Thalison Soares: The Path To Black Belt (Part 1)
As one of the most successful colored belts on the planet, Thalison Soares reveals how he rose up from poverty in Brazil to travel the world and become one of the best known grapplers of his generation.
Part one in a five-part series, "The Path to Black Belt" was filmed over six months in four different continents and is the portrait of a future star in the making.
As generations of jiu-jitsu athletes go through the ranks together, there is typically one superior competitor who stands out as the future superstar, a sure thing at the next level.
Over the last three years, Thalison Soares of PSPLB Cicero Costha has looked untouchable at the blue, purple and brown belt ranks.
Soares was born and raised in the blistering hot location of Manaus, a city of over two million people in the Amazonas state of northern Brazil. He started training bjj at 9 years old at a social project called SV Team after a friend’s invitation. After some time, he would have to leave Manaus to live further out in the Amazonas state with his father, and stopped training jiu jitsu. After his father passed away in 2010, 11-year-old Thalison returned to Manaus to live with his mother and resumed training at the social project.
After getting more serious about training and competing, Thalison realized he had to make a move. Times were tough in Manaus, he had no money and had to resort to selling raffle tickets to pay for tournament entries. In 2014, as a blue belt and at the age of 15 years old, Thalison would make the move to Sao Paulo to train at Cicero’s legendary academy. Now living over 2,400 miles away from home, Thalison had gone all in to train with the best in the world under Cicero’s guidance.
“It was really difficult, I was very young, moved to a place where I did not know anybody. I had no friends or family. I didn’t know how to cook. I left Manaus with 200 reais ($50). I learned how to cook from the other athletes and I’ll be eternally grateful for that. I used to cry every night wanting to go back home but I didn’t have the money for a ticket. A friend told me wait three months until after the Brasileiro, but after Brasileiro I no longer wanted to leave. I used to fight almost every weekend. I slept in the gym, bus station, once I even slept on the street. The process was long and painful, but it made me stronger.”
Cicero started paying Thalison for help around the gym and would buy lunch for him and other athletes. He also provided a house for Thalison and some of the other competitors to live in. Eventually after the fame that accompanied his 2016 blue belt World title Thalison would acquire several beneficial sponsorships, but the funding and support of Cicero paved the way for that to happen.
“Cicero helped me a lot. I came to live in Sao Paulo with nothing. Every day Cicero told me good things, encouraged me to never give up. This helped me a lot, and influenced me mentally.”