Toninho Furia: From Pitbull Brothers to Bellator and his plan to dominate in Asia

With a relatively short career in mixed martial arts, Gleristone “Toninho Furia” Santos has racked up a massive 38 fights, winning 32 of those along the way.

As he readies to pull the trigger on plan to dominate ROAD FC’s $1 Million Lightweight Tournament, he sat down with Asia MMA to talk about his fascinating career in the world of MMA.

Fans around the world will pay attention that Toniho Furia takes part in the Road FC lightweight tournament. Tell me the reason why you want to compete in this tournament?

ROAD FC is a promotion that has been growing a lot and attracting fans in the entire world. I was already looking to be part of the organisation and when I was invited to participate in the tournament. With such a big prize involved it was like a dream scenario. I’m very excited with this opportunity and I’ll do the best I can, not only to win but to also please the fans in Asia and the entire world with my fights.

What’s the impression you have about Road FC?

It’s a fast rising organisation and we can see on the videos that they really care about having everything set perfectly. They have great production and will soon be talked about as one of the world’s premier organizations, especially after setting up such an important tourney with so many named fighters. By our recent dealings, they show they also care about the athletes and want to make sure everything proceeds in the best possible way. That’s exactly what we need from promoters.

How do you feel Korean MMA fighters compare to Japanese fighters?

The Koreans are a bit different from the Japanese. Japan has stronger fundamentals in grappling and is well-adapted to MMA. Koreans are more based in the striking arts and are strong at it. Japanese fighters are more diverse, Korean fighters seem to like to strike more. But they’re all dangerous in their own way.

You are only 28-years-old but you already have 38 fights. I understand North East of Brazil is very famous Vale Tudo land. Can you let me know how you got involved in MMA as a Campinese?

Here in the North East we have that culture of starting our careers really early, and with that we acquire a lot of experience over the years. But life is hard, there’s not really much support, and not many end up being able to keep going as a fighter due to having to work, and all the hardships like lack of structure and proper training. I was blessed like a few others to have a chance to make a living out of it, thanks God. I was able to train with great professionals during my career in Campina Grande, Rio de Janeiro, Thailand, back in Rio, and now here in Natal at Pitbull Brothers. I’m training with great champions and learning several new things.

ROAD FC 36 TONINHO FURIA

How did it all begin?
I always liked fights, I’m a big Bruce Lee fan, Van Damme fan. I always liked the striking arts. I didn’t like BJJ or grappling. What gave me the curiosity to train it was when my brother gave me my first kimono and had me train with a kid 10kg lighter than me. The kid submitted me 5 times and I couldn’t understand how did that happen, as I was stronger and heavier.

So I had the curiosity to learn what was Jiu Jitsu, and never stopped anymore.

With only two months of practice I had my MMA debut. I went to watch a fight by my brother. I was just 16 years old and wasn’t even part of the pro team. But someone from the organization had seen me train with my brother, and an athlete from our team didn’t show up. They asked me to replace him right there. I accepted and won the fight. I didn’t have much technique but I was fast, explosive and it brought people’s attention.

I then met Cage Rage and PRIDE veteran Jean Silva soon after in 2005. He had a big name back then and helped me a lot. He told me to be part of his team I had to study so I went back to school. I had a very good learning with him as an athlete and as a person that I bring with me up until today.

I trained with Jean for five years, and in 2010 I went to Rio de Janeiro to try to make a living as a fighter, because in my city I didn’t have the means to do so. It was very difficult to go to Rio, I took a pretty big risk.

I beat a guy that people were saying was close to sign with the UFC, Diego Braga. He was touted as one of the best strikers in Brazil, a Brazilian Muay Thai Champion. After I won this fight, the doors started opening for me. I was ranked as the best in my weight class in Brazil, became a two-weight class champion at Bittetti Combat, and ended up having my shot in the USA.

I had a glorious career in Brazil, went through some great organizations in the US and now I’m in a great organization in Asia. I expect to do a good job there and be recognized in the entire world.

Let us know what is your base, and what kinds of fighting do you like?

Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai. In Jiu Jitsu I won several regional titles and no gi tournaments. I had two professional Muay Thai fights in Thailand and won both of them, one was chosen as the best KO of the month. I fight everywhere, but I love to strike and would welcome any challenges.

Although I have very good jiu jitsu fundamentals and have been improving my wrestling, especially now at Pitbull Brothers with Eric Albarracin, I like to trade strikes more. I know the MMA fans prefer it as well and I like to entertain them.

With Jean Silva I learned the Chute Boxe school because he trained with them and was part of their team. Then I went to Brazilian Top Team that was known for big grappling names. So it gave me two strong bases in striking and grappling.

Now I’m on a team known for it’s striking, but with a very strong and well-rounded game. Today I consider myself one of the most dangerous fighters in the world, and any Lightweight that slips up against me is getting knocked out or finished in any form. I’m aggressive at all times.

ROAD FC 36 TONINHO FURIA

When and why did you start training with the Pitbull brothers?

I’m at Pitbull Brothers for seven months now. Before that I trained six years at Brazilian Top Team with Murilo Bustamante. I learned a lot and I’m very thankful for everything he did for me at the time, but unfortunately he didn’t do all that with a good heart. I was very sad because in 2012 he got an offer from the UFC for me, but without letting me know about it, he refused. He tried to ask for a lot more money than normal, and the UFC ended the conversation. He didn’t ask me or even tell me anything about it. I would have been a UFC fighter otherwise.

When I signed with Bellator, I was going through financial difficulties. One month before my debut there was no proper training at the gym, I didn’t have sponsors, I couldn’t pay bills or for food, and after reaching out to him, he’d dispose of me like I was nothing and had to be happy with the way things were.

I was 27-years-old and couldn’t have that for myself. I was feeling humiliated, so I talked to him and told him I’d look for training somewhere else. I tried to end things in a friendly way but he tried to burn me by talking bad about me. It was very sad because I did a lot for the gym. Everyone but me left and I kept getting the results and kept the name of the gym at the top in Brazil. All the other big names left because of things like what I went through.

He did some bad things against me personally as well. He tried to get money out of me in order to free me from my contract, knowing that I was in a crisis and had a wife and kid to support.

But today I wish him nothing but the best. My life is now at Pitbull Brothers.

I met Patricio at the hotel lobby at Bellator 153. It was my second fight for the promotion. I’ve been keeping track of his career for several years. We fought in the past. He was the responsible for the only knock out loss I suffered in my career back in 2008.

He’s a very humble guy and had a fight at the same event. He saw I was basically by myself there without knowing how to speak English or anything, and he started helping me. He’d translate things for me, helped me with the diet, helped me to cut the weight. He showed a lot of support. We created a friendship and he invited me to train at the gym with no obligations. If I liked it there, I’d be welcome to stay.

During the fight week I was processing all that and I told him at the weigh ins that I would come to train and see if it would work for me to be part of the team. One month later I was in Natal and I was very well welcomed.

Patricio has a wide and incredible vision, and he has great friendships and professionals besides him as Matheus Aquino (my new manager), Thiago Tourão (the team’s head coach) and many others of the gym, they’re all great people that I have a great relationship with.

Ever since I had great practices here and it suited me very well. The team’s style combined well with mine because they’re all great strikers with a strong game in all areas.

This is making me a very well-rounded and dangerous fighter, and you’ll be able to see that. We train hard but with very good energy. I have faith that being at this team I’ll have great victories around the world and see a lot of people from here become champions, because there’s a lot of talent in the team.

I didn’t imagine with everything I’ve trained and every place I’ve been that here in Natal I would find fighters of such a high level. Although I already knew of the team’s quality, I never imagined the level at the practices would be so high as what I’m having today.

I’m very happy to be here at Pitbull Brothers, I thank Patricio for bringing me here and I hope I can represent them with lots of wins and become a world champion in ROAD FC.

After eight years, you started fighting in the US and got two victories in Titan FC. Then you joined Bellator MMA but you did not have success there. How do you think and feel about your two losses (both by split decision) in Bellator, and how did you study these experiences?

Up to my second win at Titan, I was very well physically, mentally and technically. But I broke my arm in my second fight there, so when I had my Bellator debut I was in the worst condition of my life. I didn’t have the money or structure to have a proper recovery, nor the ability to pay my bills and provide for my family. I didn’t even have proper training.

I was probably at 50% of my potential. Not trying to take anything away from John “Macapa”, it was a good fight. Still, I believe I won it. Jimmy Smith, the TV commentator, said I won it too.

Anyway I shouldn’t have fought back then, but I needed to due to my financial situation. I even had an injury to my clavicle and the doctor told me not to fight. But I told him I have a family, my son has a skin condition and I needed to fight in order to buy his medicine and everything else. We needed to survive.

After this fight I went to Rio to a small team. They promised me several things but everything was different. I spent two months sleeping on the floor. I’d take a bus for three hours to get to the gym and sometimes there wouldn’t be people to train with.

I was better than in the first fight and it was a main card fight, so I couldn’t miss the opportunity. I’m not trying to take anything away from anybody, I’m just stating the facts. And I should have won that second fight as well. Once again Jimmy Smith and the US media scored the fight for me. Some people called it Robbery Of The Year.

It all left me a bit depressed and I even thought of stopping my fighting career after I was cut from Bellator. But Patricio bringing me here has been rescuing my fire for the fight, for the victory and for the dream of being a world champion.

This only gave me more hunger to improve and be a better version of myself.

If I fought John Macapa and Brent Primus training at Pitbull Brothers I would kill them in the first round. So everyone watch out, I’m a much better fighter now. ROAD FC fans, Furia is coming to finish everyone!

I only have thanks to give to God for everything that happens in my life. If those things happened to me in Bellator the way they did is because he had a plan for me and it has enabled me to participate in ROAD FC’s one million dollar tournament.

And now you will start your new career in Korea. What is your goal fighting in Asia now?

I want to be the world champion, I want people across the globe to tune in to Road FC to watch me fight. I want them to talk about my performances and rank me among the best. My goal is to always put on a show and make the exciting fights the fans love!

You have great number of fighters in your academy like both Pitbull brothers, Betha Correia and Leandro Higo. Whom do you train with for this fight? How do you prepare to beat your opponent?

It’s great to train with these great names at the gym, but it’s not just them. There are several high level athletes at the gym yet to be known that helps me a lot.

But I’ve been mostly working with Patricky, we’ve been each other’s sparring partners as he fights one week after me and we’re from the same weight class. It has been great because he has a very high level and a style that looks like mine, he’s also pretty aggressive. I’ve been learning a lot and we can contribute to each other, share knowledge all the time. I believe he’s been learning back from me as well. It’s mutually beneficial.

I believe we’ll bring two great wins for the team.

Patricio has helped me in several details of my game together with our head coach Thiago Tourão and the karate coach Mano Santana. The kickboxing here is pretty strong and they have improved a lot my combinations. The wrestling is with Eric Albarracin.

I’ve trained with my cousin Isac Almeida who’s also part of the team as well, and Leandro Higo, whom although he is smaller, spars with me a lot as well. He’s very tough. He helped me a lot and will be with me in this fight just like for my last fight.

Me, Leandro and Isac share an apartment. Leandro knows how my daily life is, he has the same mentality as I do and is a great help to me in everything. He worked my corner and helped me when I made my debut for the team against Bellator veteran Pablo Villaseca on one week notice in Argentina and will be with me in South Korea to help me with the last details.

What do you want to show in Seoul, Korea on 11th Feb?

I want to show the audience a great fight. I want to be able to showcase all my skills and get their support. I know there are South Korean fighters in the tournament and the champion is also South Korean, but I hope I can put on performances that make them root for me as well and make them happy.

How did you get your nickname Toninho Furia?

I got this nickname because of my fighting style. A former trainer of mine, Eli Wanderlei, was with me for a fight in a different town and he heard people in the crowd talk about how I was “full of rage” in my entrance and during the fight. “Furia” is Portuguese for “Rage”. So it ended up sticking. Toninho is short for Gleristone. Like Ronaldo-Ronaldinho. Gleristone-Toni-Toninho.

Any last words for Japanese fans?

I hope ROAD FC puts on a show in Japan. I had the dream to fight in PRIDE and it was beautiful to see the sold out arenas, the spectacle and how the Japanese audience treated the fighters. They care about what we bring to the ring, our skills, our feelings. I hope they root for me in the tournament, I’ll fight with my heart and try my best to show you something you’ll like.