Babalu: I’ve been taking head shots since I was 11 years old

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

37-year-old Renato “Babalu” Sobral retired from fighting last week, after fighting for nearly 15 years,

The Marco Ruas protege (he later swtiched to Gracie Barra, in 2003) started fighting in his native Brazil in 1999, going 4-0. He then moved to Akira Maeda’s Rings organization in Japan, going 11-3. His only losses were to Dan Henderson, Valentijn Overeem, and a decision loss to Fedor Emelianenko.

During this period, he also made two stops in the USA, beating Brad Kohler by soccer kick in the WEF, and Mo Smith by split decision in the UFC.

That is enough fights at the highest levels of the sport for some to call it a career, but Babalu was barely warming up. In 2000 alone, he fought ten times.

In 2002 he entered the UFC, with one win and two losses, to future UFC champion Chuck Liddell and past UFC champion Kevin Randleman.

He then fought for a variety or oganizations internationally, including one of the greatest performances in the history of the sport. Sobral beat Trevor Prangley by three round decision, then handed Shogun Rua his first loss ever with a third round submission, and then beat Jeremy Horn by three round decision, winning the event title. He did it all in one night.

Babalu then went back to the UFC, in 2005, going 4-2, losing to Chuck Liddell in a title shot.

Late in 2007 he want back on the international circuit, winning the Strikeforce light heavyweight title.

In 2010 Sobral was injured in a snowboarding accident, and contemplated retirement, but he healed and returned to the cage with a quick submission win over Tatsuya Mizuno in Asia’s ONE FC.

Babalu then signed with Bellator, but the years caught up with him, and last Wednesday night he lost his fight in the oganization. Babalu then put on his gi, laid his gloves down in the center of the cage, bowed in respect to the fans and to the sport, and retired.

In an interview with MMAJunkie’s Ben Fowlkes, Babalu reflects on the joy, and on the damage done. Getting punched in the face by the likes of Chuck Liddell, Fedor Emelianenko, and Dan Henderson for a decade and a half is not a safe way to make a living. But as Sobral explains, he took more punishment still in the gym, starting at age 11.

“It’s hard because for me, fighting and stepping inside the cage, those are the greatest moments of my life,” said Sobral. “Walking in and having that feeling, you know? To know that it’s not going to happen anymore, that hurts me really bad. It hurts me really bad to say it now. But I had to say goodbye. Saying goodbye is never a good thing.”

“One of the things that I noticed is the ability to take punch. You don’t take punches the way you used to. Sometimes a little clip makes me dizzy. Before I used to take more. People think it’s from fighting, but fighting is just one thing. They don’t realize that you get clipped in training way more than you get clipped in the fight sometimes. You get a lot of punches in the head in training. Since I was 11 years old, I’ve been punched in the head. Now sometimes a little punch makes me dizzy.”

“I want to be able to see my students, my little kids that I train right now, be champion. I don’t want to have to move around in a wheelchair. I don’t think that’s going to happen, but I want to be able to do things with my life still.”

“I would like people to remember that I was a fighter who put all my heart in my fights. Every one, even my last one. I always pushed through, always went forward. That’s what I want people to remember. I helped this sport and did my share in this sport. I gave my blood in those octagons, those rings. They all have a little piece of my blood, my sweat inside.”

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