Is Renato "Babalu" Sobral ready for the big-time again?
He's been billed by Bellator and other promotions over the year as an MMA legend. He was a Brazilian national wrestling champion who was trained in MMA by the legendary Marco Ruas and came up in the early part of MMA's resurgence, when the Unified Rules were still young. His opponents read like the list of inductees into an MMA Hall of Fame: Chuck Liddell, Fedor Emelianenko, Kiyoshi Tamura, Dan Henderson, Kevin Randleman, and too many others to mention. His list of victims includes Chael Sonnen, Robbie Lawler, and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua.
But he's also had his share of troubles. His star was still on the rise in 2007 when an ill advised decision to not release a choke that his opponent David Heath had tapped to led to him being cast out of the UFC and put into promotional limbo. He had, up until that point, been the darling of hardcore fight fans and one whom many hailed as being an underrated trailblazer. All that changed overnight, and instead he became a villain of sorts who has struggled to get people to forgive and forget his transgression.
After suffering a knockout loss to Dan Henderson in 2010, Sobral took eighteen months off before returning to submit light heavyweight Tatsuya Mizuno in 31 seconds with an armbar. It was, as they say, vintage Babalu. The problem, though, is that vintage Babalu also includes a recklessness on his feet that has led to five of his nine professional losses coming by way of knockout. It's part of what makes him great to watch, but that sort of style also shortens careers and increases the likelihood of another knockout. Luckily these knockouts don't seem to have affected him physically yet, but he's not getting any younger. He's 37 years old, compounded by the fact that he's been fighting for over fifteen years, which in MMA is an absurdly long time.
But Babalu and those around him are convinced that now's the time for a comeback. He's focused not on proving himself in a one-off fight, but rather in attaining championship gold once again. He'll make his Bellator debut this Thursday at 10/9c against Sambo phenom Mikhail Zayats in the opening round of season eight's Light Heavyweight title. It's an ambitious venture, to be certain. Most fighters wouldn't want to dip their toes in the water of top tier competition in a new promotion without at least a tune-up fight. To actually enter into something like Bellator's rigorous tournament system is ambitions and admirable, especially for a fighter with so much mileage and so much more to prove.
It'll be telling, for sure, as we may get to see the career resurgence of one of the greats of the sport.
Don't miss the return of Babalu, Thursday at 10/9c on Spike, and LIVE in person in Irvine California