When we talk about the most famous fighter in Brazil, the options are the usual ones, as big names like 'Minotauro' Nogueira, Wanderlei Silva, Vitor Belfort, Lyoto Machida, Mauricio Rua and Anderson Silva fight for the favor of the fans and for much more appearances in the mainstream media.
As champions, Rua and Anderson are on top; Wanderlei, Belfort and Nogueira have the story behind them as well as the charisma, and Machida, a former champion, holds the mysteries of an unorthodox style. But there is one fighter not cited at this list, but who has much more superstar status than all those previously mentioned. His name is Gleison Tibau, and at least in the Northeast of Brazil, he's the man.
The famous Northeastern resident of Rio Grande do Norte is a busy guy when it comes to media in general. Appearances on the front page of the main newspapers of the state and on television have elevated the status of Tibau to a point where if there’s a soccer game among the two most popular teams of Rio Grande do Norte and a Tibau match in UFC, the biggest coverage goes to the lightweight competitor. Want proof? Type Tibau on youtube.com and you won’t find only fights, but interviews and tips from the famous athlete.
"Fighting with the name of the city/beach where I grew up (Tibau) helped my popularity," he says. "And the early days of my career were full of events with three fights on the same night, so I had quick submission wins that stunned the crowd and my name started to blast."
The combination of Tibau's fights, his sharing the name of his hometown, and the interest of the media in creating an idol resulted in many changes for the American Top Team member. From a shy and competitive guy who started mauling local opponents while defending the Rio Grande do Norte name against adversaries from other states, Tibau entered the UFC and emerged as a well-spoken man in front of the media, gaining more publicity and more fans.
"It’s funny to look back and see that when I started I didn't know exactly what MMA was," he laughs. "Even through the fans didn't know, I was educating me and educating them at the same time, and the opportunities and the positive results appeared. I knew the necessity of representing myself as a well-structured person outside the fights and after joining the UFC I contracted a PR company, and they put me in the right places at the right moments. I used those opportunities very well, and now I have a legion of fans and I'm considered a big star in Rio Grande do Norte. I think this is a perfect way to show fighters are intelligent, not ogres, and a way to get more attention to our sport."
From that point, Tibau was not only Tibau, he was Gleison Tibau, a UFC fighter with 11 (7-4) fights inside the Octagon, and while fame is good, it needs to come in manageable doses or the man in question can collapse under the bright lights and become hated and not loved. Because of this, Tibau says that PR was important for his first steps, but being conscious of what’s going on at all times is the key to his success.
"You have two sides for everything in your life,” he said. “Being famous opens doors and you can take it in two ways – by being seen as idolized or arrogant. You need to be an example for kids and for up and coming fighters, because all the time you are on focus and you have to prove yourself."
If fighting on the preliminary portion of UFC Fight Night 21in March wasn't seen by his fans in the city of Tibau, who usually set up a big screen in the main square of the city to watch his performances, the destruction and the new style he showed in his win over Caol Uno were heard. A totally different style from Tibau ended the night for the Japanese veteran by TKO in first round and made it clear that on September 15th against Jim Miller at UFC Fight Night 22, there is much more to be seen from their idol.
"You can't imagine how good it is to promise something and to realize it," he says about his pre-fight statements about his new aggressive pace. "I put confidence in my training, in my skills and the joy was stamped on my face after that fight. People made a joke of my speeches, saying I was bluffing and that I was going to secure a victory with my old style. I proved they were wrong and the most important thing is that I gave only a small display of what I'm capable of. More is coming."
Continuing to develop all the time isn't an easy ride, as Tibau had to prove that his game was evolving. For the Uno fight, the mission was accomplished, and facing Miller, it's a new mission with the same intention.
"My biggest difficultly was to be accurate with my strikes; power isn't anything if you don't know how to use it, and Katel Kubis adjusted it in my game," Tibau says. "I won't lose my aggressiveness, and I don't know what he'll try to do in the fight, however, I'm ready for everything. I'm prepared to keep the pace high for all 15 minutes of the fight, and this will be total pressure, but I want the finish in the first round."
This will be second consecutive fight of Tibau on a UFC Fight Night on Spike TV, and for a man who has already figured on the main cards of PPVs and has the desire to be a title challenger in 2011, he’s ready for whatever awaits him.
"What matters is to win and to climb the rankings,” he said. “TUF, UFN, UFC on Versus and UFC are excellent in all ways for a guy with my goal - the belt. Miller is in a good stage of his career, but I'll go after him. I'll push the same pace I did against Uno and let's see what happens."
Tibau's Road to The Belt Continues
"What matters is to win and to climb the rankings. Miller is in a good stage of his career, but I'll go after him. I'll push the same pace I did against Uno and let's see what happens."