The rise of Luan Santiago: from the Brazilian slums to the spotlight of Brave
Luan Santiago was born in a poor neighborhood of Salvador, one of the oldest, most beautiful, and also most violent cities of Brazil. As many young Brazilians, he grew up with a dream of a better life through sports.
“My childhood was like many Northeastern kids in Brazil. It was a war”, he remembers. “I had problems at home and it was tough in the streets as well. I saw in martial arts a way out of that scenario. I started training when I was a child but I already dreamed of becoming the best. It was difficult for me, though, because we didn’t have many conditions, and the structure was poor where I trained, a high school gym”.
At age 22, Brave Combat Federation’s athlete has already established himself as one of the biggest prospects worldwide in the lightweight division. How did he overcome the rough start?
“My father introduced me to martial arts. He was a taekwondo master. But he was very strict and I wanted to try different things. Through my cousin, I began training kickboxing, muay thai, and then karate”, Luan tells. “MMA came when I was a teenager and I had my first professional fight soon after I turned 18. Everything happened in the blink of an eye but the truth is that I was growing too fast for that place”.
With Luan standing out in his hometown came the invitation to move to Curitiba, the capital of martial arts in Brazil and host-city of both Brave Combat Federation editions in the country.
“My friend Léo Pateira, a manager and promoter in Brazil, came and told me ‘You’re getting really good. I know you’re a hard-worker and have a lot of discipline, what do you think of moving to Curitiba?’. I spoke to my family and, despite we’ve never been that close in the first place, they supported me, like my coaches and friends also did”, he describes.
Even though Luan guarantees he had no second thoughts about accepting the offer, it wasn’t easy for him to complete the move. “I remember that I went without anything to call my own, nay I had 200 reais (the equivalent of 60 US dollars) in my pocket. That money was a kitty from Léo Pateira, my master Marcos Araújo, and other friends. I remember I got to Curitiba wearing tank tops, shorts, and flip flops, and it was freezing cold”.
A new start in Curitiba
On July 14, 2014, Luan Santiago arrived in Curitiba in order to start a new life and train alongside some of the best martial artists in the country. A turning moment in his path which was motivated by his first professional loss.
“I moved to Curitiba right after my first loss in MMA. Back then I was competing in the welterweight division but I my weight off-camp was like 75 kg, even below the limit. It was a devastating moment for me and I promised I’d never feel like that again. That’s when I joined CM System gym”, he recalls.
CM System is the team founded by Cristiano Marcello, one of the most important names in Brazilian MMA. Cristiano was part of the iconic Chute Boxe team in Curitiba and is the only athlete ever to have competed at Pride FC, UFC, and the reality show The Ultimate Fighter.
Retired from professional Mixed Martial Arts since 2014, Marcello has been mentoring a squad of successful fighters, Santiago included and became more than a coach to the young rising star.
“Cristiano is like a father for me. He helped me to develop as a fighter, of course, but he also made me a better man” Luan states. “He educated me, and all his other fighters, to be dedicated and chase your dreams but without trampling over anyone. And that’s how we do here. We have three to four training sessions a day. Strenght and conditioning, striking, grappling, and wrestling. We live our lives to the sport, like every professional must do”.
In 2016 Luan was voted the best fighter in Brazil at the Oswaldo Paquetá Award, considered “the Oscars of Brazilian MMA”. The award came at the same time he signed for Brave CF. Certainly, it was a moment of rejoicing for Luan but he ensures it won’t make him comfortable.
“We worked really hard for a year. I won many fights, got several knockouts, won the Oswaldo Paquetá Award, and signed for Brave, a promotion that has caused a huge international impact within only eight months. I mean, Brave got in eight months what took UFC ten years. So, I have already accomplished a lot. But it’s still not even 1% of what I’m able to do. In three years I will be the best of the world in my weight division. I know that and I repeat it to myself every day”, he affirms.
The belt and a challenge in sight
Luan Santiago, or “Miau”, as he’s also known, in reference to the sound of a cat, is set to have his second fight under Brave CF banner on August 12, in Curitiba. The young prospect will face his fellow countryman Eric Parrudo in a featured main card bout of Brave 8: The Rise of Champions.
Miau and Parrudo have already shared the mats in the past, training together while Santiago was living in Salvador, and the experience with the rival gives him confidence that another win is on the way.
“He’s just another obstacle in my way. I’ll run over him mercilessly. We trained together around two years ago and I know him, he’s a very experienced fighter. But he doesn’t know me. I’m not the same fighter I was back then. When he starts to realize what’s going on, it’ll be too late. I will have already knocked him out or submitted him by then”, Santiago sentences.
“After I beat him, I will call out that guy Ottman Azaitar (undefeated Brave CF lightweight from Morocco)”, Luan continued. “He’s been chickening out for a long time, hiding behind his social media profiles and fans. That’s ridiculous. I know Brave has a massive combat week coming up in November, in the Kingdom of Bahrain, and that’s when I’ll finally put my hands on him. We’ll see if he’s gonna man up or not”.