Cristiano Marcello has accomplished a great deal in his nearly four decades involved with mixed martial arts. The Brazilian 41-year-old is a black belt under the legendary Royler Gracie, has coached legends of the sport such as Wanderlei Silva and Anderson Silva, and has competed at the highest levels of mixed martial arts.
So, in 2014, when a then-36-year-old Marcello retired from MMA after a decision loss to Joe Proctor at UFC Fight Night 36, it seemed as though the final chapter had been written for the longtime jiu jitsu specialist.
For Marcello, his retirement came after setting out to accomplish everything he had in the sport.
“I have a great career, like you say, in jiu jitsu; in MMA,” Marcello told The Body Lock. “I fought boxing, I fought Muay Thai; wrestling, judo. I did everything a martial arts guy could do.
“I fight without gloves, I fought inside of a locker room,” Marcello said with a laugh, alluding to his infamous backstage fight with Charles “Felony” Bennett in PRIDE. “I did everything.”
Daring to be BRAVE
However, in 2018, Cristiano Marcello announced that his – like many other fighters’ – retirement was short-lived. He would return to MMA by joining BRAVE Combat Federation, a Middle Eastern promotion based in Bahrain led by Sheikh Khalid Bin Hamad Al Khalifa.
The decision to end his retirement and join BRAVE, Marcello says, was motivated by a desire to get back to his roots – fighting for valor.
“I have the invite of BRAVE, and BRAVE is like old times,” Marcello said. “They take care of you; they give valor about your gym, about the athlete, you know? You don’t have the pressure to have to give the result. If you fight well – you give your best – you have a chance. [The] only thing you have to [have] on your mind is to keep training for you give your best in the next one.”
Marcello believes that BRAVE is much more focused on the martial arts tenets of honor and exciting fights, and he believes that his time in the UFC was marred by the intense pressure of needing to win at all costs.
“I’d been in the UFC, but it’s too much pressure inside of UFC, in my opinion, because it’s not – you can give the best inside of [UFC]; you have to work with the results. It’s different than the old times: you give your best; you give a show, you try to submit the guy, you try to knock him out, but you don’t win… Now, it’s too much results: you are a number,” said Marcello.
“Now, for me, BRAVE is not just about money. It’s not just about be[ing] an ambassador inside of BRAVE in Brazil. I do that because I love fighting. I don’t need to prove anything anymore. You know, I fight because I love [to] fight, you know, that’s the point because, like I say, I don’t need to prove anything anymore.”
At age 41, Marcello knows he is no longer in the prime of his career. As such, he’s refined his goals inside of the BRAVE arena.
“Of course, [my age is] going to change the way I’m training, the way I’m gonna fight, but always I’m going to look for submissions or to knock him out, the guy. I win the fight, but always I have to have fun. If I don’t have fun, why [do] I fight? Of course I want to win, but first of all, I have to fun inside, you know?”
In terms of pursuing a title in BRAVE, Cristiano Marcello says he will leave that to his pupils.
“I don’t have to [win] a belt; get the belt for me or stuff like that. That, I give to my boys. They do great right now,” said Marcello.
CM System and its success
Formerly the jiu jitsu coach of Chute Boxe, one of the most storied gyms in MMA, let alone Brazilian MMA, history, Cristiano Marcello has trained some of the best fighters to ever live, including Anderson and Wanderlei Silva, Mauricio and Murilo Rua, Cris ‘Cyborg’ Justino, Fabricio Werdum, and countless others.
Marcello is grateful to have been a part of their championship journeys.
“I trained guys like [former UFC middleweight champion] Anderson Silva, [PRIDE and UFC legend] Wanderlei Silva, [former PRIDE champion] Mauricio ‘Shogun’ [Rua], [longtime PRIDE legend] Murilo ‘Ninja’ [Rua]; all these guys in the old times. I helped them to be world champs like they did in the awesome careers they had. So, I’m very happy to help them. All these guys passed through my hands in the time that I [was] the jiu jitsu head coach inside of Chute Boxe.”
Today, Marcello owns and operates his own eponymous gym, CM System. Founded in 2009, the gym has gone on to assemble one of the best teams and reputations in all of Brazil, winning numerous awards and boasting dozens of high-level athletes on its roster.
“In 2009 I opened the CM System. In seven months that I opened CM system, we got the award for [the] best gym in the Paraná states, and after five years, again. Then [we] have [the] Osvaldo Paqueta awards here, and I won two times [as] a ‘Coach [of the Year]’ and two times [for] ‘Best Gym in Brazil’,” said Marcello proudly.
To Marcello, one of the reasons for his gym’s success is the vast experience he has obtained through years of coaching and sharing the gym with the best of the best.
“Because like I say, man, I have all the experience and training with the champs, and I live with the champs, so the experience I can give to the guys to be inside of the Octagon, fight together with them and to live with the champions, you have the spirit of the champion, you know? How to do with them.”
Marcello’s CM System roster features dozens of fighters, many of whom are well-known to MMA fans.
“Like now, like I said, I have 45 guys and I have a [lot of] young guys coming up in Brazil and winning the best events in Brazil. I have Luan Santiago, who is a [BRAVE] world champion. I have Elizeu Capoeira: the most Brazilian wins in the UFC right now, seven wins straight. I have ‘Para-Raio’ [flyweight Edilceu Alves], a Shooto champ,” said Marcello.
In addition to Cristiano Marcello’s longtime experience with coaching at the highest level, he credits the honor and camaraderie – not the financial potentials – for the CM System fighters’ successes.
“Money is not the most important thing, you know? I put that on my Instagram today. First, you have to fight for your honor, you have to fight for your family, for your gym. Because if you don’t put that first, the money doesn’t come. We have to be more than money; it has to be inside of you, like the old times, the old school days.
“The guys are true warriors. If one [fighter loses] or if one wins the fight, it’s: everybody won, and everybody lost, if the guy lost. It’s honor; it’s true honor. They don’t want to train just in the time they have a fight. They train every day because they have to support their partners; because nobody has money to pay their own camp, so that’s the support. If you don’t come to train at the gym, you don’t help your friend. It’s a true family, not just saying you’re a family.”
That “Krazy Horse” fight, 15 years later
Although Cristiano Marcello had a lengthy MMA career, a storied jiu jitsu legacy, and is the only fighter to ever fight in PRIDE, the UFC, and the Ultimate Fighter, many MMA fans might know him best for his infamous role in a backstage brawl at PRIDE Shockwave 2005.
At the event, which took place on New Year’s Eve, Wanderlei Silva successfully defended his middleweight title against fellow Brazilian Ricardo Arona, defeating him by split-decision. With Silva, as always, was Cristiano Marcello, his longtime BJJ coach.
Also on the card was Charles “Felony” Bennett, then known as “Krazy Horse”. Bennett defeated Ken Kaneko via first-round armbar earlier that night and shared a locker room with Silva, Marcello, and the Chute Boxe team.
Backstage, Bennett and Marcello exchanged words, as Marcello later claimed in a 2010 interview with MMAFighting that he challenged Bennett after Bennett defeated Kaneko, whom Marcello had cornered. Bennett then reportedly made negative comments about Marcello and Chute Boxe, which led to an all-out brawl.
During the fight, which bystanders – including the Chute Boxe team and Silva – allowed to play out, Bennett swarmed and took down Marcello, but Marcello secured a triangle choke that put Bennett to sleep, rendering the American unconscious. It remains one of the most storied backstage brawls in MMA history.
Although Marcello and Bennett have since buried the hatchet, Marcello is open to the idea of facing Bennett once more, this time in the BRAVE cage, not a locker room.
“Man, you know, I’ve been with Charles after ten years when the thing happened. I’ve spoken with him. He looked like a nice guy, you know. He had his own style in that time. Sometimes nobody liked it, but it’s his style. Everything [that] happen[ed] in that time stays back; I don’t have any beef with him right now, but, I start fighting again: maybe the world wants to see that fight inside of the Octagon, maybe in BRAVE!
“You know what I mean? Give the opportunity to him and me, again, and give the world [an opportunity] to watch that thing. I’m professional. I start[ed] fighting again. Why not make money with [a fight this] time? He makes money with [if it happens]. I have three kids, he has four kids.”
Cristiano Marcello says it might be a good thing to fight in “something professional” this time around.
“But in that time it was professional, too,” said Marcello. “You know, nobody touched [the fight back then], but we’ll make money [a next time]. Maybe put him famous with that, but I wanted money with that too. Maybe in the future. If it’s in interest to BRAVE, if it’s of interest to him, everybody makes something with that.”
For those who haven’t seen Marcello’s backstage fight with Bennett, here is the video.
Michael Fiedel is The Body Lock's deputy editor, a staff writer for FloCombat, and a Russell-Rice scholarship recipient at Vanderbilt University.