Marcelo Garcia (blue trunks) working a takedown on Ricco Rodriguez in ADCC 2005. Photo credit Eric W Zippe.
One of the most intriguing and popular personalities to emerge in the grappling world in recent years is that of Marcelo Garcia, a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu from Brazil who is part of Team Alliance and now runs a school in New York City. Fit but unimposing, the 5’7″ and 170 pound expert in jiu-jitsu and submission grappling is dominating. With stout, powerful legs, Garcia, often affectionately referred to as “Marcelinho”, has won the Mundials in Brazilian jiu-jitsu competition in 2004 and 2006 and garners wide fan support for his victories over larger opponents. In the 2005 Abu Dhabi Submission Combat Club Grappling World Championships he won in a match against Ricco Rodriguez, who weighs in at 280 lbs. and is listed at 6’4″. This ability to overtake much more imposing fighters embodies one of the reasons people are attracted to Garcia. In a sport increasingly dominated by tall, thin grapplers like Roger Gracie, Braulio Estima, Robert Drysdale, Rafael Lovato Jr., and Tarsus Humphries, Marcelo Garcia epitomizes one of the fundamental promises of Brazilian jiu-jitsu: that by using technique and leverage, a smaller opponent can overtake a larger, stronger opponent.
Garcia before beating Pablo Popovitch at the 2007 ADCCs.
This year at the 2007 ADCCs, Garcia put on another showstopping performance, rarely seeming to even breathe heavily in matches against the world’s elite. Of the dozens of names of elite submission grapplers present at the competition, few names drew the crowd response that Garcia’s did. A vocal group cheered in unison for fighters from Renzo Gracie’s long-established school in nearby New York City, including Rolls Gracie, Kyra Gracie, and Renzo himself. But every time Garcia’s name was mentioned to be fighting on one of the four mats, it seemed as if the tournament stopped while a large portion of those in attendance stood up from their seats and moved to wherever offered the best view to witness Garcia.
In his weight division, Garcia beat Australian George Sotiropoulos, UFC fighter Kurt Pellegrino, American standout Mike Fowler, and finally Florida grappler Pablo Popovitch to take first place in the 66Kg to 76Kg division. In the absolute division, where fighters of any weight may enter, Garcia beat Mario Miranda, Rolles Gracie, and the compact Cacareco, before losing in the finals to Robert Drysdale, who was ecstatic to come out on top over the legendary Garcia. Garcia would have to settle for bringing home one first place trophy and one second place trophy, an achievement few can boast.
After Lloyd Irvin student Mike Fowler‘s own streak of beating grappling legends at the tournament ended when he encountered Garcia, Irvin stated, “The key thing is that Marcelo Garcia doesn’t make that many mistakes, if any. His pressure is very constant… Marcelo is Marcelo, you know? Fowler did the best he could.”
When Garcia’s coach Fabio Gurgel was asked in an interview what they concentrated on in preparation for the event, Gurgel replied, “I think that both [the physical and mental preparation ] are important, but of course we try to set up the new weapons for Marcelo, because everybody starts to study his game a lot. So his opponent came with a lot of defense for his old game, so he needs to create new weapons to make him win and keep going… He has a very strong mind, you know, he is very focused.”
Marcelo Garcia just prior to tapping Cacareco.
More than a champion
Beating his opponents so soundly and with such regularity make a great competitor, but they do not necessarily endear fans the way Garcia has done. Garcia seems to have a constant, genuine smile on his face. Gracious in defeat and victory, he never complains to the referee. He does not celebrate excessively, even in his victories where by every measure he would be expected to. He simply smiles.
Just as Garcia projects an image distant from the stereotypical heavily muscled, tattooed and angry fighter, his wife Tatiana is a perfect complement. Unassuming and every bit as friendly as Marcelo, Tatiana smiles often and can be heard coaching him on from the side of the mats, shortening the affectionate name “Marcelinho” to an even more diminutive form, “Marcelín”.
Garcia, now becoming become known for his impersonations of Borat, seems to be broadening his appeal as the sport grows. On one occasion during a relatively quiet moment in competition at the 2007 ADCCs, an audience member shouted “Marcelinho for President!” While it’s not likely we’ll see him in the 2008 elections, you can bet he’ll continue to be one of the biggest names in grappling in the coming years.
Marcelo Garcia winning his weight division at the 2007 ADCCs. Photo credit European Fight Network