Cleber “Clandestino” Sousa comes awake at eight o’clock, a combination of routine and necessity pulling him into his day. Before night falls, he will have trained, eaten, trained again, taught, and ruminated on his upcoming match. It will not be the first time he’s faced this opponent, but it will be accompanied by an unprecedented number of viewers.
Later tonight, September 30, Mikey Musumeci will return to the cage for ONE Championship on Prime Video 2: Xiong vs. Lee III and the promotion’s inaugural flyweight grappling championship bout. The BJJ community has lauded the Jersey native for his dominance, currently on a seven-bout win streak, and of his emergence as ONE’s flagship grappling athlete in the wake of Garry Tonon’s partial switch to MMA.
But to secure the belt, he will have to once again overcome one of the few men who’ve defeated him.
Sousa is an IBJJF Pans, São Paulo Open and Brazilian National Champion and longtime black belt under Gustavo Almeida. A São Paulo native, he found the mats at age 13 when a cousin took him to Almeida’s Jiu-Jitsu Social Project; a charity organization dedicated to providing training to at-risk youths. Raised by a single mother, Sousa found strong support from his family in his new sport. “At first she [my mother] didn’t accept it, because she didn’t see Jiu-Jitsu as a profession. But after she started to see results and that it was something I loved and worked on, she accepted and was very proud of who I became,” he said.
Sousa would sharpen his skills under Almeida, the established black belt giving him intense coaching, education and even a new name. “I was a child who had some traits and similarities with people from other Latin American countries, so the teacher looked at me and asked if I was from Manaus (indigenous) descent or if I was from another country,” Sousa said in an interview with Bloody Elbow. “And then they started calling me ‘Clandestino’ (Clandestine in English – as in ‘undercover native Brazilian’) and the nickname became my brand.”
First meeting Musumeci at Pans in 2017, the two fought a tightly contested gi bout to a ref’s decision. Showcasing top pressure and control, Sousa battled out of butterfly hook ankle locks, arm bars and more to hand Musumeci his second ever loss at black belt by a razor thin margin. Though Musumeci visibly contested the decision, the late top position advantage given to Sousa confusing him, he would soon get the opportunity to settle the score.
Their rematch at the 2017 All Abu Dhabi World Jiu-Jitsu Championship spelled a different story for Clandestino, losing to Musumeci via points before the latter went on to win the round robin tournament. Sousa was again able to stuff Musumeci’s attacks, but earlier positional aggression from the American secured him early points that proved needed.This would be their last confrontation for five years, a global pandemic and an attempted coup in America keeping us occupied meanwhile.
Musumeci has since accrued numerous superfight wins and four straight World’s gold medals. Cleber nabbed gold at the 2019 Pans, but this trilogy fight marks his highest profile contest yet.
“I completely stopped training in the gi after the Worlds and focused on working only on [no gi] grappling training,” Sousa said. “My focus is on Musumeci and on this title fight. I have no other name in my mind right now.”
Receiving the invitation to fight under ONE back in June, Sousa would later immediately accept the offer to rematch Musumeci for the belt.
Facing a more seasoned grappler this time out, Sousa claimed a better understanding of his opponent’s game. “I’m getting ready for everything. Nothing in particular. I know where he is dangerous, so I worked to nullify his game and not allow him to impose himself in the fight,” he said.
Renowned for his durability, Sousa has only given the tap five times in just under a decade. “I’ve always trained a lot my whole life and my essence is in resilience and constancy. And when we fight at a high level, combats are often defined in the details. I’m always on the lookout for that, and maybe that’s what makes the difference in the end,” he said. Musumeci himself offered praise to his opponent in an interview with ONE, excited to see if his submission toolbox can finally break through Sousa’s imposing wall.
“He’s a tough guy, just a really tough, solid guy. Like, he’s one of those guys who’s really hard to do things to. it doesn’t matter what you’re doing to him – he’s just solid and tough,” Musumeci said. “And he doesn’t give up, he pushes forward, he pushes the pace, he tries to break you mentally.”
As the second card for ONE’s new streaming deal with Amazon, grappling is set to tap into new audiences around the world. With new hardware and a trilogy win on the line, Sousa and Musumeci will soon become two of the most-watched grapplers on the planet. The card begins at 10pm EST at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, and is free for Amazon Prime users in the US and Canada, with international viewers able to tune in at the ONE Championship Youtube channel.
About the author