Luiz Gustavo was only 14 when he hit rock bottom.
A future prospect in mixed martial arts, Gustavo witnessed his father, Luiz Marcelo, get shot and killed by his ex-business partner in Parana, Brazil. Marcelo had recently ended his partnership in the real estate business and was owed around $5,500, and Gustavo says that’s the reason why his father was murdered.
”I was mowing the lawn and his ex-partner got to our house completely drunk and asked me to call my father,” Gustavo told MMA Fighting. “They started to argue and then this guy picked up a gun and shot my dad. My dad started to run away and got shot again in the back.”
According to Gustavo, his dad’s ex-partner “went to the police 48 hours later and said my father threatened to beat him, that he was just defending himself, and never got to prison for it,” he said. “Nothing ever happened to him. Justice was never made, he ruined a family and stayed free.”
Gustavo’s mother didn’t work at the time, so they had to sell their car to pay for the rent and make ends meet. Money eventually ran out and they had to move in with their grandparents in a favela.
At age 14, Gustavo decided to find a job to make some money and help his mother and siblings, doing anything from mowing lawns to working in construction.
”I was just 14, the right recipe to become a troubled kid,” Gustavo said, “but I promised them I would do everything I could to help my family.”
Gustavo, who was already training martial arts at the time, met a businessman named Fabio Lau, who ran MMA gym Evolução Thai alongside Andre Dida in Curitiba. A promising young talent in the sport, Gustavo convinced Lau to sponsor him, which allowed him to stop working and focus on training his fighting skills.
Joining Evolucao Thai was a dream coming true for Gustavo, who fell in love with mixed martial arts as a child after watching tapes of former PRIDE and UFC superstar Wanderlei Silva with his dad, a big MMA fan.
Eight years after his father’s death, Gustavo is now set to visit Japan alongside Silva and Dida to face Mikuru Asakura at Sunday’s Rizin 15 event in Yokohama.
”I knew it would happen one day,” Gustavo said. “I used to talk to my dad about meeting Wanderlei Silva and Andre Dida one day, and all of a sudden, here I am with them in Japan, fighting for Rizin, the new PRIDE. I knew it would happen, but I wish my father was here to see this. … But I know he’s f*cking proud of me now.”
Gustavo, 10-0 as a professional — his official record is listed as 9-0, but he says he made his MMA debut at age 17, winning by knockout — is making more money now that he’s fighting in Japan, but he still can’t give his family the life they deserve. At Rizin 15, he hopes to impress once again and remain unbeaten to earn bigger opportunities.
”I asked for the title after my last one because I went there and beat the No. 1 [contender] in Japan, who was coming off five straight wins over legends and UFC veterans,” Gustavo said of his Rizin debut. “If there’s a belt, I should be the one fighting for it. I’m going there to get what’s mine, and f*ck the rest.”
Gustavo stopped Yusuke Yachi in his first appearance in the Rizin ring last August, but was sidelined for some time after fracturing his right hand in the process. The Brazilian prospect has injured both of his hands many times before, but guarantees he’s ready to “punch concrete” on Sunday.
”I don’t think he’ll try to go to the ground because he knows shit about jiu-jitsu,” Gustavo said of Asakura. “He will try to trade with me, get scared and go down. He’ll get knocked out, no doubt. I’m ready on the feet, on the ground — I train with Sergio Moraes, man — takedown defense, everything. I’m ready because I train with the best.
“I don’t know if it’s going to be fast or not, but I’m going there to have fun. I only need to touch him once. The first hand that lands, he will go down.”