Romero “Jacare” Cavalcanti, the head of Alliance Jiu-Jitsu in the United States.
After winning the 2008 Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Pan-Ams and the 2008 BJJ World Championships, Alliance Jiu-Jitsu was expected to win the 2009 BJJ Pan-Ams by most jiu-jitsu observers. However it was not meant to be, as Gracie Barra took the gold medal and Gracie Humaita edged out Alliance by a handful of points, leaving Alliance with the bronze.
Our guest this week on our BJJ radio show is a founder of Alliance Jiu-Jitsu and its leader here in the United States, and after listening to today’s show you better believe that Alliance is going to pull out every bit of firepower in its arsenal to win the gold medal at the 2009 Mundials, which take place in Los Angeles from June 4th to the 7th. Romero “Jacare” Cavalcanti makes it clear in this interview that the squad’s toughest guys will be coming from all over to help defend their title as world champions this summer. Check out this partial list of black belts that Jacare and Fabio Gurgel will put on the mats at the Mundials:
- Tarsis Humphreys
- Bruno Malfacine
- Gabriel Vella
- Lucas Lepri
- Michael Langhi
- Rubens “Cobrinha” Charles
- Marcelo Garcia
Yes, you read that correctly: among the list of perennial medalists above, in this episode Jacare announces that Marcelo Garcia is returning to action in IBJJF events! Don’t miss this week’s episode, as you’ll not only hear from one of the few men ever to receive a black belt from Rolls Gracie, but he will share just what Alliance does to step it in to high gear so that (small) juggernauts like Cobrinha and the rest of Alliance are prepared to take on the world at the 2009 Mundials.
EXCERPT FROM “JACARE” CAVALCANTI INTERVIEW
Caleb: I think you said something that was historically important. [You said that] there was a time when Carlinhos (Carlos Gracie Jr). decided to move and begin a school in a distant neighborhood. That distant neighborhood was called Barra wasn’t it?
Jacare Cavalcanti: [laughs] Yes, it was Barra de Tijuca and I didn’t have a car. He was going to be too far for me to go, having to catch a couple of buses. It was out of hand. But Rickson was closer, he treated us very nice. He had an outstanding group of guys to train at the time. I remember on any given day on the mat there was Marcelo Behring (that passed away), Rickson trained with us every day, Royler, Rolker, and a bunch of other guys. All the guys were black belts, the ones who started training under Rolls, like Talarico, Luis Palhares, Fabio Santos, Marcio Macarrao… Man it was a bunch of guys. It was fun. Training was very hard, especially the morning training at 11am. It was heaven. You could train with a bunch of black belts and brown belts and it was just great. Rickson was very excited, teaching every day, training every day, pushing everyone hard, so it was a lot of fun.
Caleb: So we’ve come to a point where around the age of 35 you started your own career path. Tell us how that started. When did you start going in your own direction?
Jacare Cavalcanti: Well I got a proposal. Carlson Gracie hooked me up in a gym that had a lot of potential. [It had] a lot of guys working out, and I needed the money. I had graduated in physical education. I was doing a few things here and there but this opportunity just [fell] in my lap. And also a guy that had a really good judo school decided to pass the ball to me to teach jiu-jitsu. Between these two schools I was able to make some money and I was able to continue my career as a coach, teaching. That’s when I opened my own gym. It was called Jacare Jiu-Jitsu. That was my first gym. That’s where Fabio Gurgel, his brother Fernando Gurgel, Alexandre Paiva, and some of those guys who are famous today used to train back in the day.
Caleb: And at what point was Alliance born? How did that happen?
Jacare Cavalcanti: Well it was a natural process. I started to teach in 1985. Around 1989 or 1990 I started to produce my black belts. Remember that in Brazil people train very hard, you know? Morning, evening, afternoon. Most guys if they don’t have a job they train jiu-jitsu all day. That’s how they can achieve black belt in such time, let’s say 4 or 5 years, like Fabio Gurgel. And of course, the guy has to have talent. Anyway, Fabio graduated and I was looking for a place. In the same building there was an old theater. The owner decided to rent, and me and Fabio put the money down. I had some savings, Fabio had some savings and he sold his motorcycle. It was something around thirty thousand dollars to rebuild everything, and to remodel. Then I invited him and we first had the Master school, Master Jiu-Jitsu. It was me and him: Master Jiu-Jitsu. And then the other guys that graduated like Alexandre Paiva and the other guys started to have their own places and we started to compete against each other. And that creates a problem because my students didn’t want to train with the other guys despite the fact that they were friends. They said, “Man, we’re going to show our games to those guys”, and that’s when I came up with the idea to found Alliance. Having everybody under one flag, you know? I was the head guy and the last word was always mine but everybody worked together like in a democracy. Everybody (the top guys) had their own opinion, and that’s how we started. Unfortunately, after I came to live in the United States, the guys had some problems over there because of a new federation that was offering money and this and that, and the guys got excited about getting money. Fabio didn’t agree, the other guys wanted to go, like Demian Maia, like Comprido. Some of the young guys, you know? And that’s when the problem was really big. And then we had the split for a few years and we were kind of a small team but now I think we’re reborn, back on top. Last year we won the Pan-Ams, we won the World Championship, and I think we have a great team. If you can bring everyone to compete in the United States, I think it’s going to be helpful against the other big schools like Gracie Barra and Gracie Humaita.
Caleb: Tell me a little bit more about the global spread of Alliance. I know that you guys exist in more countries than Brazil and the United States. Where else is Alliance?
Jacare Cavalcanti: We have Alliance in about eight countries in Europe. In Europe it’s very strong. We had outstanding results at the last European Championship. I personally have an association in Croatia that has a lot of good guys with very good results. Fabio has two in Germany. In France we have Paulo Sergio, one of our black belts. Alexandre Paiva has an association in Poland and in France. We have schools in Italy, so in Europe we are very strong. In Canada we have an association with Jeff Joslin and Dragon, and there are some really good guys. Jeff used to fight in the UFC. He’s a really tough guy and is my first Canadian black belt. We also have Alliance in South America, Ecuador, and I think now Soluco has Peru. So it’s pretty much global. We work in some schools in Asia, in Korea and in Japan. And hopefully in the future we’re going to be able to have schools in these countries.
Caleb: That’s encouraging to hear because to different degrees, as we were talking about earlier, Gracie Barra is big just about everywhere. Humaita has schools all over but a little bit less centralized. So it’s a good thing to hear that Alliance is moving forward in a united direction around the world.
Jacare Cavalcanti: Yes because what happened? Gracie Barra established the headquarters in California, and Gracie Humaita too. So Saulo Ribeiro and Xande Ribeiro are doing really good work in San Diego, and with Royler helping. Royler has a big association. Megaton has a good association too. And Saulo and Xande too. So then, they are very strong right now and they have their headquarters in California. The main tournament is in California. Gracie Barra is the same thing. Gracie Barra has schools around the corner in every city in California. So it’s very easy for them to have everybody together, to have the guys there before the main tournaments. So they have a big structure. I’m in Atlanta, so I am far. So I think at least they should do a tournament in other states other than California. Because that benefits them a lot. But anyway this is not an excuse. We’re going to get stronger, and me and Fabio have a plan to have about 30 guys coming from Brazil. Our top guns that didn’t compete in California [at the 2009 Pan-Ams] will compete this time. We are going to be strong in every division.
Caleb: That sounds like a small army and that’s pretty exciting. Let’s talk about competition. The most recent news is of course the Pan-Ams and I don’t know if you knew this, but on our website we had a poll about who people thought was going to win the Pan-Ams. Most people thought Alliance was going to win the Pam-Ams.
Jacare Cavalcanti: Well that’s true. And people had that kind of expectation because of the 2008 Pan-Ams and the 2008 Mundial. In the last Pan-Ams and Mundial we won about everything. In the Mundial on Saturday, one day before the tournament ended, before the black belts stepped on the mats, we already knew that we were the winners. And we doubled the points of second place (I believe it was Gracie Barra or Humaita). So our guys [came from] all the United States to compete. [In the 2009 Pan-Ams] because of this economic situation, we could not bring our best guys. We had great numbers and a lot of people competing. Out of 25 guys from Atlanta who competed, 20 guys came back with medals. Those were outstanding results; we placed a lot of people in the adult divisions, in the masters divisions, in the senior divisions. So this school is very balanced in all these divisions. But I knew it was going to be tough because we could not bring Bruno Malfacine, Gabriel Vella, Gabriel Golar, Tarsis Humphreys, Sergio Morais, and a bunch of other guys like Batista, Chris Moriarty… all these guys could not compete. But now, in this Mundials, I can promise you that it’s going to be different. I also got sick. I was not able to really push everybody. Because if I’m healthy I’m going to push everybody no matter what. I’m going to organize, I’m going to push all my guys in the associations, and make everybody ready to go. But unfortunately things happen. But I hope we’re going to retain our title and do much better than in the Pan-Ams.
Caleb: You said Cobrinha has a bunch of really tough guys surrounding him and we all know that. But it’s interesting that sometimes, the guys who are most dominant, like Roger Gracie is in London a lot of the time and he’s not surrounded by black belts. He’s got a few around but I don’t think it’s the same as being in Rio. Just like Rafael Lovato Jr. – most of the year, he’s in Oklahoma and there’s not a million black belts for him to compete and train against all day long. Same with Cobrinha.
Jacare Cavalcanti: Yes. Exactly. So what do you need to do? You need to train smart. You need to be smarter. That’s the secret. All the guys like Cobrinha here in Atlanta, Lovato, and Roger in London, it’s because the guys are smart when they train. You don’t need to be surrounded by black belts and the top competitors to be on top of your game. If you train smart every day, if you push yourself [intelligently] every day of course you’re going to continue to maintain your level. A week or two, for example, before the main tournament, we have guys come in to train with us. Like Lucas Lepri who comes from New York before the big tournaments, and Michael Langhi. And this way they can get an extra push. The come to train over here. And that’s one of our secrets, or one of the good guys’ secrets like Lovato and Roger Gracie that can maintain the same level without being surrounded by the top partners.
Caleb: You just mentioned your camp. I know you have them for the Pan-Ams, and I recently read a statement that you guys have a new camp on the way for the Mundials. And that’s open to anybody right?
Jacare Cavalcanti: Yeah that’s open to anybody. One week or ten days before the Mundial we’re going to do [a camp]. I already spoke with Fabio Gurgel so he’s bringing about 30 guys from Brazil. A small army. All the top competitors will be here. Marcelo Garcia will be in the house, training, because Marcelo wants to compete again and he’s going to be competing in the Mundials. We’re going to have Lucas Lepri here 15 days before [the Mundials]. We’re going to have another guy, Rafael coming over. Felipe Neto is coming from Florida with some guys. The camp is open to anybody but our intention is to have all our best guys training together for at least a period of one week to fifteen days before the Mundials. That’s the intention. And we’re going to have this camp. It’s going to be wonderful. Fabio is going to be here, like I said, Marcelo Garcia, Cobrinha… It’s open to anybody that wants to come. I already have a hotel that’s going to be $50 per night, close by with a kitchen. And we’re going to have a great structure for the guys to come and enjoy. It doesn’t matter, our doors are open to anybody. We’re not going to be like, “Oh okay, you train with Gracie Barra, well you can’t train over here; you train with this school you can’t train over here.” No, it’s open to anybody who wants to come and train with us before the Mundial. It’s fine.
Caleb: [laughs] That sounds like a dream vacation for an average person and if you’re going to prepare for the Mundials a great opportunity. You said something I cannot let go. I know that Marcelo Garcia is preparing [to compete in the] Abu Dhabi Pros in the next month or so. I know there’s some prize money on the line for that. But did you say that Marcelo Garcia is going to compete at the Mundials also?
Jacare Cavalcanti: Also in the Mundials in California. Yes, I am telling you firsthand right now that he’s going to compete in the Abu Dhabi. He’s also going to come and train with us like a week before the Mundial and we’re all going to go together to Long Beach and our goal is to win again and to show that our style of jiu-jitsu is on top again. It took a many years [to get to such a high level]. Even guys who used to train with us used to talk a lot of things, like “Alliance is dead” and so on. But I think that the main instructors like me and Fabio, Alexandre, Felipe Neto, all the guys, we always thought that it would be possible to rebuild the team. And that’s what happened. Right now regardless if we win or lose, we are on top again. You always expect to have Alliance on the podium.