Gleristone Santos is not a name MMA fans might be overly familiar with, but I have a feeling that’s all going to change very soon. Tomorrow night, in Hidalgo Texas, “Toninho Furia” will make his debut onto the much larger Bellator platform rather than the regional promotions that have been enjoying his excellent ground game and ferocious striking for more than a decade. He’ll be facing off against John Teixeira da Conceição, a tough featherweight hailing from the Nova Uniao fight camp at Bellator 143.
For those of you that are finding Toninho’s name familiar, former Bloody Elbow staff writer and all around awesome dude, Patrick Wyman did a great prospect piece that listed him as one of the Top 25 picks for future champion. Now, the 27-year-old has the opportunity to start working his way towards a shot at featherweight gold, a shot that comes with the added perk of being in the position to possibly avenge a 2009 loss to current champion, Patricio Freire.
In a recent interview with Bloody Elbow, Santos discussed what he feels makes him stand out from the herd of grapplers currently making waves all across the sport, where grapplers go wrong when making the transition to MMA, what he wants to be remembered for and much more. Here’s what he had to say:
Stephie Haynes: Bellator has been signing lots of Brazilian grappling stars. In your own words, what do you feel makes you stand out from the rest of the guys?
Toninho Furia: My style is completely different in the sense that I have a strong Muay Thai background as I have fought undefeated in Thailand. And I also mix my striking style with Capoiera which makes it more entertaining. I am an accomplished grappler and I have wrestling as well. So I differentiate myself with my dynamic striking, combined with a complete game.
Stephie Haynes: Rematches are very important to some fighters and not so much to others. Where do you stand on that?
Toninho Furia: I like the idea of rematches when it makes sense to have them. Not all fights deserve rematches. But the ones that do are really special to watch. For a fighter it is an opportunity for redemption or to prove that it was not luck. So it can be extremely entertaining for everyone.
Stephie Haynes: It’s very opportune that you ended up in Bellator where Patricio Pitbull also fights. How many wins do you feel you’ll need to put together to get that rematch with him?
Toninho Furia: In this case, a rematch is important to me. The title is important for all fighters. But I also fight for pride. When Pitbull and I first fought I was very inexperienced and young. Now I have grown and evolved a lot. I am a completely different fighter. Pitbull knows that I am coming, and he is scared! Pitbull has also evolved. I truly believe when we finally fight again, it will be one of the greatest rematches to watch for the fans. I think within a year we will see this rematch happen.
Stephie Haynes: Where do you think Conceição‘s most glaring weakness lies?
Toninho Furia: I think his reflexes could be faster and his reaction time to capitalize on attacks.
Stephie Haynes: You haven’t had a loss in four years. Have you reached a point where you don’t feel much pressure to maintain your streak, or is that pressure always there, as a sort of mechanism to keep you sharp?
Toninho Furia: The winning streak does not create pressure it just creates experience. Something that I value greatly is that not a lot of fighters my age have my experience. Everything I do, I do with faith and God. I am ready for the new challenge ahead of me.
Stephie Haynes: So many grapplers get into MMA but have a difficult time adjusting their skillset to be effective in the sport. Where do you think they go wrong?
Toninho Furia: I think some of those fighters start MMA at a late age. The key is being aware of all aspects of the game, and transitioning to each comfortably. Some strikers are not comfortable defending a take down, for example, while still having an aggressive or effective stand-up strategy.
Stephie Haynes: We recently saw Nick Diaz get an insane, 5-year suspension for a positive marijuana test (his 3rd one). What did you think of that whole mess?
Toninho Furia: I have not followed this particular case closely to be honest. So it is difficult to have a meaningful opinion. I will say that I am a big fan of Nick Diaz, and I hope that he got a proper due process in his case.
Stephie Haynes: You’ve been fighting for more than 10 years, since you were just 17. What is the most important thing you’ve learned over the course of your career?
Toninho Furia: What I have learned in my career is to appreciate the little things, and to always capitalize on the opportunities presented to us.
Stephie Haynes: What were your childhood and teenage years like?
Toninho Furia: Sports were always a part of my childhood. My mother enrolled me into Karate when I was only 5 years old because I had too much energy. It was a great experience for me to have that apart of my life at such a young age. When I was around 10 years old I started also doing Capoiera, and made a lot of friends. Capoiera is something very traditional in Brazil especially in the NE of Brazil where I grew up. It became a great base for me to become passionate for the martial arts.
Stephie Haynes: If you hadn’t chosen MMA what would your career path be?
Toninho Furia: I think I would have become a soccer player. I played a lot of soccer as a child and I was good at it. If MMA were to no longer be in my life today, I would most probably become a police officer.
Stephie Haynes: When it’s all said and done, many years down the road when you decide to hang up your gloves, what would you like to be most remembered for?
Toninho Furia: I want to print my name in the history books of our sport. When the fans remember me, I would like for them to think of a completely different, unique, and entertaining fighter. I want to be remembered as skillful, explosive, creative, and always going after the finish.
You can watch Toninho tomorrow night on the Bellator 143 card, live from Hidalgo, TX on the preliminary portion of the card, available on Spike TV beginning at 630 PM EST.
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