Carlo Prater’s long. amazing trip from Brazil to USA to Thailand and back
This is number fifty-nine in Jack Brown’s series of interviews with MMA fighters and personalities, and for this particular interview, we’re pleased to feature veteran MMA fighter, Carlo Prater. Prater’s an American, who was born in Brazil and spent part of his childhood there. But the world has been his home as a fighter, as he has traveled across the globe to seek his training. Prater has fought for both WEC and the UFC. Currently fighting at lightweight, Prater even holds a win over former UFC welterweight champion, Carlos Condit. And Prater’s not done fighting yet. Please enjoy the conversation below.
Jack Brown: What was your first experience with martial arts/combat sports, and how did it become more than just a hobby for you?
Carlo Prater: Well, my parents had been American missionaries in Brazil since the seventies. I was born in São Paulo in 1981. After my sister was born in Brasilia, the capital, my dad took a pulpit job in Connecticut in 1987, and moved us to the US. To ease the transition, I guess, my parents put me in Tang Soo Do, and I did that for three years or so. Our family bounced around, as missionary families tend to do. Then my parents split, and my pops and I moved to the Oklahoma City area in 1993.
I wrestled a season or two in middle school in Edmond, Oklahoma, and that summer of 1995, I watched the first UFCs on VHS. I immediately sought out the first Jiu-Jitsu /Judo gym I could find in OKC. The man who I first started training with was Bill Sharp, and the training was out of his garage. My dad would drive me out there after wrestling practice, every day, to train. After competing all over the southwest US in Judo, BJJ, and grappling tournaments, Jeff Lindsey “recruited” me, at a sub wrestling tournament in 1996, to come and train with him in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He was fighting NHB (that’s what we used to call MMA), and competing in BJJ and grappling, all over. He had all of the best and toughest guys coming to train with him at that time. Guys like Kentric Coleman, Hossein Kolami, and Jeff were fighting all over the southwest, and I just did the best to soak up all the training and tag along. I used to get out of wrestling practice, and my dad being so supportive of my athletic interest, would run me out to the gym to train BJJ and NHB with all those guys who were fighting. I would be so tired sometimes. I would fall asleep on the way back home at night, get back and eat some noodles, and crash and wake up to go to school and daydream my way through high school all day, just to do it again later.
In 1998, my dad got a job offer in Brasilia, and we returned to my childhood city, where I immediately started training BJJ, with Julio Pudim and Sandro Bala, and Luta Livre, with Marcus Gões, simultaneously. I really started picking up my training during my last couple years of high school down there. Waldo Santa Cruz was a former Cuban national team boxer who had just moved to Brasilia, and I started training daily with him also.
Then, in 2000 and 2001, I went to Thailand and fell in love with striking. I started taking Thai bouts and making Baht. That was when I really started to realize I could mix it all up and possibly be successful in MMA.
JB: What do you recall about your first professional MMA fight, back in 2002, and how prepared do you feel you were at the time?
CP: I graduated high school in 2000, in Brasilia, and I used my college fund to go to Thailand on two different occasions in the span of two years. I also went out up to Miletich’s in 2001, with Jeff Lindsey, and just trained as much as I could. I was at the point where I was either headed to Cuba, to learn their boxing for real and stay with a friend at the Finca, or I was going to start college. LOL. I chose the latter and went to Texas to stay near my mom and sister, who I never really got to be around much growing up. I immediately showed up at Yves Edwards’ Third Column gym in The Woodlands, Texas, in late August of 2002. I had hit it off well enough with him, and he called up his trainer, Saul Soliz, who was also promoting shows in Texas. Soliz put me in a four-man tournament a couple months into training, and I ended up winning. I remember feeling very well-prepared for it because of all my previous experience.
JB: You started off your career on a 10-0 run, and by the time you debuted in WEC in 2008, you were 21-4-1, with wins along the way over Pat Healy, Spencer Fisher, Melvin Guillard, and Carlos Condit. What would you attribute your success to in the early part of your career?
CP: I was just runnin’ and gunnin’, training two-a-days with Yves Edwards, Rocky Long, Lewis Wood, Tim Credeur, Todd Moore, Randy Hauer, Lee King, and, of course, Saul Soliz, Monday through Saturday. I was going to Kenny Weldon’s gym to spar, and I was going up to Oklahoma, whenever I could, to wrestle at the UCO and OSU rooms with Muhammed Lawal, who Jeff Lindsey was training with for his MMA bouts. I was doing twelve hour semesters in school, still. LOL. I was also looking for fights and going with Yves to his UFC bouts. I was fighting in anything under the sun. It could be kickboxing, boxing, MMA, sub wrestling, and anywhere, against anyone available. It could be going up in weight, down a weight, around a weight, through a weight. LOL. Taking replacement bouts, short notice, it didn’t matter the rules, opponent, or promotion. No real “career” planning, no manager, making almost no money, I was living broke, but happy, drunk off glory and the thrill of fighting. I was sleeping on couches, driving all over the place. I was living off the energy of the dream, the thrill of victory, the constant challenge. Those were the good old days, the blood by the gallon days, the all or nothing days. LOL.
JB: You debuted in WEC at WEC 32. That night you had a rematch with Carlos Condit in a title fight for the WEC welterweight championship. How much did that fight differ from all those that preceded it, and, after the loss, were you hoping for a chance at a trilogy?
CP: That fight showed me just how important the mental aspect is at that high of a level of competition. My manager at the time, Ken Pavia, had set it all up. I truly thank him for that and would have loved to make good on the shot that they gave me. He was defending his strap and used to the bright lights and distractions. I had never fought for them. I sort of felt like I had to convince everybody I deserved the shot. I was in phenomenal shape, technically sharp, and really motivated. I did a camp in Brasilia, then for the last month, with Saul Soliz’s guys in Houston. I had a really good camp. Brian Melancon, Mike Bronzoulis, Jeff Rexroad, and Yves came and helped. In the end, once I was in there, though, I folded. My hat goes off to him. He showed up that day, motivated to beat me no matter what, in his hometown, the same place where I had smoked him years earlier. I have a deep respect for Carlos, and of course, I would love a third fight between us. It seems a distant possibility at the moment, but who knows what the future holds for us? Having said that, one quote I always keep in mind is, “Never say never.”
JB: You eventually debuted in the UFC, in January of 2012, in a welterweight fight against Erick Silva, at UFC 142 down in Rio. You won via a somewhat controversial disqualification for Silva. What did you take away from that experience, of fighting in the UFC for the first time and winning in that fashion, all while in your native Brazil?
CP: All in all the experience for me personally was bittersweet. I was training other up and coming pros in Brasilia, and my manager, Jason Chambers, called me in the middle of wrestling practice about my dream coming true. It was short notice to step in and go up in weight, and I jumped at it. I was so elated. I had toiled in the game for years, finished some guys that were in there, and I felt I had deserved to be there. I would do it all over if presented the same opportunity again.
I took a knee to the solar plexus and caught the leg. While I was on that single, trying to run the pipe, I felt an intense stinger down my neck and out my right arm which paralyzed my movement. I crumpled to my side as he sprawled, and I just wanted to not feel that intense, pulsing, paralyzing shock. I thought I had just lost my debut by TKO, quickly, and was crushed. They sat me on a stool, and then walked me out into the backstage area. I didn’t find out that they had DQ’d him until I was in back.
I had no intention of winning that way and don’t consider it a win. I would never do that. I have always earned my wins, and showed up to fight. I consider myself a warrior through and through. I would rather be KO’d cleanly than take a “win” like that. I was harassed, heckled, my integrity was attacked, people were implying that I was faking it, I was receiving threats, etc., etc., etc. It was horrible for me. The media was rehashing it, rubbing it in, replaying it, over and over and over. I mean, I get it. It’s people’s jobs. I get that. It was all just very painful for me though. That part was horrible for me. The crowd, I already knew how fans could be, but it was pretty brutal. I learned a lot about human nature while en masse. As a fighter, and also fan of fighting, I understand that people want blood and gore. Fighters, when we see our opponent is hurt, we should go for the kill. Let me reiterate. Those initial shots, I truly believe, were unintentional, heat of the moment. Erick is a good guy. We talked afterwards, and we have talked and everything since. He apologized to me for the shots and I apologized to him for not offering more of a fight. He is an awesome fighter.
In the days following, in the hospital, I realized how much more is at stake. I applaud and admire Mario Yamasaki for doing his job. He is there to protect fighter safety and ensure the rules are enforced, and I thank him for stopping the bout and saving me from taking more punishment, because I was absolutely unable to protect myself at that point. He did his job extremely well and is one of the best referees in all of the game.
The UFC also took the utmost care of my distraught wife and me in the days following, while I was in the hospital. They really took care of us and everyone from the incredible Burt Watson, to Donna Marcolini, showed extreme professionalism and kindness towards me, and also my wife, by making sure she got to me and rearranging flights. Keith Kizer and the NSAC upheld that decision after reviewing the tapes at the NSAC. I have nothing but positive things to say about my treatment by Erick in his remorse, the UFC and their staff in their treatment of me, and the integrity of the NSAC and Mario Yamasaki. I just felt thrown under the bus by the media, all because controversy sells. The people associated with me, my family, my dear friends, were feeling like they had to defend me. I felt worse than anything for the backlash directed towards them. It was an unfortunate situation for everyone. It’s in the past so I have moved on.
On a side note, I would like to state that I would support a review of the current rules, and I would like to see an end to all traumatic blows to behind the ear-line and nape. That is where the brain stem meets the spinal cord, and that general area is where our muscle coordination, reflexes, and nervous system are housed. And traumatic blows, that can discombobulate and incapacitate an athlete that is totally dependent on his reflexes and muscle coordination, can be potentially catastrophic when dealing with such highly trained martial artists who are trained to strike so powerfully. We have seen several instances of this “controversy” since then, involving this exact same scenario, and we will undoubtedly see more in the future.
JB: You returned to lightweight for your next two fights in the UFC after UFC 142. In the first fight, you went the distance with current #1 contender, TJ Grant, but lost by decision, and then in the next fight, you lost by split decision to Marcus LeVesseur. How would you summarize your first stint in the UFC and what do you think of the promotion?
CP: I have no regrets or complaints at all, and I mean that. They are an incredible business. They really take care of their employees, and all of the behind-the-scenes people are extremely attentive, respectful, and professional. I’ve nothing bad to say at all. I am a friend of theirs. They were instrumental in growing this sport of MMA and gave me three opportunities to earn my keep. It took a decade to make it to the big show, and once I got there, I couldn’t win. They gave me a shot, two, three. I do believe one day, somehow, I will be back there. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. I will never give up trying to get back there, and who knows how this thing will all pan out one day. Like the late, great, Evan Tanner used to say, “Believe.”
JB: You are coming off a tough decision loss to Carlos Diego Ferreira in the main event of Legacy FC 20. How are you feeling after that fight and what goals remain for you in your fighting career?
CP: I am not going to lie. I took it hard, man. I always train so hard, dedicate myself so much. I live a disciplined lifestyle. I sacrifice time away from my wife and son, my students, and home. I travel to train and I maintain loyalty to my trainers and team. When I lose, they lose, and when I win, it’s all of us winning. I live this lifestyle, through and through. I also realize we can’t win them all as well. I try to take lessons from every battle and get better out there and every day in the gym. The opponent also trains his balls off as well, and if he is fighting me, is no doubt topnotch and highly motivated because he surely knows how seriously I take this and that I show up to win. Carlos fought the fight of his life, and I had a very bad night. I made some mistakes, namely a foot sweep that went wrong in the first. He capitalized with a laser back-take. My stand-up was off. I actually let him touch me. I gave up the takedown. He just was on, man. No hate here. I can appreciate when the underdog beats the favorite. I have done it many, many times myself. My hat goes off to him, and I wish him success in the future, truly.
JB: You are a true veteran of the sport. What other fighters and coaches have you come to admire or respect throughout your years of fighting?
CP: This list is long so bear with me. Bill Sharp, Bob Perez, and Pat Burris, for being outstanding Judoka, and teaching me Bushido. Coaches Dougherty and Huff, at Edmond Memorial, for teaching me such a hard work ethic in the wrestling room. Jeff Lindsey, who I have as a brother, he started me on this path and has never left my side. He has proven over and over in my life to be one of my best friends. Julio Pudim, and his brother, Sandro Bala, for taking in a damn gringo wrestler and teaching me true Carlson Gracie distillate Jiu-Jitsu. Julio is now, unfortunately, paraplegic after suffering a car-jacking in 2009, and to this day, still commands the mats and training at 2 Brothers in Brasilia. He never ceases to amaze me with his dedication in overcoming the seemingly insurmountable obstacles laid in front of him. Marcus Gões, and later, Marcio Cromado and Alexandre Pequeno, for taking in this damn gringo, who also trained Jiu-Jitsu simultaneously during the heyday of the Luta Livre and BJJ rivalry in Brazil, and teaching me the noble art of Luta Livre. Kru Andy, at Kiat Busaba, in Chiang Mai. Kru Sang, Kru Phet, Kru Kang, Kru King Kong, Kru Toy Senanan, and Mark Dellagrotte for really teaching me true Muay Thai while in Pattaya, twelve years ago. The late, Kru Yodtong Senanan, was something to behold, and at seventy plus years old, could still get down, straight Muay Chaya or Boran if needed. And there is King Mo, for always having my back, whether it was running us ragged after his practices at UCO and then OSU, or letting me crash at his dorm at the OTC. LOL. He is all heart. Of course, Yves Edwards, a guy that is infinitely talented and equally knowledgeable in fighting arts, he took me under his wing and showed me the game. And thanks to Saul Soliz, for his constant support, time and time again. He has trained me and groomed me to be a champion, and one day, God as my witness, I will make him proud. Tim Credeur, for the training, friendship, and just general kick-ass good time we always had together. Randy Hauer, Lee King, Mike Bronzoulis, Brian Melancon, Jeff Rexroad, and all of the core group of fighters that always kept me sharp in Houston. Jeff Messina, Domingo Pilarte, and the guys at Revolution Dojo. Lewis Wood and Kenny Weldon in teaching me proper boxing like the line, weight transfer, and other fundamentals that I have used time and time again. Mike Altman, for his help and the intro into Chinese San Shou. John Moore, TJ Waldburger, and the Grapplers Lair guys. Cyril “Jeff ” Smith, Will Bingham, Sean Fitzmaurice at Proformance Guards, House of Pain, Tecniik, and DOM Fight Gear. Reverend Bart, for the friendship and survival skills. And of course, the awesome Smith Family at Ammo To Go, for always being there with me, through the ups and downs. Kru Nilson Jr., in Brasilia, for the years of training in different striking styles. My buddy and conditioning coach, José Bonifacio Neto. Acelino “Popó” Freitas and Ulysses Pereira for the boxing work in Brasilia. Rafael Alejarra, as well, for his help. All the great guys at American Top Team, such as Ricardo Libório, The Master, Marcos “Parrumpinha” da Matta, Katel Kubis, Leonardo “Macarrão,” Coach Kami, and Mike Brown for really welcoming me and helping me last year. Drew Fickett, for being an all-around warrior and friend, even though I still owe him a beating. LOL. Jason Chambers, for continuing to believe that I am a great fighter. So many incredible people have crossed paths with me along the way, or helped me out. I could go on and on and on.
JB: What else do you enjoy outside of training and fighting, and who are the individuals who have supported you most in life?
CP: I truly enjoy spending time with my son and family and friends. My wife and son, my dad, mom, sister, and other close friends and family are my biggest supporters for sure. They are always picking up the slack, and always got my back.
There are my dogs and cats and monkeys at home in Brasilia. I also like to mountain bike, kayak, and go to nearby waterfalls. I grill meat and drink a beer or two amongst friends at the pad. I relax and wind down in between fights and take advantage of every second while I am alive. I kick the ball with my kid, skateboard, and spin my turntables when I can. Life’s a garden, man, dig it.
JB: Last question, Carlo, and thanks for taking the time to do this. What does it mean to you to be a fighter and how much do you enjoy it?
CP: Sounds cliché, but fighting made me who I am. I learn something new about myself after every fight. I wouldn’t be the same guy without it. I have done so much and met so many incredible people through MMA. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t give thanks that I can follow my passion at such a high level. I try to reach my goal of being the best fighter I can become, and through it all, actually help sustain my family through this incredible gift I have.
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