Rodolfo Vieira is one of the best grapplers to ever compete in jiu-jitsu and shutting that door is a difficult task even if he considers his UFC career his No. 1 priority. That said, “The Black Belt Hunter” is ready to start saying “no” to lucrative offers.
Vieira only fought once in the octagon in 2020, tapping Saparbeg Safarov in three minutes at March’s UFC 248. An injury forced him out of a planned UFC middleweight bout with Markus Perez in October, but it wasn’t serious enough to prevent him from agreeing to a jiu-jitsu rematch with Kaynan Duarte, the only man to beat him in five years.
It didn’t end well for Vieira, however, as Duarte tapped him with a rear-naked choke inside three minutes in December. Vieira was already in camp for a UFC fight with Anthony Hernandez, which got postponed for Saturday night’s UFC 258 in Las Vegas, and realized that grappling at the highest level while having a foot out the door is a bad idea.
“I wasn’t trying to go on with both careers,” Vieira said in an interview with MMA Fighting, “But it happened that I got offers to fight at the Spyder [Invitational] and then that offer, which was hard to turn down, against Kaynan, but that wasn’t something I wanted. Ever since I came to MMA I decided I’d only do that, I’d dedicate 100 percent of my time to develop my game and my techniques to MMA. I wasn’t thinking about fighting jiu-jitsu anymore.
“After these last two events, I realized it’s not possible, you can’t fight such a high-level guy on short notice. Doing that is stupid. I don’t wanna go there just to keep my jiu-jitsu level high. It’s completely different. I don’t need to compete [in jiu-jitsu] to keep my jiu-jitsu level high and confident. I can do that in training. I know things change in the UFC, the jiu-jitsu game will be different. The jiu-jitsu level of UFC fighters isn’t the same of those guys I end up facing in jiu-jitsu. It’s way below.”
Yet, Vieira couldn’t decline the offer to rematch Duarte in December.
“I never fought for money, man. This time, I did it for the money,” he said. “It was good money. And fighting just for the money isn’t good, right? You just said something that put me in a tight corner now. If someone comes and offers me $50,000 of $100,000 to fight [jiu-jitsu], I have to do it, right? [laughs] But I get offers all the time.
“If I wanted to grapple 10 times a way, I would. But I don’t want to get there and not be 100 percent and just go for the money or any other reason, to stay in rhythm or whatever, and lose. I don’t mind losing, but I have to be prepared. If I have in myself that I gave my all in training and lost, at least I did a good work. I’ll be upset, of course, but I’ll be satisfied. Losing without that feeling, that you haven’t done what you could’ve, is the worst feeling in the world.”
Vieira said the promoters that booked his rematch with Duarte offered him another match moments after his defeat, but he “thanked them and declined it because it wouldn’t be fair for them to pay me and I get there and don’t fight well.”
The jiu-jitsu star, who won five IBJJF world titles and a ADCC gold medal before transitioning to MMA four years ago this week, says he has received other offers to grapple but turned them all down because he wants to make the most of his UFC career.
If Vieira was in sports just for money, sticking to jiu-jitsu could be more profitable at the moment.
“I’d be way more active if I was competing in jiu-jitsu,” he said. “No joke, I’d fight every month because it’s just one match. I used to prepare to fight five or six matches a day at Copa Podio, eight or nine matches at ADCC, and 10 matches at the Worlds. If you just compete once a month, a 10- or 20-minute match, it’s easier. But, like I said, I’m not doing it for the money.
“I want to make money and money motivates me, of course, but it’s just consequence of my work and effort. I know soon I’ll be making more money in the UFC, it’s just a matter of time. I’m in the beginning of my career and still have plenty of time to make good money in there.”
Vieira is 7-0 as a mixed martial artist with two of his wins under the UFC banner, a pair of submissions over Oskar Piechota and Saparbeg Safarov. He says it would be “a dream to fight MMA” in Abu Dhabi as part of a Fight Island show, but remains focused on his upcoming clash with Hernandez in Las Vegas.
Hernandez holds a professional MMA record of seven wins in 10 appearances, having won five by way of submission. That said, the Brazilian grappler believes it’s “a good matchup for me.”
“I believe my jiu-jitsu is better even though he has many submissions, but he also has a huge heart, good striking and good takedowns,” Vieira said. “He has good submissions, but his jiu-jitsu isn’t that good.
“I worked really hard to… I didn’t prepare to fight him, I’m always training to fight a top-5 fighter so I develop my game and gain more confidence. But this guy deserves respect regardless of how well his UFC career is going, but I really want to win Saturday. There’s a good chance I win with another submission.”