Rodolfo Vieira was working with MMA veteran and coach Diego Braga for the first time ahead of UFC Vegas 86, training alongside head coach Davi Ramos, when tragedy struck.
Braga was killed by members of criminal organization Comando Vermelho in January.
Now, Vieira is focused on honoring Braga with a masterful performance on Saturday.
“He was a special man, really nice guy,” Vieira told MMA Fighting. “I remember when Davi texted me [with the news], and I was reading it, ‘No, it’s not possible.’ I kept staring at the phone and thinking, ‘Did Davi send the wrong name? Was it another person?’ But it was him.
“We were very, very sad, man. I never thought that could happen, and at the moment we were the closest.”
Vieira, who meets Armen Petrosyan at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, decided to move his camp from Orlando to Rio de Janeiro after his 2023 fight with Petrosyan was pulled from UFC Sao Paulo at the eleventh hour. He then enlisted UFC veteran Ramos as his head coach.
He didn’t think twice when Ramos suggested calling Braga to help with his preparation once the match was rebooked. Braga had coached some of Brazil’s best fighters, including Anderson Silva, and was focused on leading his son Gabriel Braga in the PFL.
“Davi and I spoke, and we thought it would be better if we called him because Davi always had a great relationship with him,” Vieira said. “We weren’t that close, but we were always cool, I always liked him, he’s always treated me really well, so we called him [to be part of the camp]. We were training for three weeks already, if I’m not mistaken. I was going to Davi’s gym every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday to help, and sadly that tragedy happened.”
Vieira planned on having Braga in his corner at UFC Vegas 86. After tragedy struck, he instead called Mano Santana, Vieira’s head coach in Orlando, to be with him during fight week. Preparing to face Petrosyan twice hasn’t been easy, Vieira said, but he’s just glad that the two are finally meeting inside the octagon after back-to-back camps.
“We tried to do the same thing in Rio, to keep the game plan we were working on, focusing on takedowns and jiu-jitsu,” Vieira said. “I was able to work that in Rio, even more so than in Orlando, so the change was good in that sense even though I’m already used to the training routine in Orlando.”
Petrosyan is 8-2 as a professional MMA fighter with several knockouts early in his career, but he has notched all decisions in his 3-1 stint under the UFC banner.
Vieira, a jiu-jitsu legend, scored all his four UFC victories by submission.
“I see myself submitting him, of course. It will be hard to beat him on the feet,” Vieira said with a laugh. “He’s really good on the feet, so it’s going to be a fight, him trying to keep it on the feet and me trying to take him down.”
“I think he will do everything he can to get back to his feet when I talk him down,” he continued. “We’ve watched his fights, and he always gives his back when he’s trying to get back up. It’s hard for someone who isn’t a grappler when they get taken down, they usually give their backs, because they don’t have the technique to get back up using the half guard or a single leg, so I’ll do everything I can to keep him down. That’s what we’ve worked on.”