Brazil’s Boxing Revolution

By Cain Bradley on October 6, 2017
Brazil’s Boxing Revolution
Compared to Argentina and Venezuela, it's surprising that the continent's giant struggles.

Eder Jofre is similar to Roberto Duran, Barbados Joe Walcott, Alexis Arguello and Emile Griffith; the standout boxer from a nation not known for boxing…

When you think of Brazilian sport, boxing is not high on the list. Football, volleyball, basketball, tennis and surfing all dwarf boxing in terms of popularity whilst even in the hierarchy of combat sports, it comes behind judo, mixed martial arts and Brazilian jiu jitsu. Prior to the 2012 Olympics the country had only won one medal. The 2000 Olympics saw four boxers knocked out in round one and two in the second round while in 2004 the team managed just the one win. Compared to neighboring countries such as Argentina who have 24 Olympic medals and Venezuela who have five, it seems surprising that the giant of the continent struggles.

A big reason for this is likely there is little money in the boxing circuit, with the MMA circuit offering better pay and better opportunities. Corruption, rife throughout the country, also became commonplace in the boxing world. William Silva, who lost to Felix Verdejo, claimed it was not that MMA fighters were better than boxers but rather the market was better. Even trainers are lured more to MMA, with Luiz Carlos Dorea now more known for his work in that field with the Nogueira brothers and Junior Dos Santos. This is despite Brazil having arguably one of the 20 best boxers of all time in Eder Jofre. Instead Jofre has become similar to Roberto Duran, Barbados Joe Walcott, Alexis Arguello and Emile Griffith; the standout boxer from a nation not known for boxing. He did not seem to inspire a nation of children and only chose to train younger boxers for a couple of years instead being a politician.

There have been three other Brazilian world champions, with the most well known probably Acelino Freitas along with Miguel de Oliveira and Valdemir Pereira. Times could be changing for the South American nation though. They have won four medals over the last two Olympics compared to one prior to that. The ten wins of 2016 Games are far more impressive than one in 2004. A big part of the turnaround has been the state of Bahia where a state of the art boxing complex will hopefully hone future champions. Joedison Teixeira describes Bahia as a state that “lives and breathes boxing.” Adriana Araujo, a bronze medalist from 2012, claimed the “people are born with their hips moving” and called it the “Cuba of Brazil.” Three of the four Olympic medalists over the last two Games have gone pro and they may be the keys to a potential Brazilian revolution in boxing, similar to what has happened in Great Britain following solitary medalists at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics.

Robson Conceicao is from the home of Brazilian boxing in Bahia. Specifically he was brought up in Boa Vista de Sao Caetano in Salvador, the state capital. He is the most decorated Brazilian amateur having become the 2016 Olympic champion as well as both a silver and a bronze in World Championships. The story of Conceicao was often told throughout the Rio Games as he went from street hawker to gold medalist. As a child he tried to support the family by waking up at 4am to help set up his Grandmother’s street stall which sold vegetables and would sell popsicles on the beach at Boa Viagem after school. His family were poor and he struggled to purchase boxing equipment, once feigning an arm injury so he could get hospital treatment and then used the bandages to tape his hands for boxing training. In 200 bouts, Conceicao reckons he had only about 15 defeats which saw him become a seven-time national champion, three-time continental champion and one-time world champion.

He begun boxing as part of a social project in Bahia with Lino Brito, losing his first fight as a fifteen-year-old, before moving on to Egberto da Silva and then Luiz Dorea. His inspiration to take up boxing was rather unconventionally his uncle, a famous street fighter who would return home bloody and bruised that was the inspiration for him to take up boxing. When he was young, he could not even afford the bus so would run there and back explaining “I was tired, but I had no choice.” He is involved with a social project Boa Vista Boxing, which aims to get local kids off the street and away from drugs. His Grandmother Neusa described him as not like the rest of the boys, which was a “blessing.” With that you imagine Conceicao, already a star in Brazil, is acutely aware of the pressure on his shoulders. He is part of the golden couple of Brazilian boxing alongside wife Erika Matos, a decorated boxing champion who he met in 2005. At the 2011 Pan American Games in Mexico, where he won silver, he proposed live on TV with a banner proclaiming “Erika, I love you. Do you want to get married?”

His first big success as a boxer came under Dorea when winning the Brazilian National Championship aged 17. As a twenty-year-old he entered his first global tournament, losing to Yasnier Toledo in round one of the 2009 World Championships after not being able to spar in the weeks approaching the tournament. By 2011, Conceicao was a different boxer. He edged Martin Joseph Ward in round two before coming up against Vasyl Lomachenko, the Ukrainian superstar in the round of 16. He was given the 20-19 decision but the Ukrainian Boxing Federation complained and the result was overturned by removing the points deducted from Lomachenko in the bout. The deduction may have been harsh but it is highly unusual for it to be reversed. His tight defense mainly worked while his inside boxing was more suited to the current iteration of amateur boxing. At the 2012 Olympics he was defeated in the first round by Josh Taylor, a loss he attributed to a hometown decision. In 2013 he lost to Lazaro Alvarez while it was Albert Selimov defeating him in 2015. His WSB record was also quite impressive going 3-0 in the five round fights whilst representing the Italia Thunder. In winning his Olympic title he overcame Anvar Yunusov, Hurshid Tojibaev, Lazaro Alvarez and finally Sofiane Oumiha.

Prior to the Olympics, Conceicao had already declared he would be turning professional. A few weeks after the Olympics were finished, after a whirlwind of interviews and TV appearances, he signed with Top Rank. It was a five-year contract, with a minimum of six fights a year. Todd duBoef referenced “the incredible connection he has to those fans in Brazil.” He described his marketability as “sensational, absolutely over the top.” He has campaigned in the super featherweight division, going 5-0 with four stoppages so far. The only man he could not stop was Clay Burns in his first fight on the Pacquiao vs. Vargas undercard, but he has proven very tough to stop, even top prospect Devin Haney not managing it. He is a tough prospect to evaluate. Clearly very athletic, he has a unique aggressive style. He throws punches from odd angles but these can be wild and actually slap opposition. He is a vicious puncher especially to the body and usually starts fight with a tight guard but can be hit. Luiz Dorea always pointed out his determination as his strongest characteristic, explaining “he felt he could be a champion.” It is far too early to say just what his upside is as a professional but sometimes the will is more of a factor than any amount of skill.

Before Conceicao won his gold, two brothers were tasked with reviving Brazilian boxing. Esquiva Falcao is the younger brother and won a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics although probably deserved gold whilst Yamaguchi Falcao, two years older was a bronze medalist. Like Conceicao the brothers come from a fighting family. It was in the ring though, with his father and grandfather boxing, although not to the standard of the brothers. The father was Adegard Florentino, also known as the Black Bull, who was a pioneer in introducing martial arts to Brazil. They are two of eighteen siblings and when growing up they used a banana tree in place of a boxing bag. They boys grew up poor, the parents often going with no food so the children could eat. They are from Vitoria, Espírito Santo but learnt their craft at the All in Fight Institute in Rio de Janiero under Raff Giglio. Esquiva even lived there for awhile, as he soaked in Giglio’s philosophy which was mainly focused on being a good person.

The two were always close, helping each other in training. However with different teams around them, they are no longer as close. Yamaguchi described it as “a pair of singers who have separated for a solo career.” Esquiva even criticized his attitude in his first bout as a professional. It was the 2012 Olympics though where the brothers put down their name in history. They became the only brothers other than Leon and Michael Spinks to win medals at the same Olympics. Esquiva won a silver medal, but many would argue he deserved the gold. He went down 14-13 to Ryota Murata after reviving a vague two-point penalty that cost him the bout. He did overcome Anthony Ogogo in the semi final with a big win of 16-9. Perhaps more impressively, Yamaguchi won a bronze in the light heavyweight. Naturally a middleweight, he put on the six kilos as the older brother so the two would not have to fight. He was drawn in the same quarter as Julio Cesar la Cruz, the Cuban favorite who had defeated him three times. Yamaguchi forced Cruz to be the aggressor and counter punched his way to an 18-15 victory. In the semi final he could not get past Egor Mekhontsev.

The name Esquiva is Portuguese for dodge, with his father hoping to guide him during bouts simply by shouting his name. Esquiva actually spent a while during his teenage years selling drugs. He recalls friends being killed and arrested, some of whom he describes as “evil.” Esquiva competed as an amateur in the WSB, only going 1-1 whilst representing the Mexico Guerreros. He went on to win a bronze medal in the 2011 World Championship, losing by a wide margin to Ryota Murata. He spoke of how well recognized he became after the Olympic medal and claimed “there is a lack of professional boxers in Brazil, but I think I’m here at the right moment to make Brazilian boxing more popular.” Although intending to stay amateur for 2016, a lack of funding and failure to keep promises turned to him to the professional ranks. He signed with Top Rank, basing himself out of Las Vegas. He gets trained by one of the best in Miguel Diaz having also been trained by Robert Garcia and Ismael Salas.

As a professional, Esquiva has campaigned in the middleweight division and has steadily fought to an 18-0 record. Despite plenty of last minute changes to opponent, he has not fought a professional with a losing record. He has never really been challenged as a professional, either stopping his opponent or dominating them to a shutout. His best wins have come over Luiz Hernandez, Jamie Barboza and in his last fight against Norberto Gonzalez. The southpaw has a long reach for the division, with his 73” coming in at the same length as Jermall Charlo and Daniel Jacobs while his height is more modest at 5’10”. He is not the quickest starter, preferring to work his opponent out and force the action once he has figured out a weakness. He boxes out of a crouch, opening gaps with feints and little movements. He consistently switches to the body but is a tad slow and can be caught with punches. Perhaps the best news to fans of Esquiva is that he is known as a hard worker behind the scenes who strives to improve every day.

Esquiva seems well aware of what he could mean for Brazilian boxing, often suggesting he is aware that anything that is good for him, is also good for Brazilian boxing. His marketability is unquestionable! Sports journalist Eduardo Ohata claimed the dream was “Esquiva will be the size of Neymar and he’s going to change boxing’s position in Brazil.” The Maracanazinho or the Jeunesse Arena could potentially host a world title fight of his. He is very charismatic, noted for his marketability by Todd duBoef and Chris Zoller, who signed him to a sponsorship deal with Everlast suggesting “Falcao has all the ingredients to be worldwide superstar.” You would like to have seen Top Rank move him quicker unless they have doubts about his ability. Never fighting a boxer with a losing record suggests some sort of fast track but his best opponent is Norberto Gonzalez, an average light middleweight. The WBC have ranked him 26th but no other organization has him ranked although he did suggest on Twitter he would have his eye on the Murata vs. N’Dam bout while his manager Sergio Batarelli suggesting he would challenge for a title in 2018.

Yamaguchi Falcao was also given a name with meaning to his dad. Instead of being an instruction, it was the name of his trainer, a Japanese man. He showed the first signs of his ability in the 2009 World Championship, making it to the third round of the middleweight tournament where he lost narrowly to the eventually gold medalist Abbos Atoev. In 2011 at the Pan American Games he would lose to Julio Cesar la Cruz but having previously been stopped by the Cuban, to only lose on points was an improvement. That was his best international result as he once again went out in the third round of the 2011 World Championships, to Elshud Rasulov who went on to medal. Along with this brother he received accolades for his performance at the Olympics. He also performed in the WSB for the Mexico Guerreros going 4-2 and losing in the test event to Sergio Derevyanchenko.

When he turned pro, it was with Golden Boy, rivals of his brother’s promotion—Top Rank. Richard Schafer believed “he has the skill and charisma to become a star and with the entire country of Brazil behind him, the sky’s the limit for him.” He is now managed and trained by Jose Rodriguez of Fire Fist Boxing Promotions. He has 14 wins and a no contest which came in his first bout. He took on undefeated Martin Fidel Rios in an eight-round contest, as challenging as pretty much any debut gets. It was ruled a no contest after a feisty two rounds when both men continued to throw punches after the bell after being warned during the rounds for holding and illegal punches. Speaking to his appeal, he debuted on Globo, the second largest commercial TV network in the world. He would go on to beat Rios in his fourth bout. He won the WBC Latino Middleweight title with a second round stoppage of Jorge Daniel Caraballo in his eleventh defending it once. His biggest win came against the unbeaten Morgan Fitch in what was seen as a tough test with many favoring the American. Falcao won every round with his aggressiveness and intelligent defense. Last time out against Taronze Washington he headlined an event in Florida, winning by fourth round stoppage.

He is a couple of years older than Esquiva at 29 and without the threat of having to fight his brother in a tournament, he can compete at his optimum middleweight. He is of similar size to his brother, with his reach at an incredible 74”, huge for the division. He describes himself as trying to imitate Roy Jones Jr. A southpaw like his brother he is still aggressive but not to the same extent. He sticks out a better jab, using the reach and putting it in combinations. His footwork and balance is not as impressive but he is more responsible defensively with good reflexes. He is also powerful and works the body in a similar way to his brother. His speed is better and allows him to put combinations together. He is currently ranked higher than his brother, 17 with the WBC and also with both the IBO and BoxRec computerized rankings.

These three men may not realize how important they are to the future of Brazilian boxing. Success for any of those men though would surely see the sport expand into Brazil in a way it never has. The potential fan base exists. The Brazilians love football and mixed martial arts how the Mexicans and Puerto Rican’s love boxing. It would surely be able to find space in its heart to embrace boxing in a way it never has if it got some success. SporTv have shown Conceicao and Esquiva Falcao fights. Yamaguchi Falcao has been on Globo. These are steps to mainstream popularity that Brazil is already taking. They have plenty of arenas and television channels capable of hosting world title boxing, they just need the world title boxers. It is far too early to say on Conceicao but most gold medalists who turn pro tend to experience high success. The only gold medalist from 2012 to turn professional and not to fight for a world title so far is Egor Mekhontsev while of the 2008 crop all five have fought for a world title. The twins currently reside in a tough weight class. Yamaguchi impresses me more but Esquiva is known as a hard worker and has a built in storyline which could see him fight Ryota Murata for his world title. These three are not the only prospects in Brazil, with Everton Lopez and Robenilson De Jesus other boxers with great potential. Just one achieving great success could signal an upturn in boxing that begins from the roots up. Estivan Falcao has followed in the footsteps of his brothers by turning professional despite originally proclaiming he wanted to compete at the 2020 Olympics. He has stated a lack of support and structure in the amateur game is what has turned him off. Esquiva noted when he became a professional he had to completely adapt his style as the coaches in Brazil concentrate only on the amateurs. You have to imagine it could all change for Brazil, it just needs a star to come through. Success inspires success and for Brazil the success could be just beginning.

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  1. Kid Blast 04:16pm, 07/30/2018

  2. nicolas 01:31pm, 10/09/2017

    Boxing in Brazil with Jofre and other fighters seemed to be a little bit better than. Amazing that Freitas had the opportunity to become a world champion. think about what is happening in Korea today, no boxers in the top ten, yet at one time it was a country with many world champions. Italy was big with boxing in the 60’s and even early 70’s, but where is that country now. France appeared to have a revitalizing of boxing in the 90’s, but where is it now? Germany as a boxing hotbed also seems to be coming to an end, as perhaps Fighters from the east seem to be headed towards the USA, not to Germany. Boxing is really a sport of opportunity, in that you might have great talent to become a great fighter, but due to either economics, or not good promotional groups, you will not become a world champ or even a contender.

  3. Lucas McCain 07:27am, 10/09/2017

    Jofre was known to most of us by articles in Boxing Illustrated.  TV coverage very limited back then.  So it was thrilling to meet him decades later at a Ring anniversary gala.  Slim, suave, and friendly, he tried to converse with me in French and when my poor language skills became painfully obvious, he laughed and said goodbye.  I shoulda studied more!!

  4. Cain Bradley 01:01am, 10/08/2017

    Fair point about Panama

  5. David 03:16pm, 10/07/2017

    Similar to Roberto Duran? Like the late Angelo Dundee once said “There will never be another Roberto Duran, never.”

  6. tuxtucis 12:31am, 10/07/2017

    “Eder Jofre is similar to Roberto Duran, Barbados Joe Walcott, Alexis Arguello and Emile Griffith; the standout boxer from a nation not known for boxing…”
    Roberto Duran? Panama not known in boxing? Panama Al Brown, Ismael Laguna, Hilario Zapata, Eusebio Pedroza…Are they from Antarctica?

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