Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Ultimatefighter pins hopes on being contender in world championships

By: Jodie Wagner

JUPITER — During a 10-month span that ended in January, Hermes Franca stepped into an Ultimate Fighting Championship cage eight times.

On each occasion, he emerged with a medal. More importantly, though, he escaped without impairment. UFC fighters like Franca face the risk of serious injury every time they lace up their gloves. Their sport, which combines elements of boxing, wrestling, Brazilian jujitsu and other martial arts, often leads to broken noses, bruised ribs and damaged knees.

"For a fighter to fight eight times in 10 months is kind of crazy," said Franca, a Jupiter resident who trains daily at The Armory Mixed Martial Arts Academy in Jupiter. "But it's just in my heart."

Franca, 32, a native of Fortaleza, Brazil, who moved to the United States in 2000 began training for UFC competition in 2002.

But for nearly a decade beforehand, he focused exclusively on Brazilian jujitsu.

Franca, who played soccer as a child, was introduced to the discipline in 1994 after tagging along with friends to a local martial arts school.

"When I got to the academy, I saw some skinny guys and some shorter guys," he said. "I thought, 'Let me try.' And they beat me. I was so surprised at how they could do that. With Brazilian jujitsu, you don't have to punch. You don't have to kick. It's just submissions. It was like magic."

Franca spent the next six years training in Brazilian jujitsu, and eventually achieved the rank of brown belt.

After moving to the United States in April 2000, his work commitments left him little time to pursue serious martial arts training.

"I came here to work," Franca said. "It was so hard. I was a brown belt, almost a black belt, and I had to stop."

Six months later, however, he jumped right back in.

Franca, the father of a 4-year-old son, was competing independently in a national Brazilian jujitsu tournament when he was noticed by a Boca Raton martial arts teacher.

Immediately, the instructor offered to cover Franca's training expenses.

"I got lucky," Franca said. "In October, I went to the Florida State Brazilian Jiujitsu championships in Orlando, and I won my division. One guy came up to me and said, 'Buddy, what's your name?' He asked about me and asked if he could be my sponsor."

Franca accepted the offer without hesitation, and for the next four years, he trained full-time in Brazilian jujitsu at the Silveira Brothers Brazilian Jiujitsu Academy in Boca Raton.

During that time, he also began competing in Ultimate Fighting Championship bouts.

Competing in the 155-pound weight division, the 5-foot-6 Franca did well initially, but was forced to take a break after UFC dropped his division.

He resumed competition in 2005, but posted disappointing results. The following year, however, he turned his career around.

Franca, who began training at The Armory two years ago, went 7-0 in 2006, winning all of his bouts by technical knockout or submission. He also won his first bout of 2007, defeating Spencer Fisher by technical knockout in a UFC Fight Night bout Jan. 25 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood.

"I love UFC," said Franca, who next plans to compete this summer at the world championships in Las Vegas. "It's a dream."

He has others, though.

Franca, who hopes to win a world championship in UFC, plans to continue coaching at the Armory - his students range in age from 3 to adult - for as long as he can.

"My goal is to come to the academy and teach my students," he said. "Everybody knows the Armory. It's getting bigger."


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