They say you’ve made it in show business if you can be identified solely by one name. Think Prince, Rihanna or Bono. In the colorful world of MMA, a similar theory applies, though is most prevalent among those who emanate from Brazil, a country steeped in the tradition of nicknames.
Some believe their widespread use owes to the slave system – where documented slaves were referred to by their first name and country of origin – and, latterly, the country’s historically high illiteracy rate (simplified names are simply easier to read and say). A mark of individuality, intimacy and class signifier, even Brazil’s President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, is known to all by his nickname, ‘Lula’.
Yet that’s relatively bland and obvious compared to some of the cool, wacky and downright bizarre nicknames Brazilian mixed martial artists have blessed us with over the years…
Junior ‘Cigano’ Dos Santos (Gypsy)
Junior dos Santos used to rock long hair, which he’d tie back in a ponytail. It was this look, one eerily similar to that of a character from a Brazilian soap opera, which first inspired friends to coin him ‘Cigano’ or ‘Gypsy’. “I used to hate that,” he said, “but the less you like it, the more it sticks.”
Gabriel ‘Napão’ Gonzaga (Big Nose)
Gabriel Gonzaga will forever possess a fighter’s face; round, squashed features, designed to soak up punishment, one replete with a flat, large nose. Yet it’s not the size of the nose that’s important here. It’s the sixth sense it provides, the ability to sniff out danger. Hence ‘Napão’.
Ednaldo ‘Lula Molusco’ Oliveira (Squidward)
Safe to say Ednaldo Oliveira is the only fighter in MMA history to borrow his nickname from SpongeBob SquarePants. ‘Lula Molusco’ is Portuguese for Squidward, Bob Esponja’s sidekick, an octopus with six tentacles, who matches Oliveira’s awkward, loose-limbed style.
Rousimar ‘Toquinho’ Palhares (Tree Stump)
Look at the wedge of superhuman muscle and bone that is Rousimar Palhares and it’s understandable if the first thought that springs to mind is something along the lines of the thick end of a tree.
Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza (Crocodile)
Talk about taking a nickname and making it your own. Ronaldo Souza is not only better known as ‘Jacare’, he even mimics a crocodile when he wins.
Antonio Rodrigo ‘Minotauro’ Nogueira (Minotaur)
A nickname inspired by an animal is nothing unusual, but the same cannot be said for those inspired by a Greek mythological creature with the head of a bull and the body of a man. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira got creative.
Renato ‘Babalu’ Sobral (Bubbaloo gum)
In fighting circles, Renato Sobral is rarely ever called Renato Sobral. ‘Babalu’, a take on the brand of the light heavyweight’s favorite chewing gum, is used instead.
John Lineker dos Santos de Paula (Gary Lineker)
John Lineker is a UFC bantamweight whose soccer-mad family had a fondness for former Tottenham Hotspur, Barcelona and England player Gary Lineker. So deep was their admiration for the striker, they decided to name their son after him.
Jussier ‘Formiga’ da Silva (The Ant)
It’s likely flyweight Jussier Formiga’s nickname is nothing more than a reflection of his height, or lack thereof. When the Brazilian national soccer team played its first match in 1914, the squad featured a diminutive player who carried the same nickname.
Rafael ‘Sapo’ Natal (Frog)
Just as likely to be called Rafael ‘Sapo’ or ‘Sapo’ Natal as he is Rafael Natal, the middleweight from Belo Horizonte got his distinctive handle from his time doing capoeira. He turned up to class one day without a nickname, a book was opened and on the page was a frog. So began the ‘Sapo’ legacy.
Luiz ‘Banha’ Cane (Lard)
Luiz Cane was given the nickname ‘Banha’ when he was nine and overweight. A form of bullying to some, Cane, to his credit, used it as motivation to start training, get in shape and forge a fighting career.
Luiz Henrique ‘Frank Waisten/Frankenstein’ Jr. (Frankenstein)
Luiz Henrique da Silva had always wanted to be known as Frankenstein. He just didn’t know how to spell it. For a while known as Luiz Henrique ‘Frank Waisten’, the light-heavyweight later sussed things out and now competes in the UFC as Luiz Henrique ‘Frankenstein’. He got there in the end.
Felipe ‘Jon Jones’ Boaventura and Romulo ‘Jon Jones’ Ismael (Jon Jones)
Though not an obvious choice of role model, there can be no doubting Jon Jones’ impact on the sport. The former UFC champion has inspired Brazilians like Felipe Boaventura (a 3-2 welterweight) and Romulo Ismael (a 0-2 heavyweight) to such an extent they now carry his full name as their nickname.
Renan ‘Barão’ Pedago (Baron of Araruna)
Renan Barão’s nickname was selected not by the fighter himself or even a coach or training partner. It was, instead, bestowed on him by his grandmother and was inspired by the Baron of Araruna character from 1986 Brazilian soap opera Sinhá Moça.
*** This feature originally appeared in the August 2017 issue of Fighters Only magazine ***