Home MMA News Uncovering the Origins of ‘Poatan’: The Story of How Alex Pereira’s Mentor Discovered Racism, Alcohol and Rituals

Uncovering the Origins of ‘Poatan’: The Story of How Alex Pereira’s Mentor Discovered Racism, Alcohol and Rituals

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Alex Pereira’s dream was something he never thought he could reach. When he was younger and working in a tire shop, he had to face problems from alcohol and sadness. Even though this seemed like an obstacle at the time, Alex still became the UFC middleweight champion. The journey took many bends and turns but it was worth it in the end.

Pereira wanted to become an athlete because he believed it could change his life. Soccer, the most popular sport in Brazil, was not something Pereira was good at, so he turned to martial arts instead. Growing up in a difficult home and often getting into street fights, martial arts felt like the answer for him- either give him a better future or teach him to be able to defend himself on the streets.

Wilson Nunes, who is also known as ‘Ninja’, was Pereira’s first trainer. Ninja saw a lot of potential in Pereira and knew that he should be trained by an expert coach. So Ninja contacted Belocqua Wera, one of the most skilled Kickboxing teachers in São Bernardo do Campo, and said to him, “This guy can be successful and win championships.”

At first, Wera didn’t want to spend any time on Pereira (a newcomer). But he finally gave in and allowed him to come to his gym for a test. He was put up against Wera’s best student ‘Eduardinho’, who had been the Brazilian champion in the past. Despite Alex being at a big disadvantage, he still put all of his effort in and showed that he could go far with more training.

After that, Pereira got some friendly advice.

Wera told him “You have to learn the technique in order to be successful, pure strength won’t do any good. You’re bigger and stronger than ‘Eduardinho’, but you saw what happened – you have to put a lot of effort and try to follow my style”.

When Wera asked him what he wanted to achieve, Pereira answered “I want to become the best!” He had no idea how important kickboxing was in the world.

“Where should we go?,” Wera asked.

“Anywhere that will help me become the best kickboxer in the world,” Pereira replied.

And with that, they had a plan – to make Pereira’s dream of being a great kickboxer come true, no matter what it took. It wouldn’t be easy though.

At the time, I was a teacher at an exclusive gym, but it was difficult to get one of my students in because he was from a poor family. Some coordinators didn’t want him there due to this. So, I had to arrange for a scholarship for him since the gym’s fees were higher than what he made at his job working at a tire shop – so he couldn’t afford it himself anyway.

Pereira was really good at what he did, which helped him land the deal. However, Wera faced a lot of opposition from other gym coordinators and coaches as he wanted to promote his young kickboxer.

Wera said “He didn’t even know that it was racism.” She added that “I saw it and because I’ve dealt with such social prejudice within my own family before, I knew that’s what happened here too. He didn’t understand this concept at the time.”

On top of that, Pereira was still hooked on alcohol.

“When I started teaching him, he would drink one litre of cachaça each day,” Wera said, referring to a popular Brazilian alcoholic drink made from sugarcane juice. “He usually drank alcohol mixed with coffee when there was no cachaça around.”

Pereira saw that his Indigenous background made him vulnerable to drugs and alcohol. He never told me about it, but he didn’t need to say anything for me to understand. Everyone should get a chance at a change. Pereira decided that if he wanted to be a better kickboxer, he needed to give up drinking alcohol.

One day, I was training with him in the boxing ring and trying to teach him some hard moves. I punched him really hard in the stomach, and he fell to the floor. When I saw this, I thought he was too weak for me to train him and that my time was wasted. But he got back up again only a few seconds later and there were tears in his eyes. That’s when I understood that it wasn’t weakness, he was really brave. He had been using bad things which damages his inside and it wasn’t easy to change him into what he is today!

Wera told Pereira about a special recipe he learned from his ancestors that could help him get better after drinking too much alcohol. Because Pereira did not have money to pay, the coach offered to buy things like Brazilian roots, lemon, honey, pineapple and other stuff needed to make juice which would “clean up” and cure his body.

WeraWera noticed something special about Pereira during his healing process. His parents eventually revealed that, just like Wera, his grandparents were Indigenous. After this realization, Pereira was given the nickname “Poatan”, which means “hands hard as rocks” in Tupi-Guarani.

Wera said that Pereira initially didn’t have any idea what being Indigenous meant. So Wera helped him by performing traditional dances to revive the spirit of his ancestors and awaken his mind and spirit.

Poatan was trained by Wera and became the kickboxing champion in Brazil. After that, he became a two-division title holder for GLORY and UFC Champion. Despite no longer being trained together, there are no hard feelings between them – Wera still supports Poatan and feels proud when he wins championships.

Pereira still uses the same fighting style he learnt in Sao Bernardo do Campo. His coach calls it the ‘Jaguar Style’. It’s special because Pereira can change his body angles while keeping both feet on the ground, something your typical boxer can’t usually do.

In November, Pereira used this style to knock out the middleweight champion Israel Adesanya at Madison Square Garden and make a comeback in the fifth round.

Pereira and Adesanya will fight each other again this Saturday at UFC 287 in Miami. Wera is sure that she’ll win.

Before Sean Strickland’s fight, I had a dream. In the dream, he was getting beaten up and he said that he lost connection with his ancestors. So I tried to reconnect them for him so that he can find back in spirit and mind. After waking up, I did my dances. Then, as you can see from the result of the fight, Sean felt strong and powerful like a warrior or even like a giant in that fight. He even expressed this feeling in an interview later on.

Recently, Adesanya shared a video of a panther catching its prey – a jaguar. Panthers are very important in his culture as they represent supernatural animals. I can’t help but be reminded of the time when I watched his first fight and screamed at night due to excitement. However, now that I’m already 70 years-old with high blood pressure, my health may not be able to handle it anymore. Adesanya must be prepared for this upcoming situation as he will have the strong support of African people around him. [Laughs]

“In the beginning of the fight, he has to use a kickboxing style. Move around, keep your feet on the ground and fight aggressively. Make sure to defend well but also use punches or even try to knock out his opponent right away! Adesanya might already have found weaknesses in his techniques, so if he does this, it’s possible that he can win against Adesanya.”

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