Brazilian grapplers often say “only jiu-jitsu saves” when the martial art helps an MMA fighter emerge victorious in a difficult situation during a fight.
In Mateus Mendonca’s case, jiu-jitsu probably saved his life altogether.
A young Mendonca usually spent most of his days looking for trouble with some friends in the streets of Pindare Mirim, a tiny municipality in the state of Maranhao. His life took a turn when he was eight and a teenager beat up his brother. Filled with anger, he grabbed a scalpel and invaded the Martins Jiu-Jitsu school to attack the bully.
“This guy beat my brother and I was pissed off,” Mendonca said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “I was too violent, I wanted to be… I don’t know, man. He beat up my brother and I went after him. He trained in that gym so I went there with a scalpel. I got there and professor Antonio took the scalpel away from me and took me home.”
Coach Antonio Martins spoke with Mendonca’s mother Maria Erondina about the incident that took place earlier that day and advised her to let him join the team as a way to calm the eight-year-old down. Mendonca got the approval and became a member of Martins Jiu-Jitsu, falling in love with the art instantly. The teenager he once targeted “never showed up again to train,” he said.
“I started training and entered a competition three weeks later inside the gym,” Mendonca said. “I lost the first match and cried a lot until he gave me a second chance, and I went on to win the tournament [laughs]. I still keep this trophy to this day at home.”
Mendonca almost quit the sport sometime later under the bad influence of his friends in Pindare Mirim, picking fights in the streets and even stealing food in groceries stores, but coach Martins and Maria Erondina convinced him that he was talented enough to make a career out of it.
The young talent found success on the mats, collecting medals in the national circuit before moving to Sao Paulo to join the Chute Boxe stable. Inspired by his longtime friend Brendo Bispo, who had a 14-4 MMA record at the time, Mendonca decided to make the transition to the cages and become a fighter himself.
Mendonca won five amateur bouts and turned pro in 2019, winning eight in a row between March and December 2019, including a dominant decision victory over then-Titan FC champion Rudson Caliocane at Future MMA 9.
The 21-year-old prospect enters the biggest fight of his career Friday night in Sao Paulo, taking on former UFC fighter and two-time Titan FC title contender Pedro Nobre in a bantamweight clash at Future MMA 12, which will be streamed live on pay-per-view.
“He’s more experienced than me, but I won’t get intimidated,” Mendonca said. “I’ll go there and get the job done. Everything he does, I do, too. I’ll get there and we’ll brawl.”
A perfect 9-0 record would mean he’s ready for the big leagues, Mendonca said, so “I’ll keep my weight low to be ready for any opportunity on short notice outside of Brazil. I’ll be ready for anyone. Bring anyone.
“I’ve always said to my mother that I wanted to give her a better life, that one day I would be in the UFC. I told (Chute Boxe coach Diego) Lima that I had dreamed with the UFC belt, and that dream motivates me a lot. I’ll turn that dream into reality.”