The road of rags to riches is an all but common one in MMA or any other combat sports. Especially with the amount of brazilian fighters who have had to overcome the living conditions of the favellas or the jungles to make it to the Big Leagues. Yet out of all them, nothing quite struck me like the story of Palhares when i heard Murilo describe him as he was coming up in Fury FC. It puts in perspective even for those who had it rough in their childhood. So here is a nice article from the MMAJunkie - as usual here is the link to the original article. And below is the actual story. (Mind you this only tells a small portion of the story - you have to hear inteviews from his training partners to hear how nutty it was for him.)
When Brazilian submission ace Rousimar Palhares (11-2 MMA, 4-1 UFC) steps into the cage against Nate Marquardt (29-9-2 MMA, 8-3 UFC) in the main event of UFC Fight Night 22, he'll be competing in perhaps the most high-profile contest of his career.
But don't for one minute believe that the Spike TV-broadcast bout is the toughest fight of Palhares' life.
No, the UFC middleweight contender's biggest struggles came well before he ever set foot in the octagon – when a 10-year-old Palhares and his brothers and sisters worked 13 hour days on Brazilian plantations while (usually) making just enough money to live just slightly more luxuriously than the animals to which they tended.
"My childhood was a lot of work," Palhares recently told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com) through an interpreter. "From sunup until sundown, with my elder brothers and parents, we woke up at 4 a.m. and worked until 5 p.m. We took care of cattle, and we cleaned the rocas(plantations)."
The third born of 10 siblings, Palhares didn't get the benefit of a normal childhood. Work didn't allow for much playtime – or even a chance to attend school – in his native Dores Do Indaia, Brazil.
"I never had the chance to study because I had to help my parents feed my younger brothers and sisters," Palhares said. "I started working when I was 10 years old. My family was big and poor, and we went through a lot of difficulties."
"Difficulties" might be a minor understatement. While the 30-year-old prefers not to focus too much on the past, he recalls a time when the only option for dinner was the feed mix intended for the plantation's pigs.
"We would get up at 4 a.m., have some breakfast, and take lunch to the fields, where we would work until 5 p.m. every day of the week," Palhares said. "There were times that money was so tight that we had to eat animal feed. We would eat the feed that we gave the pigs.
"It was a very bad time, and I don't like to talk about it."
So destitute were the conditions that even in time of emergency there was little Palhares or his family could do to respond. In a twisted moment of irony, Palhares – known as "Toquinho," or "Tree Stump," due to his stocky 5-foot-8 frame – nearly earned his moniker in a more tragic way.
"I was driving a cattle cart, and it got stuck, and I fell on a cut coffee tree," Palhares said. "The fall opened a deep gash in my chest."
The remnants of that wound are still visible on Palhares' left pectoral muscle. When you see it on fight night, consider how the wound was closed.
"We were far away from town, and there was no way I could get stitches," Palhares said. "The only thing we could do was use Scotch tape to close the gash and help it heal."
Finally, free time
As Palhares grew older, the contributions of his younger siblings allowed him the luxury of some minimal free time. Not one for sitting around, Palhares elected to turn his focus to martial arts.
"At the the time I started training martial arts, things had eased up a little, and I had some free time in which I could train," Palhares said. "I first started in Capoeira (an Afro-Brazilian art form that combines martial arts and music) and than karate. At the school where I worked out, they started a Brazilian jiu-jitsu class, and I was invited to take a free inaugural lesson. The teacher liked me and invited me to train for free. He saw that I could become good at it."
His teacher was right. Palhares and his powerful, compact frame proved a perfect fit to the sport. Of course, Palhares' primary responsibilities remained in the fields, and his progress was hampered by his commitments to his family.
"I had never thought of becoming a professional fighter," Palhares said. "My only thoughts were to work and help my family have a decent life."
But in 2005, Palhares' family realized Rousimar's passion and ability, and they rallied behind the then-25-year-old to chase his dream. After 15 years of working in the plantation, this was his chance to dream.
"My family and my girlfriend thought I should try a larger step, and we decided that Brazilian Top Team was the best place to try," he said. "My brother lent me the money to go to and visit Rio de Janeiro."
Four-hundred miles from home, Palhares walked into the famed Brazilian Top Team camp. Founded by MMA luminaries Murilo Bustamante, Ricardo Liborio, Mario Sperry and Luis Roberto Duarte, BTT also housed the likes of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Vitor Belfort and Paulo Filho.
The humble Palhares admits he was overwhelmed by his new surroundings.
"The place where I was staying was far away from the academy, so once I got to Rio, before I even ate, I went to train," Palhares said. "I went the first day and watched. I was ashamed to even talk to anyone.
"There were a lot of big names there, and I was afraid that they might laugh at me."
And certainly, with a camp full of MMA champions and superstars, there was no reason for the team to care about a poor plantation worker chasing his dream. But former UFC champion Bustamante, who was nursing a minor injury just weeks before his entry into PRIDE's 2005 welterweight grand prix, reached out to the new recruit.
"Murilo, who was not training that day due to an injury, asked me if there was anything he could do for me," Palhares said. "I explained to him my situation and why I was there, and he told me to get my shorts on and warm up. He let me train with his students and then with the BTT pro team.
"He was impressed with my performance, and that's how I became part of the team. I was very happy. I went home and got my things and came back and moved to Rio."
Palhares was still well below the poverty line, and he relied on his teammates at BTT for support. But while the journey was far from over, Palhares had been given the chance he needed to begin his journey.
"My life changed completely," Palhares said. "The team helped me in the beginning, for I had nothing. They helped me with board and food. After that, I started making a little money fighting, and I was able to help my family."
From plantations to the pros
Palhares took his first professional fight just seven months later, in April 2006, and earned a split-decision win. He would go on to win seven of his first eight fights, and six of those victories came via submission. It was enough to earn Palhares a UFC contract, and the middleweight has since gone 4-1 in the octagon.
Palhares' dangerous heel hook, which has earned him six submission wins (as well as some controversy, as witnessed by a recently completed 90-day suspension for failing to release the hold in a timely fashion at UFC 111), has become his signature finishing move. And while he doesn't have the officially recognized grappling credentials of a Demian Maia, Palhares' submission game is still just as dangerous.
A win over Marquardt in the UFC Fight Night 22 main event would move Palhares dangerously close to the forefront of the UFC's middleweight title picture. For the Brazilian who has already accomplished so much, it only makes sense to ride this dream all the way to its conclusion.
"Fighting is my life; it's what I do best," Palhares said. "My life is completely dedicated to fighting. Today, my objective is to become UFC champion."
While that's certainly no easy task, it hardly seems fair to count out Palhares considering what he's already accomplished.
"I thank God because my life has changed completely," Palhares said. "I was able to buy a house for my mother, and I live well in Rio. My life gets better every day, and I am blessed to be able to do what I love.
"Outside fighting, I look forward to having children and raising a family, and it's comforting to know they will never have to go through what I went through as a child."