After winning the inaugural season of “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil” in 2012, Cezar Ferreira now counts blue-chip companies such as Gillette and Head & Shoulders among his sponsors. His first real backer, though, may surprise you.
Like many Brazilians, Ferreira (5-2 MMA, 1-0 UFC), who meets Thiago “Marreta” Santos (8-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) on Saturday’s UFC 163 pay-per-view main card at Rio de Janeiro’s HSBC Arena, found his way to MMA through capoeira, a martial-arts hybrid that combines dance and acrobatics with music. He began his training when he was just 6 years old.
As a teen, Ferreira would often travel throughout the country and search out the best training possible, even though he didn’t have much money. He ultimately ended up at an academy in Belo Horizonte, a city where UFC fighter Vitor Belfort also trained.
It was at that academy, run by Master Mao Branca, where Ferreira first got his nickname, “Mutante” (Mutant). Because the facility was open to outsiders, an unknown German unknowingly gave Ferreira a nickname that’s stuck to this day.
“Master Mao Branca’s academy is called Capoeira Gerais,” he told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “It’s one of the world’s best capoeira groups. When I was training there, tourists from other countries would always come to see us. Around that time, I was teaching a group of Germans. They saw a couple of my photos, one where I was thin and another where I was stronger. So they jokingly decided I was a mutant.
“After that, everyone called me ‘Mutante.’”
Soon after, Ferreira eventually crossed paths with Belfort and joined his academy.
“I met him through a friend,” Ferreira said. “We started training together at his academy. He gave me full access to his academy and to his trainers. He funded my membership. He helped me in various ways. This was nine years ago. We’ve been together ever since.”
These days, Ferreira and Belfort are now teammates at the Florida-based Blackzilians camp. Ferreira’s been a member for the past three months, so nearly his entire fight camp has taken place there.
In fact, while in Florida, he does nothing else outside of family commitments with his wife and 5-year-old daughter.
“I only train,” he said. “That’s my only focus.”
The array of top-level training partners, including Belfort and Anthony Johnson, gives Ferreira plenty of confidence heading into Saturday’s bout. In fact, Santos replaced original opponent Clint Hester just two weeks ago, but Ferreira said he’s not bothered at all by the late change.
That, at least partially, can be credited to his time on “TUF,” where Ferreira fought a variety of opponents on short notice. That also means he doesn’t have a problem fighting a fellow Brazilian in front of Brazilian fans.
“Since my camp is done, it doesn’t matter who I face,” he said. “Since I came through ‘TUF,’ I feel I’m well equipped for this. When I was in ‘TUF,’ I didn’t know my opponent one day before my first fight. And once in the house, my opponents were only announced three days before our fight. So if that happens to me going forward, it won’t bother me or change anything. I’m ready anytime.”
So come Saturday, it’s business as usual.
“It’s going to be a first-round knockout,” he said. “And if he wants, we can have a beer later.”
For more on UFC 163, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.