Ahead of his clash with Mike Barnett at PFL Challenger Series 4, Pro Fighters League featherweight prospect Reinaldo Ekson spoke to Sherdog about the long and winding road that took him to punching banana trees in the garden of his parents, up to a $1 million prize — and the ways the trip didn’t change him one bit.
Reinaldo Ekson dos Santos Oliveira.
I don’t really have a nickname. People called me “Guerreiro”
[warrior in Portuguese]. But I’m better known as Reinaldo “Ekson” because my middle name is so distinct.
Where were you born and where do you live today?
I come from Itaja, state of Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil. Today I live in the capital of the state – Natal. This is where I was able to find the best training facilities.
Date of Birth?
March 8, 1989.
1.74 m (5 feet, 8 ½ inches).
How did you start MMA? What inspired you?
I worked at a video rental store. We had several Pride Fighting Championships DVDs. I watched a lot. It was a big inspiration. Also, my dad and I used to enjoy Bruce Lee and Jean-Claude Van Damme movies together when I was a kid. After watching them, I would go into our garden and start kicking the guava and banana trees – anything that allowed me to mimic what I had just seen. I did it, even though I knew nothing about combat. My first martial art was capoeira at the age of 10. It didn’t last long, as our master ended up leaving town. From there, I become a footballer. It was my father’s dream, since he was a professional player. But I ended up not going that route. When I was 16, I started training in Thai boxing. I had 11 fights between muay thai, kickboxing and thai boxing. In 2012, I migrated to MMA without any floor skills. I only knew how to hit him. It doesn’t matter, I won my first fight [against Caio Felipe]
by guillotine choke.
How was it when you started? Did you have support?
When I started, I had no moral or financial support of any kind. My parents were initially against my choice. Today they cheer me on and feel anxious when I fight. I’m from a small town upstate. Nobody wanted to help me. They didn’t believe in me. I would go around local pharmacies or supermarkets, looking for sponsorship. Very rarely I received money but it was something like 20 brazilian reais [less than $5 today]. I always had to work full time and train. I’ve spent my whole life doing both things. If I become financially stable, it’s going to be very strange to just train and rest.
Your record is a solid 17-5. You just won three in a row by submission. Can you tell us about some of your most important fights, as well as lessons learned from your defeats?
My last three victories have been very important. Some of my previous fights were also very memorable. In 2015 I was warned against my biggest rival in my hometown of Itaja [Paulo
Henrique Campelo Rodrigues]. It was very moving – a matter of honour. This guy graffitied my name in my own academy. After he challenged me, I accepted and had one of the best fights of my life. I beat him for three rounds. I didn’t want to end quickly. I just wanted to hit him. I hit him a lot. This fight was important on a personal level. After that, people in my town started believing in my potential. Another important fight was winning the championship belt in South Africa [at EFC 86]. It’s a fight that opened up new horizons for me. I arrived as a huge underdog. The guy
Kabesa] was 12-1. I submitted it in less than 2 minutes. It was an incredible moment. As for losses, I lost the second fight of my career [to Carlos
Silva]. It was near my hometown. I was pretty excited for this fight because I made a winning debut in MMA and only had one loss in Muay Thai. I was arrogant. I played with my opponent. The guy was kicking me and I wiped him off. I would tell him that his strikes were weak. I would ask him to punch me in the face. I was really arrogant. At that point, I became someone I had never been. I lost my humility by not showing respect to my fellow fighter. I ended up getting knocked out in front of everyone. It was the first of my fights that my father had attended. I was flat on the mat in front of my father. It was the greatest lesson of my life. After this loss, I took the time to reflect on it. Then I won eight in a row. This loss forced me to make a lot of changes.
What brought you to the Pitbull Brothers Academy?
Coming to Pitbull Brothers was a game changer for me. I kept thinking that I had to be loyal to my previous team. It held me back – a lot. I would be fooled. There was a stall. Promises were made but never kept. And I stayed, wanting to be loyal. I lost seven years with my old team. I had a few wins. It’s something I can’t deny. But coming to Pitbull Brothers was a total life and career transformation. It brought me to where I am today. I am better known, being interviewed by my international media. I started doing real MMA training. I got to know wrestling. We have the best boxing and jiu-jitsu trainers. There are a large number of training partners, proficient in different styles. There are eight to 10 fighters in my weight class alone. I have a lot of training partners. Pitbull Brothers is the best academy in the world. There is nothing better. Anyone who comes here and feels how our formation is, will understand. It was the best choice I have ever made.
Can you talk about fighting in the United States for the first time?
One of my great dreams is coming true, that of knowing the United States. It’s something I’ve always thought about, even when people didn’t believe in me. The three wins in South Africa were great to set me up to feel confident to win my next fight. In South Africa, I faced three really tough opponents. I beat all three by submission, although most of my maturation as a fighter happened within our academy. They prepared me to make PFL history.
What can you say about your next opponent, Mike Barnett?
He’s a great opponent. He is super strong and has heavy hands. Of course, we studied it. Every step he takes in the cage has been studied – what he does, what he repeats. He’s tough but he stands in my way. I will never allow it to get in the way of my life’s dream, especially considering everything I’ve been through to get to this point. I see myself beating him in a very exciting way for everyone watching. I trained hard to knock him out. Maybe he thinks I’ll try to grapple with him, but I’m a complete fighter. Wherever he wants to go, I’ll be ready. If he goes to the mat, I will submit him. If he stays up, I’ll knock him out. It won’t be boring and there won’t be any dashboards.
Does the possible $1 million prize in the PFL tournament influence your thinking right now?
I don’t think much about the year-end $1 million prize in the PFL. Of course, that’s my ultimate goal. When my teammates talk about it, it bothers me a bit. Money is not the most important. The main thing is to go to the PFL and show why I deserve to be here. I am here to write history. The price will be the consequence. I’m here to show my talent. I am here to finish off my opponents. Money doesn’t motivate me any more than I already was. I’m the same Reinaldo in the cage, whether it’s for $1 or $1 million.
Can you share some details about your training?
My workouts were tough. I’m lucky to have a sparring partner who looks a lot like Mike Barnett. It’s about the same size. He is strong. He enjoys punching, boxing and grappling. I’m lucky in that regard. My friend Gian Souza
[Patolino] was a big help. He is very aggressive and strong, like my opponent. My opponent has a lot of holes in his game. He forgets to defend when he goes on the attack. He goes blind. It will be a game of chess. I will lay my trap. He will fall in. I will catch it. He is about to fall. I have several weapons – a complete set. He won’t be able to bear it. My main goal is to keep him upright and knock him out. Our boxing trainer is Everton Lopes. My ground game is also sharp. I had the chance to work with
[wrestling coach] Eric Albarracin here in Brazil. The fighter Jose Mauricio da Rocha is always with me, helping me with my groundwork, and will be in my corner. And our jiu-jitsu coach is Vinicius Teixeira. I am very ready. Barnett won’t be able to blink. If he relaxes or tries to breathe deeply, he will lose.
What are your plans for the future, beyond this fight right now?
My plan is to enter the PFL tournament. I want to show why I deserve to be here. I will make history. I am also looking for a more stable life. I would like to stop doing other jobs, like driving for Uber, and getting up at 5 a.m. to teach classes. I would like to be able to only train and rest, in order to have more time for my family and for my daughters.
Do you have anything else to share?
To my fans – I’m 100% today. Luckily, it won’t be one of those fights where I deal with an injury. I am very well prepared and confident. It was a flawless training camp. I will win this fight. Unfortunately for my opponent, he is in my way. So I have to go past it. I worked hard for 15 years, waiting for my opportunity. It’s my chance now. I’ll do my best.