MMA has evolved to the point that it's hard to stay dominant for a long period of time.
Brazilian Top Team and Chute Boxe -- two of the best teams in the history of the sport -- dominated the scene for much of the past decade. The rivalry between the Brazilian camps gave the fans epic battles inside the Pride ring, and their collective talents won multiple titles in both Pride and the UFC.
However, things -- and the times -- have changed.
Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira and Vitor Belfort, who became Pride and UFC champions between 2001 and 2004, are no longer part of the Brazilian Top Team. Wanderlei Silva, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, Jean Silva and Murilo "Ninja" Rua, who won titles at Pride, Cage Rage and EliteXC from 2001 to 2007, left Chute Boxe and created their own teams.
The only former champion remaining in either is Murilo Bustamante. Bustamante, who became UFC middleweight champion in 2002, runs BTT as the head coach and manager of the fighters, and realizes it’s near impossible to get history to repeat itself.
"It’s hard to do something like that today," he told MMAFighting.com. "There are great fighters and teams everywhere, so it’s hard to see one team dominating the sport like we did [back then]. You can’t compare Neymar with Garrincha and Pele. We were the generation that built this market; we were fighting before the UFC was even created."
Rudimar Fedrigo, leader of the Chute Boxe team, agrees with Bustamante. "This sport is becoming more and more competitive, with teams all over the world," he says. "So it’s hard to build a generation like that."
Most of the former BTT and Chute Boxe stars now have their own teams. "Minotauro" and "Minotouro" are the most successful among all, and they expect to start 2014 with 80 branches of the Team Nogueira umbrella after only two years of work.
"More people want to train MMA and other martial arts now, like jiu-jitsu," Bustamante says. "MMA has grown a lot in Brazil recently. The competition between teams is healthy. I've been the head coach and owner of Brazilian Top Team for the last 26 years. These guys that are starting now were using diapers when I was already fighting. I’m not afraid of the competition. We have competence, so we will always be here."
Fedrigo and Bustamante understand that things have grown up around them to make the MMA landscape more competitive, but each is determined to keep pushing for the top.
Chute Boxe has 22 gyms in Brazil, while BTT has 10 branches in Brazil, and 15 more overseas. However, BTT doesn’t have fighters competing in the UFC today, and Chute Boxe has only two: Felipe Arantes and Lucas Martins. Chute Boxe star Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos recently fought Melvin Manhoef at Gringo Super Fight 10 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and announced his retirement following a 46-second TKO loss. Cris Cyborg, who hopes to eventually sign with the UFC, owns a Chute Boxe gym in Brazil.
"Chute Boxe is a huge team, with gyms all over Brazil," Fedrigo says. "We have athletes fighting every weekend, and I’m happy to see out them getting bigger. Here in Curitiba we have 5,000 students. We don’t work only with professional athletes, we’re also a martial arts school.
"We have a lot of new talents coming up. I will tell you one name who is doing great now: Julio Cesar ‘Gaucho.’ He’s a promising middleweight, who has a great stand up game. We have a great group in Sao Paulo with Diego Lima, with Felipe Arantes and a lot of great talents, and we also have two teams in the U.S."
Brazilian Top Team started 2013 with three fighters on the UFC roster. However, Milton Vieira and Pedro Nobre got cut from the promotion, and Rousimar Palhares left the team to join Team Nogueira. Months later, Vieira also left BTT.
"The athletes that left the team are the ones that we built," Bustamante says. "They were unknown when they got here, and left with a name. We've been doing that work for years."
Fedrigo agrees with his one-time rival, and believes that Chute Boxe will continue to succeed.
"A traditional team like Chute Boxe will always have periods like that, that’s normal," he says. "I’m very happy to see fighters that learned everything from us -- that have Chute Boxe in their DNA -- became great professionals."
The talented Gleristone "Toninho Furia" Santos is the next BTT product to leave Brazil and fight overseas, joining the Titan FC roster. UFC veteran Pedro Nobre has also signed a deal with the promotion, and they are set to make their promotional debut Friday night in Newkirk, Okla.
"'Toninho' has the best record among all BTT fighters, maybe one of the best today in Brazil, and he’s ready," Bustamante says. "Pedro is also ready to go. He unfortunately had an incident in the UFC, but he’s the best flyweight in Brazil."
Besides "Toninho Furia" and Nobre, Bustamante sees a bright future for Fernando Camoles, Armando Sixel, Geraldo Freitas and two-time jiu-jitsu world champion Leonardo Leite, who recently made his transition to MMA.
"We will keep working, finding new talents," he says. "We won the majority of our fights here in Brazil. Our base is jiu-jitsu, but we are constantly working on the other areas, as well. I just sent four of our athletes to Thailand to train Muay Thai. There are a lot of great talents coming up, and they're doing great on the challenges we are taking here."