Five years later, Junior dos Santos’ "lucky charm” is starting his own fighting career.
“Cigano” was the best heavyweight in the world back then, entering the Octagon to defend the UFC heavyweight title for the first time against Frank Mir on May 25, 2012. Dos Santos was still living in Salvador, Bahia, as champ, and brought a special guest with him to UFC 146.
Breno de Carvalho, a 9-year-old fan of the Brazilian heavyweight, caught the attention of the UFC brass during the “UFC Primetime” TV series, and flew to Las Vegas to watch dos Santos defend his belt live.
The young Brazilian was one of the stars of the show, training with dos Santos and Antonio “Bigfoot" Silva during the UFC open workouts, and even entered the cage to celebrate with the champion after his second-round knockout win over Mir.
Almost exactly five years later, de Carvalho won his first tournament in boxing in Bahia earlier this year.
"I had to fight three fights to become champion,” de Carvalho told MMA Fighting. "It was really good. I wasn’t nervous, no. I want to fight more. It was only two, three rounds."
De Carvalho was only nine years old when he flew overseas for the first time, but doesn’t even remember entering the Octagon to celebrate with his hero.
"It was good,” he says of the trip to watch UFC 146. "It was good, but I don’t remember much. I remember getting some toys, a hat. That’s what I remember. I don’t remember much, but I wanted to go there again."
One of the things de Carvalho says he remember is meeting UFC president Dana White. The little Brazilian calls White “a nice guy,” and says he even visited his house in Las Vegas.
“I remember the day I visited his house. I played with a skateboard and fell on the ground,” he said. "And there was an animal there that died and became a bone. A bull… Yeah, I think it was a bull. There was a bunch of bones there."
The few memories of his trip to the UFC might have been enough to convince de Carvalho that he wants to start a career in mixed martial arts.
"I don’t like boxing, no,” said de Carvalho, who also trains jiu-jitsu. "I want to go to MMA. I don’t like boxing. MMA is way better. MMA is better because you can grab.
"The boxing referee is annoying. He takes points for anything you do, they rob you. It’s different in MMA. If you’re losing, you can take the guy to the ground and try a rear-naked choke, a bunch of things. Got it?”
De Carvalho still looks up to his first and only MMA idol, and also makes a special request.
"I really like ‘Cigano’. I love ‘Cigano’,” he said. "When I was younger I watched a lot of fights, and I said I like ‘Cigano’ and no one else. And teacher (Luiz Carlos) Dorea, too."
Dos Santos, who recently lost to heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic at UFC 211, now lives in Florida with his wife Isadora and his son Bento. He returns to action on Sept. 9 at UFC 215, taking on Francis N'Gannou.
de Carvalho is confident they will meet again as soon as he starts his MMA career.
"Of course,” the 14-year old kid said when asked if he wants to become a UFC fighter.
After hearing about de Carvalho’s win and his request to meet dos Santos again after such a long time, the UFC heavyweight sent his little friend an emotional message through MMA Fighting.
Breno is a boy that loves fights and doesn't sit around waiting for an opportunity. He took the initiative and went after what he wanted. He got closer to the athletes, got closer to the gym. He was in the gym every day, following our training routine, and I think that’s how he entered the fight world and made it all possible, him becoming a fighter as well.
Another important characteristic that made me admire him was his courage, how brave he is. He’s a tiny little boy, but a brave boy, who fears no one in sparring, always walking straight forward against his sparring partners, never backing down. He’s a brave boy that goes for the fight.
I remember clearly the day he asked me if he could go with me to my first title defense. I was training really hard, and he was watching it in the gym. One day, after I finished training, he started asking a lot of questions — where I was going, who I was going to fight with, how was it like… I was explaining it to him when he looked at me and said ‘take me with you.’
I told him it was too far and he couldn’t go by himself, that it was hard. That idea stuck in my head, and we started working on it. He made me feel well, his courage and sense of humor, his willpower to go after his goals in the gym every day. Maybe he wasn’t in the gym because he had this goal of becoming a great fighter, but he was there because he enjoyed it and wanted to learn and become a fighter. And that energy, going after what he wanted, caught my attention and made me feel good.
We talked to the team, coach Dorea, and the UFC, and decided to take him to my fight. And it was a great decision in my life. I loved having him there with me, that positive energy. We had to take his mother and his brother because we were in Las Vegas and we couldn’t have him by himself there, but I remember that it truly was a special moment. He brought me strength.
It was my first title defense, and everything that surrounded that moment had Breno as one of my foundations. He was like a key for that moment. I helped him in a way, taking him to the United States with me, him watching his live UFC, but he also helped me. Seeing him joy was so gratifying, it made me stronger. He helped me in my first title defense.
And now he’s 14 years old, still a tiny little boy who keeps impressing. He just became boxing state champion in Bahia, impressing with his qualities. I’m really proud of him. A boy going the right path with the help of his family and coach Dorea’s social project, Champions in Life. I’m really happy and proud of seeing him being successful. I wish him the best, always.