone would call him that before they step on the mat with him.

CONDITIONING

Although a highly decorated grappler, stamina has been an issue for Gonzaga during his MMA career, but Gonzaga looks to be past most of the cardio demons that plagued some of his early performances. Going into the third round in his UFC debut may have actually helped, as his following three performances ended in the first round, or just moments into the second round.

HEART/PHYSICAL TOUGHNESS

Gonzaga is no stranger to dealing with an unsupportive crowd, or being the underdog. Denis Martins saw the Sao Paulo native compete in Rio de Janeiro. “What impressed me when I watched Gonzaga was the fact that, with no crowd rooting for him, he beat everybody like a calm, cool, and experienced fi ghter.” Recalled Martins.

To many journalists in the sport, Gonzaga has already done the unthinkable; he KO’d a top contender and beat him at his own game. When asked about the KO of Cro Cop, Marco Alvan shared that

“Gabriel felt awesome. For those who train with him daily, we know that pound-for-pound Gabriel was a much better fighter, and the fight went exactly like we planned. Gabriel did not land that kick by luck. He landed that kick with confidence that it was for the knockout. It surprised the whole world, but not him.”

THE FUTURE

To get a feel for where Gonzaga was headed, I asked the man himself. With his trainer interpreting, Gabriel stated that he “expects everything from Randy Couture. I respect Randy a lot, and as champion Randy deserves all the credit. That’s why I’m getting ready like never before. It is going to be the fight of my life.” Gabriel also feels that “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is going to make the difference” in the fight.

Since no analysis would be complete without the opinion of an expert in the field, we asked the opinion of Stephen Quadros, known as “The Fight Professor” to fans around the world.

“Gabriel Gonzaga may be the nightmare that all non-Jiu-Jitsu fighters had worried would eventually come on the scene: a damned-if-you-damned-if-you-don’t man who will dominate you standing, only to make you want to escape to where he is strongest, the ground! If Gonzaga keeps this up, he will become the next big thing.”

FINAL THOUGHTS

Gonzaga is only 28. He hasn’t hit his prime yet, and that is scary. He’s been through wars already. He’s been a highly decorated champion in other aspects of martial arts and he continues to evolve as a fighter. That’s bad news for the rest of the division.

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