As far as fighters go, some would argue that the best come from Brazil – specifically the state of Pernambuco, home of Sao Paulo. Rafael ‘Negao’ Lopes Pinto knows the place very well, having grown up and learned his trade in the famed land.
The 29 year-old has been training at Tiger Muay Thai and MMA Training Camp Phuket, Thailand for the past two years and has developed a name for himself in Muay Thai.
As a veteran of over 20 fights – 18 of which he has come out on top – Lopes regularly fights against Thai competitors who have been training Muay Thai since they could walk. Most of his opponents have fought well over 100 fights by the time they step into the ring with Lopes.
Most would be worried, but not Lopes.
“I just have to put my head down and train hard. The fights will come and if they lead me somewhere I will be happy,” he says.
If the Brazilian feels comfortable in the fighting Thai culture, it’s by design. The two cultures share a collective love for all things combat. Brazil is where Carlos Gracie learned and perfected Japanese submission wrestling of Jiujitsu into what is now known as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
The martial art is considered one of the “must-haves” in a fighter’s arsenal. The need to develop one’s ground game, complete with choke holds reversals, and mounts, is what makes Brazilian Jiu Jitsu one of the best martial arts to know – and Lopes is a monster at this.
As a brown belt in BJJ, Lopes helps develop other fighters and martial artists in perfecting their own ground game. Slowly and surely, the Brazilian has gained a knack for teaching others his first love.
“Teaching helps me learn,” he says, “only when you start teaching students, do you start to really think about the techniques you are doing. It also gives me the opportunity to meet new and interesting people from around the world and all walks of life.”
His skills translate directly to the cage, as he is currently undefeated in his professional MMA career with a cool 4-0. His first fight was in Vale Tudo in 2006 and most recently fought in China, winning by submission.
“I started fighting for many reasons. One of the reasons was to make sure i kept it good physical condition. It helped drive me to train hard and not get lazy,” he says.
Still, like a true martial artist, Lopes had to adapt to not only different styles of fighting but to the language as well. When he first came to Thailand, he could not speak a word of English and definitely not Thai. Today, he can speak conversationally in Thai and English – something that has helped him tremendously in his training.
“I had to learn English first because everyone I trained with spoke English. It also helped me learn Thai because a lot of Thai people here can speak English, so it was easier to learn from them by them telling me the English word and then translating it to Thai,” he says.
Lopes aspires to perfect the skills he has amassed, despite the relative success that could come from other avenues. His focus remains on flawless technique, not flash or fame.
“Right now, I am concentrating on getting my black belt in BJJ. I am not too concerned where my fight career is heading.”