Known as one of the most exciting practitioners in the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu today, Leo Vieira made an impact when he entered the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championships and won the tournament twice in 2003 and 2005 in the lightweight category. He was also a finalist in the 2007 tournament, losing out to former HERO’S and current WEC fighter Rani Yahya and also wound up as a semi-finalist in the 2009 tournament. Recently, Vieira came down to Kuala Lumpur to conduct a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu seminar with the help of BJJ Black Belt Marcos Escobar, who teaches Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu classes at CRUSH Mixed Martial Arts and fellow BJJ Black Belt Chico Mendes and SG Pro was able to conduct an interview with Vieira. Special thanks go out to Marcos Escobar and BJJ Blue Belt Lim Fang Han of CRUSH Mixed Martial Arts for helping us get the interview.
From left to right: Marcos Escobar, Leo Vieira and Chico Mendes
SG Pro: Leo, first of all, welcome to Malaysia and thank you for taking the time to do this interview for SG Pro. It’s an absolute honor having you with us.
Vieira: My pleasure to be here in helping spread the BJJ fever around SEA and even more visiting our first official branch in here.
SG Pro: First of all, can you tell the readers about yourself such as your upbringing, how you got started into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and your gym in California?
Vieira: I started when I was eight years old stimulated by Bruce Lee movies. I consider myself a lucky guy that could watch and participated in BJJ’s growth worldwide. As you all know IBJJF (International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation) is based in CA, running big competitions over there. We needed a training camp in that region and today thanks to the great job of Lucas Leite, Pantcho, my brother Leandro and many others we currently have five clubs over there.
SG Pro: The ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championships is the most prestigious grappling tournament in the world and you have won the tournament twice in 2003 and 2005. What was it like to compete in the ADCC World Championships?
Vieira: ADCC is the biggest grappling competition in the world. It has changed the way people used to see No Gi competitions. All great fighters want to be a part of it. I’m one of the fighters with the most attendance in the competition and is always great to be part of it.
SG Pro: You’ve fought Rani Yahya twice during the finals of the tournament in 2005 and 2007. Both of you are 1-1 against each other. How tough was Yahya in the two fights you had against him?
Vieira: Hmmm… just for the record, we’ve fought at ADCC already three times – BRA 03, USA 05 and USA 07. Rani is a tough fighter and also a great guy. I respect him a lot and our matches will always be a great show cause both of us have a game that moves forward.
SG Pro: Do you see the two of you someday having a rubber match to finally settle the score once and for all and if so, would it be under ADCC or MMA rules?
Vieira: Well, as I mentioned before we’ve fought three times. We’re professional fighters and I don’t think the score is what matters. Fighting is our life and for sure we’ll meet again in some competition someday. Maybe in SEA in the future… who knows?
SG Pro: You competed in the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championships this year, but lost out to Rafael Mendes in the semi-finals. What happened?
Vieira: Well, I made some mistakes and Rafael is great fighter. When you commit mistakes with a great fighter you pay the price. That’s what happened. I’m sure we’ll fight again in the future and I’ll try not to commit mistakes.
SG Pro: I understand that you had a match against the legendary Mark Kerr before. Care to share us your thoughts on that match?
Vieira: It was my first No Gi competition and Mark Kerr was in evidence at that time. I think that was a good opportunity to show BJJ’s efficiency once I was fighting someone twice my size & weight. Even not winning that match, till today people remember the fight and ask me about it.
Leo Vieira (blue gi) sparring with Marcos Escobar (black gi) at CRUSH Mixed Martial Arts Gym.
SG Pro: This is your first time visiting Malaysia and here, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is slowly but surely gaining popularity. It is no secret that MMA is becoming the fastest rising sport in the world and recently, there has been a strong interest in picking up the art either for leisure or competition. How do you feel about this?
Vieira: The rise of MMA worldwide is very good for BJJ. However I would say MMA is the fastest rising sport in terms of audience. People love to watch MMA competitions but when we talk about training or practice, most of them chose to go for BJJ. Even in Brazil or US we have much more people training BJJ than MMA. Most of the great MMA fighters came from BJJ. I think what SEA need is to have more people involved with the sport (BJJ) itself… academies, fight wear, competitions etc. This will help in the growth of the sport for sure.
SG Pro: When you came into CRUSH Mixed Martial Arts on Thursday (the day after Vieira arrived from Brazil), what was your reaction like seeing as to how many Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners there were in the gym with several of them coming from East Malaysia and also all the way from Singapore?
Vieira: I’m glad to see so many people and to see they love BJJ. I think it’s all about hard work with quality. Marcos Escobar is a good friend of mine for a very long time. He’s also a great fighter with many titles in Brazil and overseas, including ADCC. Nowadays, he’s the coordinator of Checkmat in Malaysia & our official representative in Asia. I’d like to congratulate him for the great job and I’m looking forward to coming back here soon.
SG Pro: What is next for you after this seminar is over? Any upcoming fights for you?
Vieira: I had a great time here, the seminar was great and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel staff took good care of us all. Anyways, I’m far away from home since September and now I just want to go back to my wife & kids.
SG Pro: How do you find it here in Malaysia? Any thoughts of coming back to the country again?
Vieira: Malaysia is a great place, great people, great food… even though I’ve failed in eating Durian for this on I’m still white belt (rs). I’m planning to come back with my family next time.
SG Pro: Who do you think are the top Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners in MMA today and why?
Vieira: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Demian Maia & B.J. Penn. Even though all MMA fighters practice BJJ, in my opinion, those are the ones that use BJJ the best in the fight.
SG Pro: Now it’s time for our SG Pro interview tradition, the word association! What I’m going to do is name a fighter or organization and you will have to describe them in just seven words or less. Let’s start with the first one. Marcos Escobar
Vieira: Checkmat Asia & SEA
SG Pro: Chico Mendes
Vieira: Checkmat wouldn’t be the same without him.
SG Pro: CRUSH Mixed Martial Arts
Vieira: Escobar BJJ Academy.
SG Pro: ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championships
Vieira: Biggest and most traditional grappling competition.
SG Pro: Rani Yahya
Vieira: Great fighter.
SG Pro: Barret Yoshida
Vieira: Very flexible.
SG Pro: Rafael Mendes
Vieira: New generation.
SG Pro: Mark Kerr
Vieira: Great champion. A shame he has stopped competing.
SG Pro: B.J. Penn
Vieira: Great friend, big heart and an awesome fighter.
SG Pro: Kenny Florian
Vieira: Dangerous south paw.
SG Pro: Norifumi “KID” Yamamoto
Example of dedication.
SG Pro: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
Vieira: First to display pure jiu-jitsu in MMA.
SG Pro: Ultimate Fighting Championships
Vieira: Biggest MMA event.
SG Pro: Romero “Jacare” Cavalcanti
Vieira: He who gave me the black belt and someone that I have a lot of care & respect.
SG Pro: And finally, Leo Vieira
Vieira: 1-father (family), 2-leader, 3-coach and 4-fighter. Nowadays those are the priorities in my life.
SG Pro: One last question, do you have any messages you would like to convey to our readers and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners out there?
Vieira: Doesn’t matter how great and talented you are, results come with dedication & faith. Train hard, train more & train always.
SG Pro: Thank you very much once again for your time. We at SG Pro would like to wish you all the very best in your career!
Vieira: Appreciate the opportunity, my pleasure. God bless you all.WWW.SG-PRO.COM