In Bahia, Brazil the voices of children playing on street-corners never utter the names of their countries famous boxers. Mixed Martial Artists? Absolutely. 

A country obsessed with combat sports has found success in the cage, on the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or Judo mats and in the Muay Thai sweatboxes that fill themselves daily. But their love for boxing has been on the decline.

Rio Olympics, 2016. 

What better time to win your home nations maiden gold medal in boxing? It must have felt like a long time coming for 3x Olympian Robson Conceição. Falling in 2008 and 2012 at the first hurdle, the 28-year old had a point to prove. He used the disappointment of his previous Games and managed to produce an exceptional run of results that culminated in that coveted gold necklace. His audience, his countrymen and everyone he cared about went wild.

Life changed that day for Robson. Now, one wonders how he can fulfil his potential and if he can be Brazil’s renaissance man?

Cue: Promotional giants Top Rank.

Signed by Bob Arum following his Olympic triumph, Robson was a beacon of hope for Brazilian boxing. Now, fresh after winning his 3rd fight on the Michael Conlan undercard, the hype train is gathering speed amongst his countrymen and fans of the sport alike.

Conceição (3-0, 2KO) has come from the impoverished neighbourhood we all hear about, ignorantly portrayed on most occasions. His amateur pedigree – sensational. In 2011, he lost by a point in the World Amateur Championships to a gentleman I feel you may have heard of, Vasyl Lomachenko. His overall record as an amateur was astounding, 405 wins with just 15 defeats. 

But why did he turn to boxing? In order to defend himself in a street fight, which is of massive assistance growing up in Brazil, I can imagine. How did he used to get to the gym, you ask? He used to walk 9 kilometres as he couldn’t afford transport either way. 

A man of the people. The mass appeal of a fighter such as Conceição is undeniable, it’s something the executives at Top Rank couldn’t ignore when slowly building their stable of Brazilian boxers,

“His marketability is sensational. Absolutely over the top. He (Top Rank’s matchmaker Brad Goodman) had never seen anything like it across the board in terms of enthusiasm in the arena as Conceição progressed in the Olympics!”

– Todd duBeof, speaking to ESPN.

In addition to his rags-to-riches tale, he also posesses an extremely exciting style of fighting. He has lightening quick hands, power at the weight and aggression sometimes lacking in amateur stars. Having been trained by Luiz Dórea, he has something different.

Dórea is a fascinating man, having won WBA & WBO titles with one of Brazil’s best ever boxers Acelino Freitas. He is also a notable figure in the MMA scene, having coached nearly all of the nations stars. Dórea was the boxing coach for; Lyoto Machida, Minotauro Nogueira, Junior Dos Santos & Damien Maia to name but a few! 

The style of striking used in MMA is vastly different to that employed in boxing. Reactions are of key importance as a fighter may throw a jab and be forced to slip a big kick to the face. He may throw a hook and be dragged to the floor in an attempt by his opponent to choke him unconscious. It’s different. Dórea has mastered the craft of boxing in MMA and seemingly transitions between the two better than most. His boxers move in and out of range, picking their shots accurately and making them count. Conceição has finished his last two opponents using blistering speed and accuracy, showing plenty of potential in the paid ranks.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Robson, Brazil’s only ever Olympic boxing gold medallist, could become its most succesful professional. His promotional team are proven King Pins, his skills are ever-improving but clinical and of course the country which shares such passion for combat sports are roaring him on. 

It will be interesting to see how the next 18 months unfold, as a boxers career trajectory too often seems to make or break them. One of the greatest MMA fighters BJ Penn has over 10 defeats on his slate, with zero losses on a record almost never seen.

With close ties to MMA, Robson Conceição may live to take risks. One thing’s for sure, an explosive talent like this could have those children shouting ‘Robson Conceição’ on the tough streets of Bahia in the not so distant future!

Craig Scott