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Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Updated: February 20, 1:49 PM ET
The downfall of BTT and Chute Boxe

By Tim Leidecker
Sherdog.com

When Mitsuyo Maeda started teaching Kodokan judo to Brazilian teenagers Carlos and Hélio Gracie in 1917, Japan and Brazil became forever intertwined in martial arts.

The countries' relationship runs even deeper, though. Since the beginning of the 20th century, hundreds of thousands of Japanese have moved to Brazil to work on coffee and sugar plantations. The trend also has reversed during the past 20 years, with Brazilian workers moving to Japan to help in the construction and manufacturing industries.

Through this labor exchange, the Japanese started falling in love with Brazilian culture. They love the Brazilian national soccer team, the colorful costumes and passionate rhythms of Carnival, and, of course, the Brazilian fighters.

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, right, was one of BTT's founding members.
That was why no one was surprised that Japan's Pride was built around Brazilian stars.

Rickson Gracie hasn't graced a ring for almost eight years now, but the respect and admiration he is shown in the land of the rising sun is unparalleled. The same goes for Wanderlei "Wand" Silva and Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira, who were the top foreign draws in Japan in 2001 and 2002, respectively, (before Fedor Emelianenko and Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic burst onto the scene). Both men were decent-level stars in Japan, with their own clothing lines selling well and advertising contracts adding to their already princely salaries.

The success and resulting fame of Wand and Minotauro paved the way for dozens of their teammates. If it weren't for the Silva, there would be no Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, no Murilo "Ninja" Rua, no Luiz Azeredo. The same goes for Nogueira, who helped his twin brother, Rogerio, Ricardo Arona and Mario Sperry into the big leagues.

During the golden years of 2004 and 2005, you would have been hard pressed to find a Pride event that didn't feature at least one fighter from Brazilian Top Team and Chute Boxe. With the increasing number of shows, two participants per team almost became a rule. Affiliation with these teams even led to the Pride debuts of some fighters who clearly weren't on an elite level.

Brazilian Top Team and Chute Boxe made themselves indispensable, and their leaders, Murilo Bustamante and Mario Sperry (BTT), and Rudimar Fedrigo and Rafael Cordeiro (Chute Boxe), became the most powerful quartet on the Brazilian mixed martial arts scene.

Liddell vs Silva
Wanderlei Silva, left, helped pave the way for large paydays for Brazilians in Japan.
Their empires came crashing down last year when Pride folded. It wasn't that quality fighters from Rio de Janeiro and Curitiba suddenly weren't in demand anymore. Rather, the well-oiled money machine that had worked like a charm for years collapsed.

Zuffa, the American company that purchased Pride, encountered plenty of trouble with the acquisition, but it also gained access to Pride's fighter contracts. It had been an open secret that both BTT and Chute Boxe charged fighters a significant commission on their salaries, but just how significant was previously unknown. The amount obviously was big enough for most Brazilian stars to do without the help of their former masters and go solo into the future.

BTT splintered first.

Nogueira took his brother with him, as well as fighters like Edson Drago, Edilberto Crocota and Rafael Feijao. Paulo Filho sought out new training, and Mario Sperry opened his own training center in the United States, bringing Alexandre Cacareco and Leopoldo Serao with him.

This left Bustamante, the last remaining BTT founding father, standing in a pile of broken glass with undersized middleweight Rousimar Palhares as his big hope for the future. Other considerable fighters still with Bustamante include Luiz Buscape and Milton Vieira. Ricardo Arona, although still considered an "official" member, has toyed with the idea of starting his own team, as well.

The implosion of Chute Boxe took a little longer, but when it came, it came hard.

Silva was the first to leave under the guise of wanting to be stateside to prepare for his UFC debut. Thiago Silva, although never a "real" product of Chute Boxe but a pupil of Jorge "Macaco" Patino, first moved to Team Link before finally deciding in favor of American Top Team.

What must have hit Chute Boxe master Rudimar Fedrigo like a sledgehammer was when the Rua brothers, together with breakout lightweight star Andre Dida, left to open their new gym, Universidade da Luta, only a stone's throw away.

Thiago Silva
One of Chute Boxe's best fighters, Thiago Silva, didn't stick around very long with the team.
Although the exodus has been considerable, Chute Boxe still has a couple of quality fighters left in Bushido vets Daniel Acacio and Luiz Azeredo, grim brawler Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos, Wanderlei Fabio Silva and UFC heavyweight contender Fabricio Werdum.

With most former and current BTT and Chute Boxe stars looking for a future in the UFC, a power vacuum has arisen in Japan. Even though members of both teams have taken part in the Yarennoka New Year's Eve show, neither BTT nor Chute Boxe has the manpower to cater to the need for quality Brazilian fighters that exists following the creation of upstart promotions World Victory Road and Dream.

A team that might have the potential to fill that void is Gracie Fusion. The camp was founded last December and is comprised of members of Gordo Jiu-Jitsu as well as pupils from Ryan Gracie's and Vinicius Draculino's schools.

With Fabricio Monteiro and Antonio Braga Neto, Gracie Fusion already managed to get two of its fighters booked for World Victory Road's inaugural show. The duo is only the tip of the iceberg. With Marcio "Pe de Pano" Cruz, Delson Heleno, Flavio Luiz Moura, Rafael dos Anjos and Rafael Sapo, Gracie Fusion is positioned well in every weight class.

Getting off to a good start in Japan will be critical, as will be Roberto Gordo's success at breaking up the old-fashioned structures in the Japanese fight game. If that happens, though, Gracie Fusion could become the new BTT or Chute Boxe.

Tim Leidecker covers mixed martial arts for Sherdog.com.