By Eduardo Alonso
Heating up for UFO:
Sperry Takes His Class Act to a New Stage!

One could say a lot of things about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Mario Sperry, however no one would be able to deny one thing: he is a true class act. After a career marked by all possible titles in Jiu-Jitsu, and some memorable NHB fights over the years, Zé Mario had to deal with a serious injury, which required surgery, for the first time in his professional and victorious career more than a decade long. This didn't take away Mario's will to fight and only some months later he is already back in great fashion, at a brand new event that will be broadcast nationwide in Japan by one of the country's most famous TV stations, attracting a cast of celebrities outside of the ring such as Mike Tyson and NHB's legendary Rickson Gracie. In a conversation with FCF just one day before leaving for the land of the rising sun, Sperry shared his views on his last fight, his serious knee injury, his next challenge and much more. As Full Contact Fighter is more heated than ever for UFO, he continues to be all about class! Let the "Zen Machine" speak...

Mario Sperry FCF:   Your last fight was against Murilo Ninja, at PRIDE 20. This fight was considered by many one of the best fights in recent years. Now, after some time has passed, how do you analyze that fight? Would you do anything different?
MS:     Man, in fact I believe I entered the fight too confident and at the time I don't know what happened. I thought, "I'm going to test how this kid fighting standing up" and I risked trading strikes. There I paid the price of my will to test things. You know, I'm an older guy and I already conquered a lot of things in my life, but this for me, despite being a job, is something exciting! So I like to test myself, to rate myself, and unfortunately in the beginning of the fight I took a serious knockdown that got me dazed for twenty minutes and injured my knee. That doesn't take away his merit! He is a spectacular guy, who knows the ground game, knows Muay Thai and has a great physical condition! But that punch I took in the beginning of the fight decided it for sure.

FCF:   You injured your knee in the first round of that fight. What made you continue till the end? Was it tough to fight like that?
MS:     Sincerely speaking, I didn't feel much pain in my knee at the time. I felt that something was wrong, but I didn't feel much pain. What I felt was a bit of a lack in response from my knee. I wasn't been able to do a good guard, I wasn't being able to change positions and position myself, which is my strong point. Despite the fact that Murilo is a strong guy who knows the game very well, he was pushing me and having a certain superiority in the clinch, and this doesn't happen in the academy when I train with athletes who weighs more than 110kg [242.5 lbs.], strong guys who are used to wrestling. Fighting for me is my life! It's a pleasure for me to be able to keep fighting and for me this was an unforgettable fight! I gained a lot experience with it. I spent twenty minutes fighting with a top guy, feeling debilitated, all broke up! [Laughs] For me this is a pleasure! I would only stop if the referee told me to stop or if he knocked me out!

FCF:   On the tape, it's evident that you massage your knee during the fight....
MS:     No! There I was putting my knee back into place! Every time you see me putting my hand on my knee during the fight is because I'm putting it back into place.

FCF:   I know you're extremely professional, but would you like a second fight against Ninja?
MS:     I would like another fight with Ninja not to prove I'm better or to take any doubts of what could've happened if I did anything different. I would like to fight him again because he is a great fighter and for me it would be a great experience, as any other great fighter! Like I would fight against Vanderlei, or against Tito Ortiz, because they're all great fighters and for me a great challenge is always welcome! This is what I look for. I look after challenges, like I did against Vovchanchyn. I try to improve and surpass my limits; this is what makes me alive and willing to train. So, of course it would be a great pleasure to fight against Murilo Ninja again, but not because of revenge or anything like that. I don't believe in "ifs," I believe in victory and defeat. If you won, you won, if you lost you lost. But if one day I get to fight him again, it will be a pleasure because he is a great athlete.

FCF:   Your knee injury wound up being more serious than even you thought, and you ended up having to have surgery. How was it for you to have to go through this situation for the first time, after such a long career free of injuries?
MS:     Well, that's how it goes man! Everything in life serves as experience. I'm a guy that always took pride in never having to take any surgery in my career and never suffering any serious injury. I only had small injuries during my career that would never make me have to stop training because of them. This was the first time this happened in my career and in some sense I'm using this as experience! I was hurt and started to do physiotherapy and learned some ways to train without hurting myself, so I try to face everything that comes in my life as a challenge and a situation to improve us in the future and try to pass it to the younger guys. So it was something positive.

FCF:   And how was the recovery? How is your knee today, and how were the training sections?
MS:     My knee is fine now. In the past I always reached my top level a bit before the competition, and this time I reached it at the right time, just before the competition. I only got confident to do takedowns, to punch and kick only around the last two or three weeks. But I didn't stop training! I was doing other work like running in the sand, lifting weights, doing fighting movements without much effort, and this gave me a good result because now I'm in shape and training well! I'm even training better than I was before.

FCF:   You are coming back to NHB and this time fighting in a new event, the UFO. What do you expect from this new event, and how did this opportunity come about?
MS:     This opportunity appeared because I'm a personal friend of the owner of the event... I don't know if he is the owner, but he is one of the main promoters of it, and he invited us! He even put in the event's poster, in a polite way by the way, "Participation and Collaboration of the Brazilian Top Team" so for me it's going to be a huge pleasure to participate in this event! I expect it to be a great event and I expect it to be successful, not only to improve my image, but to open a new door for all the other fighters who practice NHB, because the more top events we have in the world, the more working opportunities we'll all have!

FCF:   How will be your (and the fighters you represent) relationship with PRIDE from now on? Can we expect to see you in PRIDE still this year as well?
MS:     In fact our relationship didn't change a bit. We have our representative in Japan who does the other side of the negotiation, and if some problems appear it'll be with him, because all of us are fighters, and in some sense we're following the contract that was presented to us. We are all honorable people, of course, most of all we stand by our word and we're PRIDE fighters! I want to make it clear, 'cause we have a lot of pride in it and we all consider ourselves PRIDE fighters. But, since we were invited last year to participate in an event, the UFO, and gave them our word that we could fight as long as the name of the event was in the PRIDE contract allowing us to fight, and since this was exactly what happened, we got in difficult situation! Because if we don't fight in the UFO, which we're allowed to do by contract and which invitation we accepted when we signed our PRIDE contract, we will get in a bad situation with UFO, and in my opinion since we're allowed to fight by contract we're not doing anything wrong. We're not doing anything against our contract, and we're following it in a correct way. We're not fooling anybody; we're honoring our word with all the parties involved. As for fighting again in PRIDE this year, you can expect it for sure! We already have some fights scheduled for the 29th of September, with the participation of Ricardo Arona, and even Minotauro may fight as well. Maybe even me! Let's see what will happen.

FCF:   Your opponent will be the Japanese fighter Wataru Sakata. What do you know about him?
MS:     I know he is left-handed and kicks well. I saw some of his fights and he moves well on the ground. He's improved a lot in the last few years. Let's see if my strategy will work better this time.

FCF:   Despite the fact that anything can happen in a fight, how do you believe this fight will end up unfolding?
MS:     Look, I intend to take the fight to where I feel more comfortable as soon as possible: the ground. And from there I'll try to do what I do the best, submit him. This is what I'll try to do, finish him as soon as possible. I'll try to achieve this objective. I have my strategy but I'm well aware that anything can happen in a fight.

FCF:   You've always opted to face top-level athletes. Is it tough for you to face a supposedly lower level fighter like Sakata, since he doesn't have anything to lose in this fight?
MS:     I don't even think much about it. In fact I don't choose opponents, I fight with the athletes the events offered me. They offered me Vovchanchyn and I accepted it, then they offered me Murilo Ninja and I hesitated a bit because I wanted to fight Dan Henderson, who is also a great athlete, because he beat him not because he is better than Ninja and because professionally it would be better and in terms of fight the two fights would be just as tough, and now they offered me Sakata so I don't have much to think. The only thing I think of is to get there, do my work and try to finish the fight as soon as possible, in the best possible way and get back home!

FCF:   The BJJ Worlds just took place and the Brazilian Top Team had a good showing. After seeing all the guys preparing with the gi on, did you feel like fighting with the gi again? Will we see Mario Sperry fighting with the gi on again in the future?
MS:     Man! I'll tell you! Every year I say I'm going to fight and every year a problem arises. In fact it's complicated, because when I go there to the Worlds, I get crazy! And now that I'm seeing my students fighting and winning, I even have a student who won in the super-heavyweight black belt division, so I'm willing to do it again. I'm in good shape, trained in the same level of the guys there and I didn't see much difference in terms of technique, just a bit because of the time since I haven't been training with the gi for a while, but I trained well with the guys and even got a bit carried away! Unfortunately I couldn't fight due to my compromise with the UFO, but if next year I'm feeling well and have time to train, I'm going to fight it for sure! I have a major will to compete in the Worlds again and maybe become champion again.

FCF:   Speaking of titles and fights, does your fight in the UFO have a weight division? How much will you be weighting for this fight?
MS:     Man, it doesn't have weight divisions. They didn't ask me my weight, and didn't request anything, so I'll come there with my regular weight, which is 98, 99kg.

FCF:   What are Mario Sperry's plans, as fighter, manager, surfer, pilot, and everything else you do with your time for the rest of 2002? [Laughs]
MS:     At first, my priority is to train, fight and help the guys from the academy, not only training but getting them some fights as well. But with some free time on my hands I'm doing anything! You can invite me to do anything! From surfing to bungee jumping, from diving to swimming... I'm going for it! [Laughs]

FCF:   Thanks a lot and good luck in your fight!
MS:     Thanks a lot man!

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