“People always ask, why Liverpool? I say I feel very at home. I say that’s my home today. Brazil is like my homeland, but here is my home, here is my place.”
What does martial arts mean to you? Is it about being a fighter, self-defence or having a competitive nature? To some people, that’s exactly it. However, to other people it represents something far more valuable. To them, it doesn’t matter what colour belt you wear, or how athletically gifted you are. All that counts is the camaraderie, confidence and contentment found along the journey. It really is a way of life.
Francisco Mario Da Silva Peixoto Neto, or otherwise known as Mario ‘Sukata’ Neto, is the current IBJJF British Champion, 2019 NAGA Champion, and the former IBJJF European Champion and former WAFC World Champion. Mario is a fighter who has travelled around the world and back, fought the likes of UFC Hall of Fame inductee, Dan Severn, and trained high level athletes such as former UFC Middleweight Champion Michael Bisping. He now coaches his own Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu team right here in Liverpool.
Mario’s martial arts life began very early on, when his father sent him to his very first judo class at just 8 years-old. He explained how he was bullied as a child, and how he felt lucky to have found martial arts early on in his life. He said, “I can say that I was quite lucky because, early on, I found out that I needed to learn some kind of self-defence. I was bullied back in school, but back then we didn’t call it bullying, that’s like a new word for a new generation. I had all the big kids pick on me because I was a big kid for my age. So, my father put me into judo, but I didn’t know that judo was judo, I thought I was doing karate or kung-fu!
“I just needed some kind of self-defence, something that just gave me confidence. I then fell in love with judo, made a lot of friends, then through judo, I heard about Jiu-Jitsu.”
Mario’s brother, Frederico, has accompanied him along most of his martial arts adventure. Frederico has now been teaching BJJ in the Argentine capital city, Buenos Aires, for over 20 years. While the pair embarked on learning judo together, it was Mario who introduced his brother to Jiu-Jitsu. However, he described how their training wasn’t always confined to the mats of the gym.
“Me and my brother used to fight a lot as a kid, but nothing major. I always used to say, I’d rather have two brothers or just me, because when you have two brothers you can stick with one and pick on the other one! But, when it’s just you and your brother, if you fight your brother, you have no one to back you up!”
Mario’s Mixed Martial Arts career
Mario has had a decorated MMA career littered with glistening titles and notable accolades that any athlete would be proud to hold. However, there were few particular moments that stood out for the 45-year-old in which he believes are some of his true defining moments. He said, “This particular show in Russia, that was a big moment, I was in a bad financial situation too. I had already tried two tournaments and I had lost. In the first, I got beaten in the first fight, in the second tournament, I got beaten in the second fight. I had to prove to myself that I could finish a tournament. So, the tournament in Russia with no rules, that was a really big moment.”
However, when asked about the most defining moment of his entire MMA career, Mario was swift to answer with absolutely certainty, it was his fight with UFC veteran, Dan Severn. Dan had not long won his super fight with Ken Shamrock at UFC 9, but Mario wasn’t fazed by the magnitude of this challenge, and when the opportunity to fight an MMA legend arose, he took it.
“When I fought Dan Severn, I was only 22, Dan Severn was 38, and he had just won the super fight in the UFC. I was going to fight in a tournament, but the guy who was going to fight Dan, pulled out, and they asked me. They were asking everyone, everyone was refusing, but I was like, I’ll do it!” The fight between Mario and Dan went the full distance, the fight ended in a draw, but the win was given to Dan Severn.
Despite all his success in the sport, unfortunately it has come at a cost. 15 years ago, Mario sustained a serious neck injury, which he still suffers with today. He then went on to clarify the importance of accessible information for modern-day athletes who might be dealing with an injury.
Furthermore, he explained how his experience in fighting has always seen him through the difficult moments in his career. He said, “I train with a lot of people and I always try to keep memories of things they say. If you’re left arm is bad and your right is good, use the right to train. If you cannot kick, use your hands, if you cannot punch, use your legs. So, the adaptation, it has to be clear, if you cannot do one thing, do another thing, but don’t stop. When you stop, you lose faith, you lose hope, that can be a snowball. The faith, the hope, the fight in life, that’s what kept me going.”
Team Sukata Liverpool
Mario and his team have now been training here in the city for 3 years. They regularly compete in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments on both the national, and international circuit. His team have quickly built a reputation for being one of the most respected and successful Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu schools in the country. That achievement comes from the methodology employed by Mario, who strongly believes that consistency in training is essential. He explained, “The idea is to get bigger with quality, expand is an idea, but I want quality.
“I want it so that every gym you go into, you have good Jiu-Jitsu to train. When I say good Jiu-Jitsu, I mean the guys there, I want them to be able to pass on some of my knowledge, because they are my students. They could be a student of another student, but I know somehow, if I give something to my student, he is going to pass it onto his student. So, I want to make sure the chain is not broken.”
However, it’s not just his team here in Liverpool that has made him stay, Mario explained how the city has now become his home from home. He said, “People always ask, why Liverpool? I say I feel very at home. I say that’s my home today. Brazil is like my homeland, but here is my home, here is my place. I don’t think to live in another place.
“In South America, we say people from Europe are very cold, because in Brazil its always like ‘yeah!’ then we hug and kiss, everything’s very friendly, everything’s like a party. Liverpool, is pretty much like that, it’s very friendly here.”
Mario teaches a wide array of students in Liverpool, one of which is his wife, Thayanne. Mario struggled to contain his laughter, as he began to explain how he had to draw the boundaries between the mats, and their marriage. He said, “Well first, I made sure that the mat didn’t get involved with the marriage life!
“At the beginning, she used to mix them a lot, and I used to say, look listen, understand this, let me make it clear. The moment we step on the mat, I’m not your husband anymore, I am your coach. I am going to treat you the same way I am going to treat everyone here. She thought she was going to get the better treatment!”
His laughter was then followed by an endearing smile, as he continued explain how he has witnessed his wife grow and develop throughout her own successful Jiu-Jitsu journey. He elaborated on how she trains twice a day and up to four or five days a week. Consequently, this has led to Thayanne finding her own success in the sport.
Mario continued to explain further on how Jiu-Jitsu is highly beneficial for both your body and mind. He said, “One guy asked me, how important do you think Jiu-Jitsu is for your life? I said, it will help you to deal with many life situations, not only in the gym and in training, but outside too. He continued, “Can you see love? You can’t see love, you feel love, you know when you love someone, but you can’t see it. I believe in god too, I can’t see a god, but deep inside I know he exists. I can’t tell you how Jiu-Jitsu will help you, but I can show you.”