Alex “Little Rock” Silva was already a world champion when he stepped into the cage for the first time nearly seven years ago, but he still could not have dreamed about how much his life would change since that day.
Silva captured a Brazilian jiu-jitsu World Championship in 2008, and then transitioned his skills to mixed martial arts competition. He made his professional debut three years later at a regional event in Thailand, and picked up a first-round victory.
Back then, he was still living in Brazil with his family. However, all that transformed when he was invited to make a life-changing move to Asia by his good friend and fellow ONE Championship athlete, Leandro “Brodinho” Issa.
“I came to Singapore because of my friend, Leandro,” the 35-year-old explains.
“He came here first, then he invited me to come and join him and join Evolve MMA.”
Issa, a fellow BJJ world champion, relocated from Brazil to Singapore in 2009 when he was offered a spot as part of the Evolve Fight Team. There, he coaches fellow martial artists and aspiring jiu-jitsu practitioners between his own training camps.
“Brodinho” put in a good word for Silva with the bosses at Evolve MMA, and the same opportunity was offered to “Little Rock,” who also decided to relocate and start a new adventure with his best friend halfway across the world.
“Man, this guy (Issa) is my idol, my hero, my friend, my brother,” Silva says with a smile.
“To be here with him in Singapore, it is amazing. He has always been a big part of my career. I started my training with him, so I have always tried to follow him in everything he does. He is a good example, and I am so lucky to have a friend like him in my life.”
Having Issa alongside him helped Silva settle into a new country and a new culture. But the Brazilian admits he fell in love with the Southeast Asian country relatively quickly.
“I really love Singapore. It is my second home,” he adds.
“It is very different than Brazil, but I feel really comfortable here. When I am not at the gym, I take my wife, and we go out to eat and go shopping. It is a really nice place to live.”
Like many people who move a long way from their family for work, Silva missed loved ones and sometimes felt homesick, too. But the knowledge he was providing for his family made him even more determined to make the move a successful one.
“The hardest thing for me was being away from my family and my daughter, but it is part of the game, and part of the job,” he says.
“In your life, you have to make sacrifices, and I am making these sacrifices to achieve my goals and provide for my family.
“Being away from my family is definitely the hardest part. It is a long way from Brazil to Singapore, so it is not easy to make a lot of regular trips, but I always try to get back home at least once a year.”
The move, and the sacrifice, has certainly paid off.
Silva may have lost his ONE debut via decision to future ONE Interim Flyweight World Champion Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio in February 2012, but since then, he has been unbeatable. The Brazilian has won six bouts in a row, which included five straight submission finishes.
The pair will meet again in a rematch in the headlining tilt of ONE: GRIT AND GLORY, which takes place at the Jakarta Convention Center in Indonesia on Saturday, 12 May. It will be Silva’s first title defense.
That task at hand meant countless hours spent preparing at Evolve MMA, but that is no hardship for “Little Rock,” who admits he enjoys spending practically all of his time at the gym anyway.
“My favorite place here in Singapore is definitely my gym at Evolve MMA,” he says.
“It is where I feel most at home. I have all my friends here, and I have all my students here, so this is where I spend most of my time. I love it here.
“Every day, I am at the gym. Even on my days off, I end up coming to the gym anyway. That is my life. It is what I love to do. Some people like to go to the beach, some like to party, but I just love coming to the gym.”
Silva may have taken a chance when he relocated halfway across the globe, but it is clear he is happily settled in Singapore. He has a dream job, he is working alongside his best friend, and he has a world championship belt around his waist.
Moving to Singapore was arguably the best thing to happen to “Little Rock,” and now he is in the perfect place to write the next chapter of his career as the ONE Strawweight World Champion.
Jakarta | 12 May | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast | Tickets: http://bit.ly/oneglory18