(Linhares weighs-in successfully for his UFC debut. Courtesy of Zuffa LLC)
Lucio Linhares spoke to FIGHT! from his homeland in Brazil but, ten months of the year, he resides in the vastly different climate of Finland. Returning home for a month in the winter when the cold snap becomes too much and another month in the summer for a vacation, the rest of his time is spent leading a nomadic lifestyle, travelling from academy to academy teaching Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to an ever-receptive audience – although he does base himself in Helsinki.
He started his fighting career in his homeland, facing Thales Leites in his second ever bout. It was after that fight in May 2004 that Linhares’ relocation became more permanent, although he had been heading to Finland since 2001, and as a result he started fighting mostly in the country and around Europe. Lucio revealed how the move from South America to Northern Europe came about:
“In 2001 I was invited by my coach, Leandro Borgo, to go. He wanted someone to stay there and that was me,” he revealed. “The first time I came I’d had no MMA fights and I was here for just three months and headed back to Brazil. Every time I came back I made more connections and now I’m here more often than back home.”
He admits the scene has blossomed in the relatively short time he has been there and now there is a lot of promise in both BJJ and MMA from the nation:
“They are so organised over here. They have national MMA championships with so many training and competing. The fighters from here are going to get huge soon. I’m that busy with demand now that sometimes I have to say no to people wanting seminars. When I first came there were only two events but now there are lots. There are so many good MMA fighters and BJJ champions from here.
“A lot of it is to do with The Ultimate Fighter. It was very popular over here and it caused a lot of people to start training,” he continued.
Returning to his own career, Linhares defeated one of Europe’s top middleweights Tor Troeng in Shooto Finland and as a result he was then drafted as an adopted son and fought for Finland in the M-1 Challenge team. It was through his successful stint with M-1 that he caught the eyes of the UFC brass, and he faced fellow countryman Rousimar Palhares in his UFC debut.
Palhares, known for his footlock acumen, is a stern test for any debutant middleweight but Linhares was excited for the opportunity.
“He [Palhares] is a really good fighter and a nice guy. I always enjoy my fights, losing or winning. When I started BJJ in 1993 it was when Royce was beating everyone and I never dreamt I’d fight in the same place as that, so it was an honour.”
Reliving the bout, Linhares was humble and stated that he didn’t want to make excuses. “Quem ganha fala, quem perde cala,” he stated, translating roughly as “the winner talks, the loser shuts up,” as told to him by the famous coach Ze Mario Sperry.
“I wasn’t afraid of his footlocks,” Linhares stated, despite tapping to a Palhares heel hook in the second round. “If you watch the fight, it was his fourth attempt at a heel hook and I escaped all of the others. But, to be honest, the last time I was a bit tired.”
Citing the infamous ‘Octagon Jitters’, Lucio didn’t want to speculate whether things could have been different but, in retrospect, he feels his opponent was growing just as tired.
“After the fight, I noticed he was more tired than me but who knows? Excuses don’t do anything.”
Getting back on the horse is the prime objective after suffering a loss in the UFC. In his next encounter, Lucio will face a man as eager to return to winning ways as him. He is set to square off against Yushin Okami, another highly-ranked middleweight, at UFC Fight Night: Florian vs. Gomi.
Not many fighters get back-to-back fights as tough as the ones he will have faced in his first two Octagon outings and it isn’t something that has gone unnoticed.
“They’re not giving me an easy time are they,” Linhares laughed, but admitted he is not fazed by the prospect of a tough test. “I will go there with no pressure as the underdog and I like that. I’m working on everything to be prepared everywhere for him.”
Noting Okami’s penchant for top control, he added that, if he had to fight from his back, he wouldn’t be out of place.
“I’m not uncomfortable on my back. Wherever he wants to fight, we’ll fight.”
Although he is a second degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Lucio has also scored some impressive knockouts over the likes of Valdir Araujo, Karl Amoussou and Toni Valtonen. He said that he is constantly working to better himself in every area and can bring his improving skills to the table against Okami, but natural attributes can also be a factor.
“After a few years fighting I found out that I had the power to KO people, I didn’t know that before! Now I keep working on my Boxing and Muay Thai to make my skills better and make my striking even more dangerous.”
Working under the Alliance banner and the tutelage of Robson Vidal and Petteri Maunu for his striking, Jarno Nurminen for his MMA game and many other great coaches in all of the disciplines, expect a refocused Linhares to enter the cage ready to claim his first UFC victory at the end of the month. As nice a guy as you’ll talk to, when the cage door closes he will be making sure that Yushin Okami sees the business side of Lucio Linhares en route to notching up an impressive win.