Gabriel Braga was only 5 when his father Diego Braga walked into a ring to make his debut in mixed martial arts in 2003. Fast forward 16 years to July 26, and Diego returns for the chance to compete on the card of his son at Future MMA 7 in Brazil.
Diego (22-8-1) entered a cage for the last time in 2014, scoring his fifth straight win in Rio de Janeiro and dreaming with an opportunity to sign with the UFC. Not only did the call never happen, but his three knee surgeries pretty much put an end to his fighting career that year. When his son decided to follow his path and compete in MMA, Diego thought his fighting future would only be as a coach.
It all changed in 2019, after Gabriel improved to 3-0 as a professional with a win at Future MMA 3. Diego, who worked as a color commentator for the promotion, casually told Future MMA founder Jorge Oliveira that he would be down to making a comeback. When Oliveira suggested both Bragas on the same card, it was a no-brainer.
“After 32 fights and a five-year layoff, it still feels the same,” Diego says. “Nothing has changed. It feels like my first fight again. It’s feels amazing to be fighting on the same card of my son, man. It feels unique for me. Future is taking many fighters to the UFC and LFA, and everybody dreams to be there. My dream now is to see my son there. My son has cornered me many times in the past, so this is a dream come true for me. He inspired me to fight again.”
Gabriel has always dreamed with the idea of fighting on the same night of his dad, but watching him struggle with multiple knee injuries made him doubt it would ever come to fruition.
“I always had that in my mind, I really wanted that to happen, but all those years he stayed away, all those painful injuries, he couldn’t even train,” Gabriel says. “This is a dream come true for me. I think about this ever since I started fighting. I never had a training camp with my dad, and watching him come back to do what he lives has been incredible.”
Diego had doubts, too.
“I’ve cried, I’ve suffered,” he says, admitting he thought he would never fight again. “I missed many opportunities due to injuries. I forgot what it felt like to prepare for a fight, the desire to fight again, but life is full of surprises. I love this. I love martial arts. Maybe this is my last fight, or maybe not. We’ll see what happens.”
Gabriel will face featherweight Jean Inacio Soares (5-2) in the early portion of the card, while Diego takes on fellow lightweight veteran Jamil Silveira (44-18-1) in the second to last bout. Father and son have always been crucial parts of each other’s training camp and fight night duties, and that won’t change Friday.
“He asked me to be in his corner, and it will be fun — I just can’t yell too much to save energy,” Diego says with a laugh. “I will always feel nervous before every fight, no matter how many fights you have, so it will be amazing to be there and watch him fight.”
“I’ll probably be in his corner as well to bring him that positive vibe,” Gabriel says. “I’m confident that everything will be alright. We’ll go there and grab a couple of wins. I’ll get the job done and cheer him up for his fight. It will be an unforgettable night for us. I’m sure we’ll remember that for the rest of our lives.”
The younger Braga has been around his dad in the gym since 8 years of age. He would always train, but only took it seriously as a possible career path at 15. After serving as a military paratrooper for a year in 2016, he returned home and made his debut at 20.
Ana Gabriela, Gabriel’s mother, wasn’t so thrilled with her son’s idea to become a fighter. MMA wasn’t very popular when Diego started his career in the early 2000’s and it was even harder to make money, so she would prefer to watch him do something else with his life.
“It was harder back then,” Diego agrees. “I never had a manager, promoters would call me directly to negotiate the purse and all the details. It wasn’t easy. I had to work and train to get things done. He always said he wanted to become a fighter, and I always told him, ‘It’s hard, it’s not about just going there and fighting. It’s complicated, there are a lot of things involved.’ But I never had someone who supported me, and he would always have that with me.”
When the cage closes Friday night, Diego might trade hands for one last time before calling it a career. It would be a fairy-tale type of ending for a long run with highs and lows, and the perfect opportunity to pass the torch for his young son to go after his own dreams.
MMA is a brutal sport and dreams not always come true, but Diego believes the future is bright for his first-born.
“I see my son as a high-level athlete,” Diego says. “I’m always going after what’s best for him, bringing the best in training to help him evolve. He had conditioning training with Rogerio Camoes now, something he’s never done before. I see a cool future for him. My dream is to see him in a big promotion, with a contract signed. God willing, he’ll become a UFC champion in the future.”