It’s approaching lunchtime as we step out of the heat into the cool air of the spacious gym at the Al Qurum school in Mussafah. Along the side of one wall is an impressive array of punch-bags and at the far end stands the imposing figure of Marcos ‘Santa Cruz’ Oliveira as he runs his students through a number of drills on the soft mats.
We take a seat on an upended sandbag just as the school bell tolls, signalling the end of the class, and watch as the white clad students high-five their teacher on the way out of the gym. Wiping his face with a towel, the 32-year-old Brazilian-born Abu Dhabi resident greets us with a meaty handshake and back-slap before sitting down on the bag next to us.
Oliveira moved to the UAE two years ago when he was invited to work on the “School-Jitsu” programme, an initiative rolled out last year under the patronage of HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, to promote the gentle art of Jiu-Jitsu in 50 schools across the country.
However, he is probably better known for his exploits in the Abu Dhabi Fighting Championships, the open weight mixed martial arts Grand Prix, where he has fought his way through two gruelling rounds of full-contact action and earned a place in the final round to be held on 11th March at Zayed Sports City. He will face the Russian man-mountain Shamil Abdurahimov with the eventual victor walking away with one million dirhams and the ADFC championship belt.
We ask Marcos about his preparations for the big event and he talks us through a typical day in his life.
6.30am: “I get up early and always make sure to have something to eat – breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I try to be as healthy as possible, concentrating on the good stuff like oatmeal, fresh fruit, pasta and brown bread.
7.30am: “I get to school just as the kids are starting to arrive and head straight to the gym. Here at Al Qurum, they have been fantastic. The facilities for Jiu-Jitsu are the best in the Emirate – all the bags, the mats, the coaches – anything we need, we get. It pays off too – the school recently took first place in the Abu Dhabi Jiu-Jitsu championship beating off 41 other government schools.
“I love teaching just as much as fighting – it is so rewarding. It makes me so happy and proud to see kids having fun and putting what I’ve taught them into practice. Fighting for me is only once or twice a year – teaching is every day. It’s my job, it’s what puts food on the table.
2pm: ”Once I’ve finished teaching, I head home for a couple of hours. I‘ll grab a bite to eat, spend some time with my fiancé and watch some tv.
“I try to relax but it’s hard at the moment. Right now I have seven guys staying in my house in Mussafah – my whole training team. I brought one guy over from Thailand for Muay Thai and the national Brazilian boxing coach is helping me with my stand-up skills.
5pm: “With the fight coming up, I’m spending three to four hours a day training at the Abu Dhabi Combat Club.
“I’m not concentrating on one aspect in particular – in MMA you have to be good at everything. I’m always trying to improve my weakest points but I’m also trying to incorporate lots of different martial arts and techniques.
“Shamil is a big guy, five or six cm taller than me, but I’m heavier than him. He knows my game – I’m grappling world champion – that’s my strongest point but he’s good at everything. I’m confident. I respect him a lot as a fighter and I like him as a person but he’s dangerous, he has a big heart and it’s going to be a great fight.
8.30pm: “After training I go to the Al Jazira club to swim in their pool to try and wear myself out. I have problems sleeping, especially as it gets closer to the big fight. There’s lots of pressure and nervousness – my body’s exhausted from training but my mind keeps on working overtime.
10pm: “Back at home in the evening, I like to unwind by watching a movie before going to bed. At night, when I put my head on the pillow, that’s the worst time for me. I have everything going round and round up there.
Final thoughts: “Since the ADFC Grand Prix started I have always been the underdog, but I want to win for the UAE, I want to win for my students and I want to win for myself. It’s just one fight and anything can happen but I’m going to do my best.
“If I win, the money will be nice but it’s only money – the pride and honour of winning the belt will last forever.
“Whatever happens I’m going to keep on teaching – Sunday after the fight I’m going to be back in school at 7.30, raring to go.”
If you want to see Marcos in action, make sure you get your tickets for ADFC Round 3 on 11th March. For more information, visit www.adfc.ae