Frustrated following his failed bid to make the Brazilian national wrestling team that would travel to the 2000 Summer Olympics, Mario Miranda decided he needed major change in his life.
In leaving behind his home, family and fitness gym owned by his aunt where he trained in jiu jitsu throughout his youth, Miranda moved to Boston. There was no special reason, really, just a relative who lived there and an opportunity to try something new.
"It was literally moving to the U.S. to try the American dream," Miranda told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
Now, 10 years after making his move with little idea of what he would become and no direct mixed-martial-arts experience, Miranda is on the verge of major fame in the sport. The middleweight from Seattle is now 11-0 and a highly touted prospect who, as MMAjunkie.com first reported, recently signed on to face Gerald Harris at UFC Fight Night 21 on March 31.
The fight is the first of a four-bout deal with the UFC for a fighter who is unlike many middleweights because of his size, said manager Shy Sadis.
"He's 6-foot-3, and he walks around at about 210 or 215 (pounds)," Sadis said. "He's huge for a 185er."
And, even though he's undefeated after three-plus years in the sport as a professional, he could soon be even bigger. Miranda combines a long history in jiu jitsu with international experience in wrestling and a large frame for an imposing set of assets.
He's also on a hot streak; his last three fights have been victories by armbar, TKO and kimura.
"I didn't really take it seriously when I was young," Miranda said of his jiu-jitsu training. "I didn't get serious until I wanted to compete again after I stopped wrestling. Then I loved it."
A long athletic history
The story of Miranda's martial-arts training begins when he was 5 in his aunt's gym. It wasn't a martial arts gym, really, but just a gym where people worked out and, partially because of the discipline's popularity in Brazil, a gym that held jiu-jitsu classes.
Miranda started taking the classes twice a week at his mother's urging.
"Nothing serious," Miranda said.
But still, he took the classes for nearly eight years, not passionate about the training but still digesting it quickly. Then came the next phase of his development.
When he was 14, Miranda began working with an uncle who was a wrestling veteran. He had been involved in the sport since the 1960s, and he taught his athletic nephew the sport's secrets.
Before long, Miranda was competing not just around Brazil, but internationally.
"My parents never really pushed me in sports, but it was always there," he said. "Sports was my life but not because they asked me or made me. It just worked out."
Miranda was soon part of a Brazilian college program on a wrestling scholarship, but being both a student and a high-level athlete wore on him, and he left school to train in wrestling full-time. His dream was to participate in the 2000 Olympics.
It didn't happen. After that disappointment, he left the sport and searched for something new.
"Things just weren't working out," Miranda said. "Going back to school would've taken a really long time, so I was living in my parents' house, and I didn't have a job. Life was complicated financially. I had a sponsor who was about to drop out, so I said, 'Screw this,' and I gave up on that dream.
With a drop of wrestling and a move to Boston, Miranda was on the verge of a wildly successful new career.
After bouncing around to a few odd jobs in Boston, Miranda left that city for Seattle, where he could be near a sister in the area. He decided to reenter athletics because he missed the activity and competitiveness.
Miranda bumped into a small gym that offered wrestling workouts, and he joined the group.
"It felt great," he said, "to be back in the sport."
He went to a few tournaments, and he did well. One of his new wrestling colleagues invited him to a different gym, only this one was MMA-centered. With his combination of long experience in both jiu jitsu and wrestling, Miranda was a natural for the training.
One of the gym's main characters ran a local amateur show, but Miranda quickly ran out of opponents willing to face him, so his professional career began earlier than most imagined.
The first professional fight was in August 2006, at the Everett Armory in Everett, Wash. It was, of course, a win.
But Miranda was still relatively new to the sport, considering he became a professional before he might have planned because he was such a fearsome amateur. Then, he kept winning.
After a few fights, Miranda gained notice from a group that included Ed Soares, who represents a line of high-profile Brazilian fighters, including UFC champs Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida and WEC title-holder Jose Aldo. Based on recommendations from some of those fighters, Soares and Sadis took on Miranda.
The partnership flourished as Miranda continued winning. Last April, he took a SportFight belt with a third-round armbar against Tyson Jeffries. That came just after he defeated a much heavier Mike Hayes in a unanimous decision to continue building his confidence.
Miranda doesn't match the flash of some fighters – Sadis said his laid-back attitude kept him from being cast on the most recent "The Ultimate Fighter" season – but his background in competitiveness and his size make him a notable force on the verge of his first chance in the UFC.
"This is a very important time for me," Miranda said. "This is everyone's dream, and I'm not different."