RIO DE JANEIRO — There was a time when Nova Uniao had three belts in the two biggest MMA promotions in the world, with Jose Aldo and Renan Barao holding UFC titles and Eduardo Dantas ruling the Bellator bantamweight division. The scenario has changed in 2017, but the team is about to enter a new era.
Aldo, Barao and Dantas dominated their divisions training at the top of Andre Pederneiras’ Upper gym in Flamengo, Rio de Janeiro. It wasn’t a space exclusive for professional fighters, so it wasn’t rare to see them training surrounded by white belts who had desire to compete professionally.
A small ring split the jiu-jitsu mat in two, and that was pretty much it. Aldo and Barao, who had an impressive takedown defense in MMA, didn’t even have an Octagon to train. They were allowed to use the Upper gym to work out, but part of the conditioning training was done in stairs outside the gym.
This scenario will change in a month, when Pederneiras will officially move the Nova Uniao team to the Upper Arena, a brand new training center built in Rio de Janeiro.
Upper Arena won’t only be a training center for the professional fighters, but also host events. On Sunday night, Upper Arena opened up for the first time to the public with Shooto Brazil 74, with up to 1,000 people in attendance.
"We’ve been dreaming with this for a long time,” Pederneiras said after the stacked MMA event. "We got this space and slowly built it. The original idea was just a training center, and it grew until it became an area."
The hexagon used at Shooto Brazil 74 will stay there, and will be used by fighters on a daily basis. The rest of the arena will be jiu-jitsu mats. Pederneiras will also build a separate space with punching bags, an area for conditioning training, and even apartments for athletes that don’t live in Rio de Janeiro.
Pederneiras expects the construction to be over in three months, but the team will start training there in a month.
"First of all, we will have exclusive times for professionals to train, something that we didn’t have inside my gym,” he said. "The idea here is to create a boxing team, a muay thai team, a wrestling team, and compete in (the arena), to hold tournaments here as well. That will end up forcing the athletes to compete, wether or not they have a (MMA) fight booked. I believe the motivation to compete will increase, and we will benefit a lot from it."
Close to seeing his dream come true, Pederneiras, who has said in the past that he would advise fighters to train outside of Brazil because of the lack of support in his country, expects the scenario to change with the new training center, even if he’s one of the only ones who is willing to invest a lot of money in MMA right now.
"In a country that has no support for anything… I’m a businessman that invests in it, but the majority of the athletes in Brazil don’t have that,” Pederneiras said. "I can do it because I have other businesses and this is my passion, but when a guy can’t pay his bills, send them away (to the United States), even if he’s my best athlete."