On the line is the World Light-Heavyweight Championship, vacant since being taken from former champion Gokhan ‘The Rebel’ Saki due to his not having defended it for over twelve months. Cavalari and Mwekassa, finalists in the GLORY 18 Contender Tournament, will now meet again, this time with the belt on the line.
“I have dreamed of being world champion ever since I first started to train. I want so badly to win this belt, to show that all my hard work and dedication paid off, and to show other kids in Brazil that they can achieve whatever they want if they dream of it and work hard for it” says the likeable contender.
Cavalari comes from the city of Curitiba, the most famous fighting city in Brazil. Steeped in martial arts heritage, it is the home town of such legendary names as Wanderlei Silva, Anderson Silva, Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua and many more. It is a thriving, modern city but – like all Brazilian metropolises – it has its problem areas, slums known in Brazil as favelas.
These areas are home to Brazil’s poorest people and, naturally, are also hotbeds of crime and violence as people do what they must to survive and make money. Unemployment is high and, to earn a wage, many young men are drawn into the drug-dealing gangs which operate in every favela. It is a dangerous line of work, with a high rate of mortality and long-term incarceration.
Cavalari’s family was affected by drugs. His father descended into addiction and eventually left the family home and went fully into the street life. Cavalari’s mother continued raising her family, first as a single mother and then with the help of a new husband. No chances were taken with young Saulo; he was given strict boundaries and structure to keep him on the right track.
“I grew up in a poor neighborhood with big criminality, but I never had problem with that,” he says, matter-of-factly.
“For a while my mother raised me alone because my father had a problem with drugs and turned street dweller. Some years later my mother got married with a great man who educated me very well and put me in military school.
“I had a happy childhood. I remember almost all phases of my childhood fondly. I broke a lot of mirrors training in front of the wardrobe, shadow-boxing against myself! Also, I always liked animals. I had several dogs, cats, hamsters, birds… even a horse, at one point.”
Kickboxing played a big part in Cavalari’s life from an early age. The energetic youngster was larger than his peers and boisterous too. He wanted to take up martial arts and his mother agreed that it would be a good outlet for his energy – but there were conditions attached.
“I began training kickboxing at 9 years old. I was the biggest of my age group and I seemed much older. I had an agreement with my mother: she permitted me to train in kickboxing but I had be a better student in school, because I was a little bit wild.”
Sadly, Cavalari’s mother passed away several years ago after a long period of illness, just as her son was on his run of victories which would bring him to the attention of GLORY talent scouts. When she entered the final stage of her illness Cavalari dropped everything to be her full-time carer, but she could see that his fighting career was about to take off and she insisted that he maintain his training.
“Taking care of my mother shaped me into the man I am today. She was very special for me and for my friends. Her name was Dona Cida. She had a rare disease. I knew what was coming and I knew that I would miss her. Some friends helped me to take care of her,” he recalls.
“I tried do all that I could, I went half a year without fighting but she told me that she would rather die than I stay without fighting. I was very conflicted because I wanted to stay with her all the time but she wanted me to go training kickboxing. It was hard. But I took care of her until the last minute. That made me a man and also learned to know who is really who.”
Having been through such a mental ordeal it is little wonder that Cavalari has a reputation as one of the most determined fighters in the game today. Coaches and training partners talk of him having incredible focus and a will to win which pushes him to endure huge amounts of suffering in the gym.
“When I enter the ring I’m willing to do anything to get the win. I ask god to grant me victory whatever the cost – I would give my life to win. I want to be remembered for a thousand years as fighter who achieved his dream. I want kids to be inspired by more story and use that inspiration to build their own stories like mine,” he says.
“I believe that I was born to fight. When I have pain, I fight with pain. The pains and difficulties exist but I don’t care. I increase my effort and forget about it, because I am a champion and champions don’t cry. Champion don’t give up because of some pain. If you are a champion, you know what I am saying. If you don’t fight through the pain, you could never be a champion.”
Outside of his training, Cavalari keeps a fairly low profile. He hangs out with his girlfriend of seven years, Suhellen Cristina Machado, his dog and his friends, the latter often at the beach or basketball court.
The 27-year-old looks forward to starting a family of his own one day, and he has big plans for his sons. “I don’t have any children yet, but I will. I am the last Cavalari,” he says.
“I want to do like Helio Gracie did, have a big family and have all of them practicing their martial art. For the Gracie family it was Jiu Jitsu and they made Jiu Jitsu grow all over the world. For me, my dream is have a lot of sons and train them to black belt in Muay Thai!”
Saulo Cavalari faces Zack Mwekassa for the vacant GLORY World Light-Heavyweight Championship this Saturday at Bellator/GLORY Dynamite. The fight will air live across the US on Spike TV.
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