Inspired by two of the most famous grappling legends in modern times, Alex “Little Rock” Silva could soon be set to join his heroes in the pantheon of great grapplers who went on to conquer the martial arts world.
The 35-year-old Brazilian has already reached incredible heights in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, previously capturing the Copa do Mundo World Championship.
Now, the Singapore-based competitor is one win away from reaching the pinnacle of his career, as he prepares to face ONE Strawweight World Champion Yoshitaka “Nobita” Naito for the prestigious title at ONE: WARRIORS OF THE WORLD. The blockbuster event broadcasts live from the Impact Arena in Bangkok, Thailand on Saturday, 9 December.
Victory over the undefeated Japanese grappler would see Silva elevated to new heights as one of the greatest grapplers ever to compete in the cage, joining a pair of legendary names who have reached the pinnacle of martial arts using “the gentle art.”
Silva’s martial arts journey started during his childhood in Ubatuba, Brazil. Born premature at seven months, he had to fight for his life ever since he entered the world. It also meant he was small for his age, which led to him being picked on.
Luckily, he found martial arts, with his first experience coming via Bruce Lee films, and soon he took up a host of different classes, including kung fu and capoeira to learn how to defend himself. But it was not until he reached his teenage years that his love affair with jiu-jitsu began.
“Since I was a kid I liked martial arts, so I started trying different martial arts disciplines,” he says. “Then, at 13 or 14 years old, I started Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and since that time I never stopped training.”
“Little Rock” was fascinated by BJJ’s effectiveness against the uninitiated, as he quickly learned how the art broke down the misconception that martial arts was for the big and strong.
He laughs when recalling the first experiences of having to tap out during his BJJ classes.
“It is the first thing you learn! 100 percent, you are going to tap out. There is no way you are not gonna tap out,” he says. “I used to tap out to the girls in the gym. I was so impressed! I thought: ’How can these small girls tap me out?’
“That is why I was so fascinated by the sport. You can be stronger and you can be faster, but if you do not have the technique and the skill in BJJ, you can tap out to anyone. I remember that well.”
Silva soon discovered he had a natural talent for grappling, and that, combined with his love of training, soon saw him achieve success in competition.
During his career on the mats, Silva won a string of regional and national tournaments, culminating in a Copa Do Mundo world championship.
While Silva was finding success in Brazil’s famed martial art, martial arts as a whole was on the rise. With all his competitive grappling challenges conquered, he decided to turn his attention to competing in the cage.
“I have competed in many, many BJJ tournaments. And when martial arts started growing, I felt I wanted to test myself in a different way,” he explains.
Several months after making a successful professional debut in September 2011, Silva joined his close friend Leandro “Brodinho” Issa as a professional athlete and coach at Singapore’s Evolve MMA. At the same time, he signed for ONE Championship.
“Little Rock” admits he likes to study all the top athletes in the sport, explaining that “everybody has one good thing to show.” But the Brazilian’s true martial arts inspiration can be traced back to one of the founding fathers of modern-day martial arts, and the founding family of Brazilian jiu-jitsu — Royce Gracie.
The Gracie family’s rise to prominence is the stuff of martial arts legend, and Royce’s exploits in early tournaments in the United States caught the attention of a young Silva, who was just starting out in various classes.
“I watched Royce Gracie and got fascinated,” he admits. “How could he finish people so much bigger than him? Then I started training BJJ, and I started to see friends competing in the cage, and I thought, ‘Maybe I can do this. I think I can do this,’ and I tried to work on my skills to do the same.”
Later, as he embarked on his martial arts journey, he encountered one of his early martial arts heroes, who even became a teammate.
“Shinya Aoki inspired me a lot,” he says. “I remember when I was in Brazil. I would never have competed in martial arts back then, but I watched his matches. And now, I have the opportunity to train with him at Evolve. I can definitely say that he is my idol.”
From watching Silva in action, the influences of Gracie and Aoki are there for all to see, especially in the Brazilian’s relentless pursuit of the finish once the contest hits the mat.
Silva’s world-class arsenal allows him to hit a submission from virtually any position, and he has demonstrated his ability to execute his match-winning techniques in devastatingly quick fashion. A glance at his record backs that up. All six of his victories have come via submission, with five of them coming inside the opening round.
His remarkable run of wins inside the ONE cage, including his recent first-round finish of previously-undefeated grappler Hayato Suzuki, has propelled him into title contention, as he gets set to face defending champion Naito for the ONE Strawweight World Championship.
Victory would see him win a world championship in a second career, with the ONE Strawweight World Title joining his Copa do Mundo BJJ world title. Also, it would make him an even bigger role model to people all across the globe.
As a trainer and mentor at Evolve MMA, he already knows the importance of carrying himself as a champion, regardless of whether or not he has a belt.
“It is most important that before you are even a champion, that you have a good personality, and a good character. You need to be humble. That is how I want to inspire people,” he explains. “Then after that, they might see that I am a champion, and that I have the belt.
“I do not want people to just see that I am a champion, but not have the right character. That is very important to me. I think that is what has brought me to where I am today — being humble and having a good character, whether you are a champion or not.”