MMA Legend: Murilo Bustamante


Sherdog has a nice piece up checking in with former UFC middleweight champ Murilo Bustamante who'll be fighting for the first time in several years at tonight's Impact FC: The Uprising Sydney. They cover his epic 1996 match with superheavyweight wrestler Tom Erikson:

Bustamante entered an eight-man tournament and advanced to a finals showdown with feared nearly 300-pound wrestling standout Tom Erikson.

"My manager at the time tried to schedule an easier single fight," Bustamante recalls. "He wanted to put my student Carlos Barreto in the tournament, but I preferred to fight in the tournament because I thought I was more prepared and wanted to test myself against good fighters."

The bout between Erikson and Bustamante is one of the more notable fights from that period, presaging both an evolution in wrestlers' MMA strategy and the development of weight classes.

Erikson outweighed Bustamante by nearly 100 pounds, but Bustamante's jiu-jitsu was able to neutralize Erikson for the most part on the ground. Erikson eventually decided to simply stand back up and utilize his size and strength advantage in a kickboxing battle with Bustamante. The bout was declared a draw, but many considered it a win for the much smaller Brazilian.

I covered that fight and the legendary camp that Bustamante emerged from in MMA History XI: Carlson Gracie's Mighty Camp.

Bustamante went on from the MARS tournament to notch a notable win against Lion's Den fighter Jerry Bohlander at the Pentagon Combat event that basically killed big time international MMA in Brazil. Read more at MMA History XIV: Boom and Bust in Brazil.

More BE coverage of Impact FC: The Uprising Sydney

Sherdog also talks about his very successful UFC tenure, which started with a decision loss to Chuck Liddell -- in a fight where Bustamante was very clearly out-sized, but then took a better trajectory after he moved down to 185lbs:

Bustamante was soon invited to the UFC, where he went 3-1 and won the UFC middleweight title from Dave Menne. But the most memorable bout of his UFC tenure was a controversial tilt with Matt Lindland. Bustamante caught Lindland in an armbar in the first round and Lindland appeared to tap out. Referee John McCarthy stepped in and broke the hold, but then decided to restart the bout. Bustamante proceeded to submit Lindland again, the second time with a guillotine choke in the third round.

"I have to mention Big John is the best referee that I saw my whole life," Bustamante says with a laugh. "And I think he saved all his mistakes for my fight! I was crazy because I thought I finished the fight. I started to celebrate then he said, ‘No, go to your corner.' That was unfair. I won the fight and didn't stop because Lindland tapped but because Big John stopped it. I was really confused and upset, and during the break I tried to recover my mind. I had to keep fighting and keep my focus. Luckily I won the fight."

Frustratingly, Bustamante couldn't come to terms with the UFC to defend his title again and joined the ranks of Randy Couture, Josh Barnett, Jens Pulver, and B.J. Penn as UFC champs who left the promotion during the "dark ages" when the money was in Japan, not in the U.S.

His PRIDE tenure didn't go so well as a fighter, but he became one of the most successful coaches in the business when he co-founded the Brazilian Top Team, more from Sherdog:

It was during his time fighting for the UFC that Bustamante helped to found the renowned Brazilian Top Team. Bustamante had a disagreement with his master, Carlson Gracie, and left to start his own gym in April 2000. It gave Bustamante the opportunity to run business and training the way he saw fit.

Many notable fighters followed Bustamante, and additional fighters trickled in from other schools. Soon, BTT boasted the most impressive collection of MMA talent in the world including Bustamante, Mario Sperry, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Ricardo Arona and Paulo Filho.

BTT heavily focused on cross training and brought in specific coaches for wrestling, boxing and muay thai. Bustamante was the head coach and was responsible for devising strategies for upcoming fights. But while things were going well for Bustamante and his training center, things were not going so well for Bustamante and the UFC.

BTT was a casualty of PRIDE's collapse, like it's arch-rival the Chute Boxe academy. Rumor has it that the management of both BTT and Chute Boxe had very advantageous deals with PRIDE that were not to the advantage of the fighters they managed. When PRIDE died, the dirty laundry came out and both teams collapsed.

While I don't expect Bustamante has a lot left in his gas tank as a fighter, he deserves to be respected by any student of MMA history. From 1996 when he took the nearly 300lb Tom Erikson to the limits of human endurance to his 2003 controversial split decision loss to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Bustamante was considered one of the top fighters in all of MMA.

He was one of the first top BJJ stylists to add effective wrestling and striking to his game. He twice took down Olympic medalist Matt Lindland from the clinch before dropping him with punches and finishing him with a guillotine choke. 

His tenure as co-founder of the Brazilian Top Team was arguably more important, coaching the team that regularly contested for (and sometimes held) the PRIDE heavy and middleweight titles.

He should also be remembered as one of the fighters who did the most to carry on the jiu jitsu torch of his his long time coach and mentor Carlson Gracie, Sr.

Some of Bustamante's classic fights are in the full entry.

Here's Bustamante's first known MMA fight against Luta Livre stylist Marcelo Mendes at the the legendary 1991 Desafio - Jiu-Jitsu vs. Luta Livre event. Which pitted three BJJ fighters (Wallid Ismail, Murilo Bustamante, and Fabio Gurgel) against three Luta Livre fighters (Eugenio Tadeu, Marcelo Mendes, Denilson Maia). You can read more about that event in  MMA History I: UFC 1 Pancrase meets BJJ and the follow up MMA History II: The Ur-Brazilian MMA Feud: BJJ vs Luta Livre and the Style They Never Saw Coming:

The first round of the MARS tournament, Murilo Bustamante vs Chris Haseman

The second round of the MARS tournament, Murilo Bustamante vs Juan Mott

The controversial UFC titlefight between Murilo and Matt Lindland, UFC 37 May 10, 2002:

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