This past Wednesday saw another Bellator card, with the semi final round of the light heavyweight tournament on prominent display. There were some great fights on that main card, and also a bittersweet moment when a man that can legitimately be called a legend, finally hung up his fighting gloves for good.
Renato 'Babalu' Sobral has been a staple in mixed martial arts since 1997, with wins over some of the biggest names in the sport. He once beat Jeremy Horn, Trevor Prangley and Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua in a single night, back when those names struck fear into the hearts of their opponents.
We rarely get to see fighters round out their careers on a win. To bear witness to Renato going so hard in his final outing, only to be stopped with a little over a minute left in the fight, was kind of heart breaking for me. Maybe he was a little slower, and maybe his punches didn't have the pop they once had, but he was the grizzled veteran doing what veterans do; scoring points and staying busy. I feel that if the fight had gone the distance, there was a good chance he would have pulled off the victory.
When I spoke with Babalu this morning, he was in great spirits. He sounded like a man that was turning the page to a wonderful, new chapter in life. It made me feel better after I spoke with him. I have always associated the retirement of a fighter as a forced measure, something they did when they could no longer string together coherent sentences. It's nice to know that some of these guys retire at the right time, and don't try to extend their run artificially. Sobral has no thoughts of returning to fighting, and plans to remain active in MMA through other, non competitive avenues like his business venture, Babalu's Iron Gym.
Here's what he had to say when reflecting back on his illustrious career:
Jacob Noe Fight
I thought they stopped it way too soon. Jacob was on the other side of the cage. It is what it is, and the referee called it a finish. I got a little bit pissed off right away, because I didn't understand why he stopped the fight, but then I realized that whatever I did wasn't going to change anything. That was his call. I have to respect his decision. I thought the call was a little too soon, but it is what it is.
The good thing about this is that I chose when to retire. My decision was made before I ever stepped in that cage. Nobody retired me. I retired myself. I'm clear with my thought. I'm clear with my mind. I made peace with myself and with my fans. I left the cage just fine. I don't see me ever coming to the cage again as a fighter. I can go back in as a coach or maybe a referee, a person in the crowd, but not as a fighter. No more.
Contribution To MMA
I am very happy with my career. You know, I made my mistakes, but I still think I helped the sport to be where it is today. I started fighting when there weren't many rules and no time limits. Then the rules came along, and I adapted to those. I've fought in rings and cages, with different rules across many countries. I think my passion and love of this sport helped it grow. Ten or fifteen years will pass from now, and I'll still be fighting for this sport. It will just be outside the cage. I plan to be active in some way for many years.
Global Domination Tournament
That night was very emotional for me. It wasn't just because of the fights. My blood brother, who was my closest friend, he passed away two moths before that fight. He passed away in July, and I fought in September.
I had every reason to back out of that tournament. I had the feeling to just not compete, but when I went in there that night, I fought those fights for him. I gave those victories to him. That was a unique night for me because I felt like I had some extra powers inside of me.
Best Career Period
I think my best period was in the beginning, when I fought in Rings in Japan. I was making money and it was almost a romantic time in my life. I was traveling every two months to Japan, Brazil, Russia. Man .... not much to worry about. Not worrying about who you have to represent. You just had to get over there, fight, get a pay check and have fun.
You meet so many people and make good friends. I didn't have kids and a family then. I didn't have any commitment to anything. I just had to step in there and fight. I had so much fun during that time. I don't think people realize how cool it was fighting in Japan back in those days. There wasn't all the pressure over you like now. It was just fighting. It was beautiful.
I have great memories from that time. No one can take that away from me. I can die in a dungeon in Afghanistan, but those memories will always be mine. These are priceless to me. All the people that I met along the way, it's priceless, too.
That's a good question. I think it would be maybe Chuck Liddell.
All the experiences from my losses makes me a better person. When I got my ass kicked, I think I deserved it [laughs]. Any mistakes I made made me smarter, made me wiser. They made me stronger, and they made me a better person. Bad things in life happen so they can make you stronger. That's how I see it.
Well, I cannot judge anybody, but I can tell you about myself, and how I feel about it in general. I don't think this is fair to anybody. If you're controlling your hormone level like that, it's not really true. I think they should follow the Olympic games guidelines.
If you're old, you should just step out of the sport. If you cannot fight because the testosterone levels are lower, you should retire.What can I say here? These are decisions I cannot make. There has to be commissioners that have to decide these things.
I would never use it [testosterone therapy] to keep fighting. If I ever had to use it for any kind of health problem outside of fighting, like if I had health issues, that would be different. But for fighting, no way. I think this is considered cheating.
For my gym, I haven't put together a 'fight team' or any team or anything like that. I have a different perspective than most fighters do when they open their gyms. I'm not looking to turn people into professional fighters. If it happens here and there, and it might, that's different, but it's not what I strive for.
My gym is for health and wellness. It's a lifestyle gym. I do teach jiu jitsu there, to both kids and adults. I try to teach the people that come to my gym how it's important to lead a healthy life. You should work out and be active in your life. It's an activity that should be as natural to you as eating or taking a shower.
I think jiu jitsu is a great sport and a great way to keep you healthy. It's something you can learn for many reasons. You can defend yourself, you can get in shape, you can learn discipline and you you can have fun. You don't have to be a fighter if you train jiu jitsu. You can just use it towards being a better person. That's what I teach at my gym.
Parting Words For Fans
Thank you very much for following me throughout my career. I'm sorry if I have disappointed anyone for mistakes that I have made in my life. I hope you understand that everything I've done in my life wasn't pretending or fake. Everything was 100% honest and true and made with my heart. Thank you for being there for me.
You can follow Babalu via his Twitter account, @BabalusIronGym