Almiro Barros did not come to Asia to make a name for himself as a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter. The Mundials silver medalist simply wanted to help spread the word about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), a sport which he had fallen in love with as a teenager.
"I started Jiu Jitsu when I was 14 and I entered my first competition as a white belt in 1999. I came to Singapore in 2009 because my friend Brodinho (ONE FC 135-pound contender Leandro Issa) invited me and I came to teach Jiu Jitsu."
Barros, who will be making his professional MMA debut against Kian Pham at ONE FC: "Champions & Warriors" next week, was initially too focused on his teaching commitments to even consider following in the footsteps of Brazilian team mates like Zorobabel Moreira, Alex Silva and Issa by trying his luck inside the cage.
"I run a program for the kids at Evolve MMA and when I came here I wanted to help Evolve to be number one not just for MMA but for BJJ as well. Some of the kids are very shy when they come to the class but it makes them more confident, it makes them happy and they have a fun time. Now kids play computers too much so it is good for them to do some exercise and maybe one day someone from Singapore can be a world champion."
Initially content to honor his teaching commitments, as more of his team mates began to enjoy success competing for Dare, Ruff, the UFC and ONE FC, Barros became increasingly curious about his potential as a mixed martial artist and eventually decided to take the plunge.
"At Evolve MMA I have everything, there are world champions in Muay Thai and boxing and wrestling as well as BJJ so it is the perfect place to train. At first I was not sure because I was worried I would not have time to teach as well, but when you see the best MMA program in Asia every day of course you want to join in."
Having won numerous medals at a national, regional and even international level, Barros is already an accomplished BJJ practitioner whose specialty will always be submissions, but he says he would not be making his MMA debut if he didn't believe he was sufficiently well rounded to succeed.
"It is up to Chatri (Sityodtong) and Heath (Sims) and they know MMA very well and they watch me every day and one day they say to me 'Almiro you are ready, you can fight MMA now.' I was very excited and fighting for ONE FC is a dream for me because everyone say this is the best show in Asia and all the best fighters in Asia fight for ONE FC."
Barros' opponent at the Istora Senayan Stadium in Jakarta will be an Australian who is a veteran of 13 fights. Pham has a clear advantage in terms of experience and the Brazilian acknowledges he will be an underdog.
"I have never fought MMA before, but he has many fights and has so much experience, for sure it will be a tough fight but I believe in my BJJ and I have been training and sparring with some of the best fighters in the world at Evolve MMA, so I believe I will be ready for everything."
While Barros is excited to begin a new chapter in his life as he competes inside the ONE FC cage for the first time he says that his primary focus remains spreading the word about BJJ,
"I came to Singapore to teach BJJ because I love this sport and it has been very good in my life and for me this is very important, even if I can win many MMA fights I still want to be a BJJ teacher. I only hope my face does not look too ugly after I fight because I do not want to scare the children in my BJJ class!"