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'Babalu' Sobral says Bellator's tournaments are tougher than one-nighters

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Esther Lin

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. -- Few fighters who competed in the one-night tournaments of mixed martial arts' early days still compete on a major-league level.

Fewer still are going out of their way to enter new tournaments.

But then, most fighters aren't Renato "Babalu" Sobral.

The 37-year old native of Rio de Janeiro broke into the sport the old-school way, winning a pair of tournaments in his homeland. As recently as 2003, he competed in a one-night tourney in Colorado, decisioning Jeremy Horn in the final.

These days, the Orange County transplant finds himself back in the tournament business. He'll fight as many as three times over the next couple months as part of Bellator's light heavyweight tourney.

And as he talked to reporters at Tuesday's open workouts in advance of his first-round fight against Mikhail Zayats on Thursday in nearby Irvine, he came to a surprising conclusion: "Babalu" thinks Bellator's tourney format may be more difficult than the tournaments of old.

"When you go to war for one battle its one thing," said Sobral. "But when you stay in war for a second war, that's what makes the difference. ... In a tournament, in one night, you you can throw all yourself into one night. Back in the days in the [one-night] tournament, after the fight, you just put ice on your face and your hands, then you go out and fight again."

So while fighting a one-night tournament is a grind in and of itself, once you're done, you can take a break from training for awhile. Bellator's tourneys offer no such respite.

"You have to be healthy for the next time," he said. "You have to go to the gym and train again. You can't go home and rest. You have to get up and train."

Despite his wealth of experience, "Babalu" won't go so far as to call himself the favorite in a tournament which includes the likes of "King Mo" Lawal and Seth Petruzelli.

"In this kind of thing, there isn't such a thing as a favorite," Sobral said. "You just have to be more intelligent and [being] lucky counts too. You have to step out of the ring without getting any injuries. It's sometimes luck. Even if you win."

Sobral's been at this game since 1997. Officially, he has 46 fights under his belt. But don't ask him to set a timetable on how much longer he wants to fight.

"I'll fight until my body can't handle it," Sobral said. "To be 15 years fighting, you get hurt, you get injuries. Until I can't move, I'm moving forward. My brain's good. I still know my wife's number."