For a Jiu-Jitsu fighter looking to make it in Brazil, the top of the food chain was Brazilian Top Team. BTT was started in 2000 by three of Carlson Gracie’s top students, Mario Sperry, Ricardo Liborio and Murilo Bustamante. Of the three, Bustamante has had the most distinguished career as a fighter, winning the middleweight UFC championship and going on a winning streak in Japan’s MMA organization, Pride, in the Nineties. He is also the only one of the founding members who remained in Brazil.
When we entered BTT’s gym, the first person I saw was an UFC light heavyweight fighter Thiago Silva. I immediately gave him the exaggerated glare and thumb throat cut he always does after he wins. He was a good sport, smiling and nodding. He probably gets that ten times a day.
Thiago was not a member of BTT but was there to improve his ground skills. He was about to roll with Milton Vieira, a Jiu-Jitsu specialist who, Murgel informed me, has developed thirty or forty of variations on a choke called arm triangle. Thiago dwarfed him, but once they started to roll, Milton schooled the bigger man and even tapped him out several times with his signature move.
“I have to warn you about Murilo,” Murgel whispered. “He can be…” He stiffened up and glared like a zombie in imitation of Bustamante’s notoriously cold demeanor. Soon, Murilo walked through the door. “Hey Murilo,” Murgel called to him and he leapt up to introduce me. Murilo cut his eyes to us but didn’t move his head. Every move he made was precise and slow, unconcerned and deliberate. As we approached him, I smiled broadly but his face remained expressionless.