The Gladiators that step into the cage are as we all know, built differently. Years of dedication to the art of war have amazed the fans of the brutal yet exhilarating world of Mixed Martial Arts over time. But once in a while, we get to bear witness to a night we will not soon forget.
On March 11th we were treated to just such a night, when Fightzone London’s Mario Pinto took centre stage not once, not twice, but 3 times to become the LFL Heavyweight Champion in a Heavyweight Grand Prix for the ages in Amsterdam.
I took a trip down to Fightzone London recently, to catch up with the new Heavyweight king of the Netherlands, to recap on his explosive triumph in the Levels Fight League cage.
Mario Pinto is a Portuguese professional Mixed Martial Artist currently competing in the Heavyweight division, representing Fightzone London. Mario has competed for Contenders LTD, Fightstar Championship and Levels Fight League, where he now holds the Heavyweight Championship.
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I’d like to kick things off by thanking you for taking the time to speak with me today Mario, and also to congratulate you on your explosive capture of the LFL Heavyweight Championship.
“Thank you man, Honestly it’s no worries. I did a lot of preparation for it, but I got the win, I’m always game and good to go. I was focused, I put a lot on the line, I got ill, I lost weight, but said to myself I ain’t coming out of it without the belt. I went there and I conquered, job done.”
I see what you mean about the weight loss, you looked like a completely different person out there.
“I didn’t have a haircut or anything, everyone said I looked like a wildman. It wasn’t my intention, it was just to show people how hard I was working. I wasn’t going there to look good, I was in a dark place so I wanted to show everyone evn though I lost all this weight, I’m still coming at you, you know what I mean, I was like a pack of wasps.”
An incredible performance display of determination and dedication to your craft mate.
I see there is no resting on your laurels, and are keeping yourself razor sharp in anticipation for your next walk to the cage.
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“100 percent man, I’m not over training, I’m staying sharp and trying to improve. The biggest thing for me is looking back at my fights and I did make a lot of mistakes, obviously I’m happy with my win but I did make a lot of mistakes, errors with my footwork and decision making. But all in all I’m happy with my performance, I had to fight 3 times. I forget that man, 3 different personalities. So style has to change, I have to prepare for different things but I got the job done. I like to adjust my style, I’m a chameleon, throw whatever you want, I’m gonna switch it up.”
They were some incredible fights man.
Since joining the professional circuit back in 2021, your pure determination to succeed in the brutal yet exhilarating world of Mixed Martial Arts has been clear to see. Now almost 2 years on, you remain undefeated in the cage and have become the king of your division with LFL.
How does it feel to have reached such heights so early on in your career?
“Oh man it’s still a bit surreal you know, it hasn’t kicked in yet. I think it’s good that it hasn’t kicked in because, I’m not putting myself on a crazy pedestal, I still feel like I’m the underdog. With or without the belt, I still feel like if I fight and defend the belt, I’m still fighting for the belt. I’m not putting any pressure on my head, I’m the underdog, I’m coming to kill, I’m coming to pillage you know what i mean. I’m coming for you, I’m not letting anything go above my head, even within the 2 years of being a pro I still feel I didn’t fight enough and it really did get to me. My last fight before the Grand Prix I think was in July against Maxwell, with that time out I was just thinking when am I gonna fight. I was getting a lot of people turning me down and it plays with your mind, it’s demotivating, but I still stayed consistent and ready. I still came to spar because this is a lifestyle, I don’t train only when I have a fight, I’m training everyday, all day everyday.”
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I remember back last year you were supposed to fight John Winter at Fightstar, the upcoming opponent for your coach Stuart at OKTAGON 42.
“Yeah, John Winter and also Charlie Milner but they had to pull out, then they gave me a Samba world champion but i said I’d take the fight. People think that he wasn’t good but since our fight, I believe he’s 2-1 now, he’s knocked out his 2 other opponents. Even though it was his debut, I just made it look easy, he’s actually a good guy and a monster, he’s like Francis Ngannou but with better Judo, and I took him down, so the work is there. I was a bit worried in that fight but I knew I was getting the job done, I found the way to win.”
I was there that evening, your collision was definitely worthy of the Main-Event.
Many in the industry will know only too well the dedication and perseverance it takes in preparation for the proverbial war in the cage, but to have the cage door closed 3 roles in one night, that is incredible.
When receiving the call to be a part of the LFL Heavyweight Grand Prix in Amsterdam, was this an opportunity that you just couldn’t turn down?
“Yeah, definitely. I was supposed to fight in February but I had 2 pull outs, and everyone was like, bro, do the tournament. But i was thinking I don’t think I should, don’t think I’m prepared for it I had a bit of jitters. I thought let me get 1 fight to get the ring rust out, but I didn’t have a choice. But the good thing about the tournament is that they can’t run either, they can’t pull out and have to fight me regardless. Obviously the preparations were different because the rounds were different, fighting 3 different bodies as well, it was very interesting fighting 3 different personalities, also the body types. Adjusting to a grappler, striker, to somebody that’s well rounded in all forms, it plays on your mind, you just have to be patient and not rush. At 1st I thought because the rounds times were shorter guys were gonna come in guns blazing, they might come in and shoot but I can work off that. The 1st guy came in and grabbed me hard, he was using all his strength, I was just dancing with him.”
As the night progressed, your 1st round victory over Filip Bradarić led to going through each and every round in your 2nd bout of the evening and unanimous decision victory over Aladin Ben Halima. How did you feel after that war?
“This is what I liked about the tournament and which I’m grateful for, it’s the 1st time I’ve ever gone to a decision, in my amateur as well as my professional career, my 1st time going to a decision and it was twice. People don’t understand, that was more mental repetition for me and a lot of discipline. When you get used to finishing guys early, you feel like you’re obliged to do it and that’s the only way you can win. And arguably I can say that’s how I lost my last amateur fight, because I was defeating everyone via TKO or KO. So when I fought someone that was decent, I was just trying to knock him out and I got caught by a left hook, but I’ve learned now to be patient. The knockout will come, never chase the knockout it will come, if it’s there, ding. But work your way to it by being smart in the rounds, like getting to the 3rd round and not making mistakes. The second guy I fought, Ben Halima, he was a grappler, the commentators were saying I had to be careful on the ground. He had decent Jiu-jitsu, but his MMA Jiu-jitsu wasn’t top tier there’s a difference. He was in guard and tried a weird armbar, like trying to underhook my leg, he forgot that i was gonna punch him in the face. You can’t be taking haymakers. It’s not just Jiu-jitsu, you need MMA Jiu-jitsu. More opportunistic chances, but I got the job done.”
And after another end to end battle leading to your unanimous decision victory over Moreno Kacapor, saw the dedication of your Gladiator-like labour’s reward. How did you feel after such a feat on an incredible night of violence.
“Ah man, it felt amazing I can’t lie. I fought fucking hell, I got the job done man, it’s over. It was more relief at 1st, and when I watched the footage back and thought about it I was like yeah, I got the job done. I went in there, I dominated, I dictated the pace, I was the 1 who came forward. A lot of guys fight to not lose, I was fighting to win. They were just fighting to survive and I was fighting to win, I was the king of the grind out there.”
Each and every time I’ve witnessed you out there, you’ve shown a completely different side to yourself, the Grand Prix was definitely no exception.
Looking forward, are you looking to continue your journey abroad, or would a fight on UK soil be on the cards for you?
“I think at the moment, I’m happy to fight abroad, as that was also my 1st time fighting abroad. I was supposed to fight in Cyprus back in June last year at CGC, but I had pull out issues there. Fighting in Amsterdam was amazing, fighting abroad is a different feeling, I’m out of my comfort zone. At 1 point the fans were chanting against me, then towards the end they were chanting for me. I went there, I took over and I became the king of the Netherlands. But I’m also happy to fight wherever, wherever the opportunity is. I’d live to fight in the UK because I wanna bring the gang and the family with me but it’s away. I’m happy, I’ll bring some people down.”
I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for the future announcements man.
It’s been an absolute pleasure speaking with you today Mario, I wish you all the best for your continued training and I look forward to catching you out there once again mate.
“Thank you man, I appreciate it, you’re always supporting. It’s good that you’re supporting fighters from the beginning of their journeys, I think that’s very important. Getting the real candid moments, giving us time to express what we’re going through and get an insight into what’s going on.”
I appreciate that mate, that really means a lot.
“No worries man.”
Last but not least, do you have anybody you’d like to give a shout-out to?
“Shout-out to my coach Stuart Austin, shout-out to Rowan Katzew, my striking coach. Shout-out to my Jiu-jitsu coaches I gotta shout-out Nico, my wrestling coach, I gotta shout-out Josh. I gotta shout-out my 1st MMA coach Marvin Eghan, he’s always there for me, always giving me advice, he teaches out at Rebel MMA and is a great coach who has always supported and guided me. Big shout-out to my family, they’ve always got my back and all my teammates and supporters who have always got my back.”
Feature image by AvK Creatiff