EXCLUSIVE | Ricardo Liborio On the Growth of Martial Arts | Fist-Ta-Cuff Radio
One of the most widely respected coaches, and people, in the world of mixed martial arts Ricardo Liborio, founder of American Top Team, joined Fist-Ta-Cuff Radio on BJPenn.com this past Sunday to talk about the evolution of martial arts, which has grown into the sport of MMA that is so prominent today.
Liborio started his career in the martial arts at a very young age, when, like many other three-and-four year olds in Brazil, he was introduced to the sport of Judo.
“Judo’s very strong in Brazil, especially for the little kids. They start at four years old, three or four years old, and it creates a great base of discipline. Judo was even more popular when I was born than BJJ” Liborio stated, noting that at the time, jiu-jitsu was more of a core group of guys who trained in Copa Cabana.
“BJJ wasn’t that popular, you know? Judo was more popular than BJJ, and I think the sport of BJJ grew a lot, of course, with Royce bringing it up in UFC: the efficiency of the sport, the little guy can beat the big guy because of the technique. So, this was a big-it was a big show.”
The thirteenth most significant power player in MMA according to Fight! Magazine, Liborio spoke in-depth on a number of topics, including his time with Carlson Gracie in Brazil:
“Everything started with Carlson Gracie. Carlson was the mentor that he was, and he was able to, you know, replicate what he was inspiring everybody,” Liborio said, honoring his late professor who also paved the way for people like Murilo Bustamante, the head of Brazilian Top Team, among other influential figures in the world of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and MMA.
“A lot of those guys became high-level competitors from him, you know? Ended up dedicating their lives to MMA and BJJ. So, I definitely dedicate this to Carlson Gracie.
If I’m here right now talking to you, speaking to you, it was because of the founding of Brazilian Top Team and founding American Top Team,” Liborio continued. “Everything started with Carlson Gracie, man, he was the guy who enlightened everybody for that, you know? So I’m very appreciative of that.”
Following his introduction to jiu-jitsu, Liborio felt a sense of connection with an “underground” group of guys who were really doing something special. The thought that BJJ was, beyond anything else, the most efficient sport of all time was instilled in the group of guys who rose through the ranks.
Upon his travels to America, Liborio had a feeling that the opportunity for growth was endless, especially after having seen the popularity of MMA in Japan during the heyday of the legendary PRIDE organization.
“At, the Japanese market was huge for us, you know, Brazilian Top Team. It was huge; you had ‘Minotauro’ [Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera] and [Ricardo] Arona and Paulo Filho, all those guys fighting-Vitor Belfort- all those guys fighting for BTT in Japan, and Japanese numbers were, man, stunning. It’s crazy when you have a ‘small’ show with 25,000 people, you know?” Liborio said, also mentioning that one of his fondest memories from Japan was seeing “Big Nog” fight Bob Sapp in front of over 90,000 people.
As far as the growth of BJJ as a sport alongside MMA, Liborio seems optimistic that the martial arts’ growth is just getting started. In countries such as Russia, the prominence of striking and wrestling are there in disciplines like Sambo, but there are less organized teachings of BJJ that can contribute to a more well rounded ground game. In addition, Liborio believes that increased training in jiu-jitsu can lead to longevity as well.
“BJJ is one of the only sports that you can actually do it after a long day of work. You work all day long and you go there and you train BJJ. And you can do it with a smile. It’s hard to train wrestling after a long day of work, or striking,” Liborio said, noting that those who spar in striking more than twice a week risk serious injury.
As much as judo contributed to changing Liborio’s life, so to has it done the same for many of his students. In association with USA Judo, Liborio now runs a program that allows he and his certified staff members to teach judo to visually impaired children.
Following his daughter suffering a genetic problem at only two years old, and after multiple surgeries that saved her life, Liborio was inspired by her happiness despite being rendered blind. Through her perseverance despite adversity, Liborio opened his program for the visually impaired, which has resulted in some surprising results.
“We have four kids, actually three training right now-one went to college in Texas. But of these three kids, we have two kids who are state champions; one was a two-time state champion, gold medalist, competed against higher guys. With submissions, by the way.”
Before his departure, Liborio offered these words to the fans of MMA on the future of the sport we all know and love:
“Our sport is the passion that I have, and everybody who is definitely listening to this right now is definitely a fan. So, just keep going, the fight goes on. Win or lose, we’re going to be there. We can’t win everything, but we’re going to try.”
To hear the interview in its entirety, including Ricardo’s thoughts on the Dan Cramer vs. Brad Cooper fight from this past Thursday on Bellator and where & when the sport of MMA will reach its peak, listen to Fist-Ta-Cuff Radio on demand.