By Hywel Teague
How far would you go to realize your dreams? Would you leave your family behind, move across the country, and sleep in a tiny space above the same mat you train on twice every day?
That’s exactly what Gutemberg Pereira did.
He simply wasn’t in a position to fullfil his potential, and so at 18 years of age and with only two and a half years of training under his belt he left everything in his hometown of Salvador, Bahia, behind for a shot at training with arguably one of the toughest teams in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
“GF Team is a true jungle, where you learn how to survive” explains Victor Silverio, known international competitor and one of Pereira’s teammates. “I don’t think there’s tougher training in the whole world. It’s kind of hostile for whoever comes here.”
An 18-year-old blue belt at the time, Pereira reached out to GF Team head coach Julio Cesar asking for permission to join them in Rio, citing the team’s star Rodolfo Vieira as his biggest inspiration. “I told him I wanted to be the next Rodolfo,” laughs Gutemberg. “He said, ‘we’ll see!’”
People from the Northeast of Brazil are known for being laid back, and Gutemberg has got all the characteristics of someone from the region. He’s quick to smile and loves to joke around. You’d be forgiven for thinking he may have bitten off more than he could chew by choosing GFTeam as his new home. Far from floundering, he’s done nothing by thrive in the highly competitive environment the team offers.
So far, he’s won double gold (weight and absolute) at the no-gi Pan-Ams and the World Championships, he’s won the Rio Open, Sao Paulo Open, South American Championships, and much more. He was promoted to brown belt after the 2015 World Championships; the plan had been another double gold performance and though he won his weight category he just missed out on the openweight title. “It didn’t happen this year, I was only champion in my category,” he says with a shrug.
At 6’4” and 210lb, Pereira’s game is built around using his long legs to create leverage for sweeps - he switches effortlessly between spider and de la riva guard - yet his top game is very similar to that of his idol, Rodolfo: dynamic movement and pressure, pressure, pressure.
His game has been forged during twice-daily training sessions at GF Team’s HQ in the suburb of Meier. Training there is not for the meek. 30-40 competitors pack into a 750 sq ft space. Rolling is intense, every position is bitterly fought for, and not a single position is given away. The gym is far from the picturesque postcard beaches of Rio. Trucks. buses and trains roll past outside the open front of the gym. It’s a gym for hard workers, not posers.
Pereira is a mat rat, and almost every waking hour is spent there. “I live above the mat, I look out of the window onto the mat. It’s where I sleep, have breakfast, dinner, everything. It’s my home.”
These seem like the ideal circumstances to create a champion, but the reality is far from romantic. Pereira has tried numerous times to apply for a government sponsorship that would support his training, but has repeatedly run into brick walls. “It’s really difficult to access sport where I come from, there’s no type of government incentive. They always say they’re closed to applicants. It’s a tough situation,” he says.
His accomplishments have put him on the radar of sponsors and he’s now able to travel and compete in most major tournaments both in Brazil and the US. One of the highlights of recent times was a near month-long stay in Miami, Florida as part of the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championships training camp hosted by reigning Absolute champion Roberto ‘Cyborg’. His time in the US was spent training alongside top heavyweight black belts such as Cyborg, Joao Gabriel Rocha, Abraham Marte and many more.
“Like all jiu-jitsu competitors, my dream is to become black belt world champion,’ Pereira says, and the recent experience in Miami has given him further inspiration and a new goal. “Now it’s my dream that one day I can fight in ADCC, too.”
Fact fileName: Gutemberg de Jesus Santos Pereira
Team: GF Team
From: Salvador, Bahia, Brazil
Rank: Brown belt
Age: 21 years old
Born:May 16, 1994
Height: 192 cm / 6’4”
Weight: 95 kg / 210lb
- Moved from Bahia to Rio at 18 years of age
- Trains alongside World Champion Rodolfo Vieira, known as one of the top heavyweights in the world
- Nicknamed ‘Lagartao’, meaning ‘Big Lizard’