Money, fame or a better life all around, every man and woman has their reasons that brought them to mixed martial arts. For Rafael Xavier, a 32-year-old prospect out of Brazil that could be one win away from a title shot in Eastern Europe, it was a way to unleash anger.
Xavier (11-6), a light heavyweight talent who faces Pavol Langer at Oktagon 39 in Munich, Germany, on Feb. 11, first trained martial arts after his father Marcos died in prison. Xavier was 8 years old at the time and never had the courage to dig and investigate what happened to his father, a man who quit a promising career in soccer after getting involved with drugs and crime in their hometown of Sao Vicente, Brazil.
“I never got involved with drugs because I went to prison to visit my father and saw what it does to you,” Xavier said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “I never needed someone to come to me and say ‘don’t do [drugs] because it’s bad.’ I remember hearing someone say in prison, ‘get this kid out of here, a man was killed in here.’ There are things you never forget.
“I heard from a lot of people that I wouldn’t even get to 16. My mom had to leave home to work, I was just a kid in the streets, and it’s funny that now those people ask me for pictures. They don’t remember telling me that. You should never say something like that to a kid.”
Xavier made several trips to the city jail alongside his mother Rosana to visit Marcos before he was transferred to a bigger prison, “a small fish in a shark tank, full of dangerous people.”
“That’s where he died,” Xavier said. “I was so angry when he died. Angry at God, angry at everybody.”
Xavier had never trained martial arts before “but I knew how to fight,” he said. His rage only got bigger, so he asked Rosana to enlist him in a jiu-jitsu class. He liked it, “but it wasn’t what I wanted because there were no fights, no blood.” His cousin trained Muay Thai and that suited him better, though he still had no money to pay for either one.
“I never picked fights [in streets], but whenever I was in one, I finished it,” Xavier said. “I couldn’t afford to pay [for classes], but I could fight. Many people gave up training after they tried going pro, no shin pads and whatever, but I loved the adrenaline.”
“That’s where I could unleash all my anger with no consequences. I unleashed all my anger about life. I didn’t understand why all that was happening to me. I was just a kid. I shouldn’t have to go to though all that, but thank God I found in sports a way to control that anger.”
Xavier made his MMA debut in 2014, winning via second-round TKO just 50 miles away from his hometown. Booked to fight in Panama, Xavier met his future wife Alina Marie at the hotel’s breakfast in Panama and didn’t think twice when she invited him to follow her back to Germany sometime later. Living in Europe for six years now, and 4-0 under the Oktagon banner, Xavier feels ready to fly higher in the sport.
“I haven’t gotten where I want yet, but I feel blessed for everything I’ve accomplished so far,” said Xavier, fighting back tears. “It was hard, but that’s how God wanted. I’ve met wonderful people along the way, my wife, friends and coaches.”
A win over Langer could cement his place as No. 1 contender and set up a title bout with light heavyweight champion Karlos Vemola in 2023, he said. Vemola has won 24 of 26 fights since parting ways with the UFC a decade ago, but Xavier expects to add another finish to his record.
“Vemola only has one game and everybody knows what that is, he tries to grab you and get you tired,” Xavier said. “If I touch him first, he’ll sleep. I won’t give him time to think.”
Becoming champion in Europe would mean more money in his pocket and maybe a ticket to a major promotion in the future. Yet, the chance to give back to his mother in Brazil means more than anything.
“All the money in the world wouldn’t be enough to give back what she has done to me when she had nothing,” Xavier said, crying. “Even if I was the world’s richest man. She had nothing and still gave me and my sisters everything. She… she was f****** awesome. I feel so good when I can do something for her. I’m not rich, I still haven’t gotten where I want, but you will never be alone.”