Renan Barao, Antonio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva, Paulo Thiago, Gleison Tibau and Rousimar Palhares were household names on Brazilian UFC cards over the past decade. Some of them challenged for titles and one of them even got to wear the bantamweight crown at one point; even if it seems like ages ago in a sport that can be rather unforgiving at times.
Fast forward a few years and none of those recognizable faces still fight under the Octagon’s spotlights. They all went their different ways at different moments in time when they were released from their UFC contracts. However, in 2020 all those athletes are now reunited under a promotion that seems to have materialized from thin air to sign them all: Taura MMA.
Many hardcore mixed martial arts fans might be curious about what Taura MMA is, where it came from and how they seemingly became the go-to place for most Brazilian fighters looking for a place to throw down following their stints in the UFC. After so many big shot signings, curiosity got to the point where I felt like it was time to go looking for answers.
Over the past couple of days, I got in touch with Renan Barao, Bigfoot Silva, Paulo Thiago and Taura MMA’s president, Djonatan Leao, to find out exactly why they attract so many Brazilian UFC veterans and just what are they planning to do with them all in the near future.
After a brief conversation with Leao, it became clear that Taura’s ambitions are quite big. Once a small Brazilian promotion from the country’s southern region, they now aim to go toe-to-toe with the planet’s biggest leagues, which is why they need all those famous UFC names to draw the fans.
“Taura has been around for four years. It all started as a small event inside a gym to promote that gym. I’m also part of the Nogueira Brother’s franchise. We started out small, but we had the goal of becoming the biggest promotion in Rio Grande do Sul (Brazil’s southern most state). Soon enough we became the biggest one in the South. Then we wanted to become one of the biggest ones in Brazil. Now our goal is to become one of the biggest ones in the world. That is why we’ve been drawing so much attention lately.”
“We want to be on the same level as those promotions (Bellator, PFL and ONE),” Leao continued. “That’s the reason behind all those deals we’ve been closing. In fact, those fighters we’re signing are just as good as the ones fighting in those other promotions when it comes to quality. We have lots of undefeated prospects who aren’t so known yet. But we’ve been able to generate some buzz with the former UFC fighters, guys who are already big names in the sport. We want to mix the new generation with the current generation and also the veterans.”
With an October and a November card scheduled to mark their debut in the United States, Taura MMA is now a full-on USA-based operation, Leao revealed. With offices running things inside the country, Leao believes that—along with big name signings—is crucial in order to make them break through and become a top tier promotion.
However, that does not mean any former UFC athlete automatically has a chance to close a deal with Taura. In order for a fighter to sign a contract with the company, Leao explained that they need to pull their weight, too. That is, they need to be charismatic and show a willingness to work with them.
Should fighters share the same mindset as Taura’s leading man, they can expect to be well-compensated, according to Leao (who did not provide any numbers to back this up). In addition to compensation, Leao also said his fighters can expect special treatment in the form of respect and honest communication. In Leao’s opinion, this model of promotion-fighter relationship is what attracted most of their new signings.
“What makes us different is the details. We treat the athletes how they deserve to be treated. I’m not only talking about our budget. I’m talking about mutual respect, the attention we give them. Even though our athletes might be already famous, we want them to have the attention they deserve in the promotion. I think that point of view is what’s making us sign so many great athletes.”
“That’s the whole point,” said Leao. “If you take a look at other promotions. We know referees and judges make mistakes. They’re human beings, that’s normal. It’s not their fault. But sometimes a fighter goes through a war, fights very well, but ends up on the wrong side of a split decision in a really close fight. Then that guy gets fired just because he lost. So Taura wants to treat the athletes like they deserve. What will define if the athlete stays with the promotion is how much they want to be involved with Taura. But our biggest difference is the way we treat our athletes.”
“Our purses are similar (to those of other big promotions). Even though we treat our fighters well, they are big names and are used to another lifestyle because of their careers. So we’re killing two birds with one stone. Especially with the pandemic out there, making things more difficult. But we’re all together in this. They have the same mindset as Taura. This is why I’m telling you that the vibe of the athletes we’re signing is such a good one.”
So far, it seems Leao has a very firm idea of what he wants his promotion to be and how he wants to interact with fighters. But what do the high profile new arrivals think? In part two of this feature, light is shed on just how much his business model seemed to please all the former stars who decided to give Taura MMA a chance and what other motivations led them to sign with the up-and-coming promotion.
In addition, Leao also reveals what plans Taura MMA has in store for the coming months.