The infamous Zuluzinho will enter a MMA cage for the first time in almost eight years — and he guarantees it’s not a one-off.
Son of legendary Brazilian vale tudo fighter “Rei Zulu,” Wagner da Conceicao Martins headlines Saturday’s Imortal FC 9 card in Maranhao, Brazil, in an openweight contest against 60-fight veteran Edvaldo de Oliveira.
Zuluzinho was offered the fight three months ago, when he weighed around 430 pounds. He weighed in at 370 pounds at Thursday's official weigh-ins in Maranhao, 152 pounds heavier than his opponent, and is now ready to hunt down his first victory since April 2010.
“I haven’t fought in a long time, man, and I have to put my family’s name back in the top again,” Zuluzinho told MMA Fighting when asked what motivated him to come back. “A bit of everything. Money, people asking me to fight again because Maranhao has no idols to cheer for, my six kids wanting to start training and wanting to see me fight. It’s in my blood, I can’t deny that.”
“Rei Zulu” was a local hero in the vale tudo circuit back in the 1970’s, facing jiu-jitsu star Rickson Gracie a couple of times in 1980 and 1984. His son immediately drew the attention of media and fans when he started his career in 2004. Unlike his father, Zuluzinho did not have an athletic and intimidating physique, but quickly earned a contract with PRIDE after four wins in Brazil.
“PRIDE was great, they paid well, but I had a lot of people around me back then,” Zuluzinho says. “I had to go to Rio de Janeiro to train, I had to pay coaches and sparring partners, so in the end I would be left with 40 percent of what I was paid. They paid me well, but when you’re getting paid well, everybody wants a slice of the cake.”
Weighing almost 400 pounds, Zuluzinho made quick work of Henry Miller in his PRIDE debut in 2005, and that’s when things started to change for him.
Shortly after his first victory in Japan in his sixth professional fight, Zuluzinho was offered a fight with none other than Fedor Emelianenko, the No. 1 heavyweight in the world who had just defeated Mirko Cro Cop in one of the most-anticipated fights of all-time.
“Everybody wanted to fight Fedor in PRIDE,” Zuluzinho says. “I had just fought once when they offered me that. I was a fighter, I was under contract, so I would take it. I wasn’t scared.”
Not being scared wasn’t enough for the gigantic heavyweight, who was steamrolled and knocked out with punches and soccer kicks in just 26 seconds.
“He was the best in the world, right? He was different,” Zuluzinho says. “I thought I would win. Beating the best in the world in his prime would be amazing, right? But he was too fast, too quick. I made a mistake and lost quickly. It was tough, man. Fighting the best in the world in a f*cking huge event, you get too anxious and it ends like that.”
Five months later, Zuluzinho was back in action in the PRIDE ring to face Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Minotauro, a former PRIDE heavyweight kingpin and future UFC interim heavyweight champion, submitted him in the first round.
“Holy sh*t, man,” Zuluzinho says, laughing. “No easy fights.”
The super heavyweight says he was paid $20,000 to face both Emelianenko and Nogueira, and now jokes that it would be better to stay at home instead of flying to Japan to face the best heavyweights for that kind of money.
The reality is, Zuluzinho was given a chance to try to make history, but says his managers threw him to the wolves.
“They rushed things,” Zuluzinho says. “I still had to get used to fighting in Japan, to fighting for PRIDE, the different time zone and the weather, everything. It was too fast for me. I think my managers were too inexperienced.”
Zuluzinho fought nine times after he left PRIDE in 2007, racking up a 4-5 record fighting in Brazil, Russia, and Japan. He hung up his gloves at age 32 and started working as a security guard, truck driver, and a few other things, but money was only good enough “to survive” and pay his family’s bills.
Weeks after turning 40, and now managed by his wife, Zuluzinho will return to the ring to make money for his kids. If everything works out, he plans to sign a deal with a Russian promotion or fight for Japan’s Rizin next, to then be able to pay for his father’s health treatments.
“I miss PRIDE,” Zuluzinho says with a smile on his face. “I still have a PRIDE trophy over my fridge, and I clean it every day. I still am (Noboyuki) Sakakibara’s employee [laughs]. If he calls me today, I’ll fly over to Japan right away. My dream is to fight in Japan again. Sakakibara treats fighters like kings there.”