"I Can Beat the Champion Fedor," Says Zuluzinho;
Brazilian Behemoth Prepares for Fight of His Life

By Marcelo Alonso

Zuluzinho and Ricardinho Bulldog
Zuluzinho and Bulldog
Up until last June, Zuluzinho was almost an unknown fighter even by most Brazilian MMA fans, as his 35-0 record had been built in very small and regional events. Six months later, the "newcomer" is set to face PRIDE Heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko on New Year's Eve in a non-title "Shockwave" main event. How did he get there?

For the son of the famed "King" of the Vale Tudo fights from yesteryear [Zulu's two fights with Rickson Gracie in the 80s are infamous], it all began at Jungle Fight IV in Amazonia on May 21. The Brazilian MMA press spotted Zuluzinho in the audience and took a picture of him next to Jungle Fight's promoter Wallid Ismail. This picture was printed in Kakutougi Tsushin's pages [in Japan] and posted on the Internet. The most intriguing detail of the picture was the amazing size difference that could be seen between the 5'7",190-pound Ismail and the giant 6'6", 350-pound-plus Zuluzinho.

From that picture, Zuluzinho began receiving proposals from numerous international shows. Two months later, he debuted on the international MMA scene fighting against a wrestler from Poland named Rafal Dabrowski of MMA Team Poland/Outsider Club. The bout took place at Cage Warriors' Strike Force 2 on July 16th in England. Zuluzinho steamrolled over his opponent and knocked him out two minutes into the second round with a powerful sequence of punches. Upon his return to Brazil, he was surprised with all sorts of offers.

"Suddenly lots of people were looking for me, promising many things," says Zuluzinho. "It was something absolutely new for me and I became a little confused. When I finally got a proposal to do one fight in Japan, I had hurt my ankle one month before the show. So I decided to take time off from everything to take care of my injury and concentrate on my international career. I had to study carefully all proposals I had on my hands. So, during my recovery time I watched the final round of the PRIDE Grand Prix on TV. 'What an amazing show,' I thought. 'I would like to be there one day and I'm sure if I have the opportunity I can beat the champion Fedor,'" stated Zuluzinho.

Zuluzinho, whose real name is Wagner da Conceicao Martins, made his MMA debut five years ago in Teresina, a city near Sao Luiz. One month after his first fight, he was challenged by a 5'3", 154-pound fighter named Ricardo Candido Gomes, a former Cassio Facanha BJJ black belt, known as Ricardinho Bulldog, from Manaus. "I had seen Zuluzinho's first fight and realized he didn't know how to punch well at that time. So I thought, 'I will try to take this huge guy to the ground and then I will submit him,'" says Ricardinho, who made the public challenge at an MMA show where Zuluzinho's father, Rei Zulu [Rei translates to "King" in Portuguese], was fighting in the main event.

Then, fate stepped in. Four months after the public challenge, Zuluzinho entered a gym in Sao Luiz interested in learning jiu-jitsu and boxing. What Zuluzinho never imagined was that the gym belonged to Ricardinho.

Zulu and Zuluzinho
Father and son
"My father told me about the public challenge and instructed me to take some jiu-jitsu lessons," says Zuluzinho. "So I went to the gym and said that I was there to train in order to face a man called Bulldog. Ricardinho was there. He walked in, stopped in front of me and said, 'Hello I am the teacher and my name is Ricardinho Bulldog, the man who challenged you.' So, after some laughs came from both sides, we forgot the challenge and then Ricardinho started training me to improve my game. He is a great fighter with a record of 12-0-0 in MMA and he has been working as my coach for the last five years," says Zuluzinho.

After starting to train jiu-jitsu, Zuluzinho began looking for a boxing teacher and found one of the best of Brazil, Ulisses Pereira, who was impressed with Zuluzinho's power and invited him to train with the Brazilian national team. "He is really strong and has good boxing skills. Unfortunately due to the distance [Zuluzinho lives in Maranhao and the Brazilian boxing team trains in Para], he stopped training with us, but I'm sure he will have a great future in Vale Tudo," predicts Pereira, who recently became the boxing trainer of the Chute Boxe team.

A jiu-jitsu purple belt and a skilled boxer who has already trained with the national boxing team, Zuluzinho speaks of his father with respect and care, who presented his son as his successor at the age of 16. "It happened ten years ago and I still remember how proud he was," recalls Zuluzinho. "My father was a great MMA idol, but didn't get much money and has had to continue fighting to this day in order to survive. I will fix that. I represent my father's style and will prove to the fight world the power of the Zulu family," promises Zuluzinho.

At the last PRIDE event [Fully Loaded back in October], the world was introduced to Zulu's second generation - Wagner Zuluzinho (which means "small Zulu" in Portuguese). After winning 37 fights - all by knockout or submission - in the Brazilian North and Northeastern regions, Zuluzinho's PRIDE debut over American Henry Miller [a.k.a. Sentoryu] was deemed a lackluster victory. "I was very upset. The way this fight went, I could not show my skills to the Japanese audience," the 27-year-old fighter says.

Following his debut, the 6'6", 350-pound-plus "Zulu" was invited by promoters to face the reputed best pound-for-pound fighter in the world in PRIDE Heavyweight Champion Emelianenko.

"This time I hope to show the fans that I'm much more than a huge guy; I'm a good fighter," the man called the Brazilian Bob Sapp says. Zuluzinho has invited Ruas Vale Tudo's Antoine Jaoude, the Brazilian Olympic wrestler, to help him work on his wrestling for the bout. "I respect Fedor a lot, but I hope he does like Sentoryu and [does] not ask for special rules."

It looks as if Zuluzinho will get his wish. As of press time, no special rules have been publicly announced for the main event, which will match the Russian machine versus the burly newcomer. PRIDE Shockwave 2005 debuts on pay-per-view in America on Sunday, January 1st.

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