Interview: The art of beating a favorite in BJJ, with Vinicius ‘Trator’ Ferreira

Trator after his win over Kaynan at the Brazilian Nationals 2019. IBJJF/Focados no Tatame

The men’s heavyweight champion at the 2019 Brazilian Nationals, held in early May in Barueri, Vinicius “Trator” Ferreira had some hurdles to clear on his way to the gold. With few hours of sleep available and a tough opponent in his bracket, Trator had the willpower to overcome both challenges and close out the final with Dimitrius Souza, a training partner of his, for Alliance.

Before securing his spot in the final, Trator, who was in the process of moving to New York, had to face Kaynan Duarte, an old rival who was riding some good momentum. Trator went for it, kept a solid base and bested his adversary of many years.

In the following interview, he tells us how he did it.

GRACIEMAG: How was the sweet task of sharing the Brazilian title with Dimitri?

Vinicius Trator: Actually we didn’t even talk about it in advance. We were focused on fighting. When we in fact arrived in the final together, we shared it, no problem — we are quite close; there was no issue. We each know what the other guy’s daily routine is like. He was already a Brazilian champion; I arrived not long ago; so I’m grateful to him for letting me take the gold. Come to think of it, I should have given him a little bit more of the prize, right? [Laughs.]

You right away saw that Kaynan was in your bracket. How did you manage to ignore this and think fight to fight, step by step?

I wasn’t concerned about that. I train a lot, and I know I can take on anybody. I never tremble thinking of the tough opponents I may face. I take one step at a time, and that’s very important to my campaigns. I don’t look all the way ahead. Sometimes we even look out of curiosity [laughs], but not to think ahead; it’s always one step at a time. No matter who my opponent is, I always give it my best. And I think it’s important to have some very tough guys in your bracket, because that’s what forces us to evolve and work on our mind.

How did you seek to shut down Kaynan’s game?

To shut down his game, I didn’t really think of much; I just adjusted a few details of things that I saw I was getting wrong. For example, I remembered my duel with him in Spyder, last year in Seoul, and tried to fix that. I believe that, even without scoring, I shut down his game and evolved plenty mentally — I’ve begun fighting smarter.

And you hadn’t slept right. Tell us how you ignored your sleepiness at the Nationals.

Yeah. I just moved to the U.S., and I was sorting many things out at once. If I slept a total of 20 hours that week of the Nationals, I’d be surprised. I was anxious with the resolution of a few things — I always lie in bed thinking. One day before the Nationals, and between Saturday and Sunday, I slept three hours a night. But before that, I trained hard. The funny thing is that this may all have helped me, because I didn’t feel an ounce of adrenaline at the championship. The desire to win and self-confidence made me move forward and not think much. The problem is that, on Monday, I was all busted up, and still I went to teach class to say goodbye to my students. But in the end, it worked out.

What was the key moment in the Kaynan fight?

I touched his gi and immediately felt I was doing well in the fight; I felt great. He called me to his guard and tried to sweep me, but my base was good. “He’s not sweeping me today,” I thought. I almost got on the side at one point in the fight. It was an errorless, very tight duel, and I tried to position myself right in the middle of his attacks, and in one of those I almost got there. I felt it was possible, and this attempt made me get to half-guard. After this fight, I understood I can really beat anyone.

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How many times have the two of you fought?

We have fought like ten times, since our juvenile days. I am happy to see how much he’s growing in the sport, and facing Kaynan since the beginning of my career, the two of us testing each other throughout our journey was very cool. The first time we were face to face was in 2011, at blue belt!

What is your lesson for a reader who’s about to take on a favorite?

First, you have to believe in yourself. That’s the first step. There are many ways to prepare mentally, but the main thing is to do your best in training, work hard and get in there to fight with a strong mind, thinking only about winning and giving your best in the duel — if you trained, it’s possible to beat anybody. It’s that old thing: No one is invincible, so you just have to believe in yourself and fight with what you know. Sometimes people talk about merit, that an athlete is good at this and that, he defeated this athlete and that other one — but the reality is that no one is unbeatable. If you give it your best and believe in yourself, you can beat anyone. Another tip: Reject the negative words, because they come at your head hard. But you have to be stronger and kick out this darkness that shows up sometimes. Believe in yourself and think positive!

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