In mixed martial arts, it’s often said that you are only as good as the team of fighters you train with. It’s easy to trace the prominence of teams in MMA from the heydays of the Lion’s Den or Team Hammerhouse to today’s groups, such as Greg Jackson’s Team in New Mexico, or the numerous Renzo Gracie fighters competing in the sport. However, one organization has slowly began to creep into the discussions of the most important teams in the sport, and that is the Brazil-based Nova Uniao.
With Andre Pederneiras at the helm, the “New Union,” as their name translates to, contains a number of prominent fighters within the lighter weight classes of the sport. These fighters, known for their thudding leg kicks and vaunted takedown defense, have helped to build up the name of Nova Uniao alongside those of Jose Aldo, Eduardo Dantas, Renan Barao, and Marlon Sandro, some of the “bigger” names that appear on their roster. Over the last few years, fighters such as Gray Maynard, Thales Leites, and even BJ Penn were affiliated with the organization at one time or another. While their roster has bloated to the point that some competitors have been kept out of the UFC due to being teammates of other Nova Uniao fighters in the same division, it’s apparent that this group has become one of the top organizations to turn to if you are competing in one of the lighter weight classes.
Mainstream MMA fans are well aware of the tear that UFC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo has been on since he entered the WEC cage back in 2008. An injury has pushed back his upcoming title defense against Erick Koch, but with each win he comes closer to clearing out his weight class and fulfilling his desire to move up to 155.
Renan Barao is currently riding the longest win streak in the sport, which sits at 29 straight. He recently stepped in after the injury to Dominick Cruz, and will now be competing against Urijah Faber for the Interim Bantamweight Championship at UFC 149. And Diego Nunes, who had up until recently been with Nova Uniao, also reached a high point of success in the weight class.
In the middleweight division, Ronny Markes’s split decision victory over Aaron Simpson at UFC on Fuel TV: Sanchez vs. Ellenberger may have raised some people’s eyebrows, but it also helped him become an intriguing matchup for many other competitors in the weight class. While he isn’t listed for an upcoming bout due to injury, his ability to effectively strike and defend against takedowns makes him a dangerous opponent for many fighters at 185 pounds.
Fans who are less familiar with fighters outside of Zuffa employ may not be familiar with the success of Eduardo Dantas. Dantas made his name fighting in Asia, where he once competed for the Shooto 132-pound title, only to be defeated by Masakatsu Ueda. He would later go on to become the South American 132-pound Shooto champion, but it wasn’t until he began fighting for Bellator that he caught the eye of the North American MMA fanbase. His flying knee knockout of Wilson Reis started off a run in Bellator that included a bantamweight title win in April. At 23 years of age, the fighter known as “Dudu” has launched himself into the top ten bantamweight rankings of many MMA outlets (he is currently ranked #13 by MMA Ratings), and his projected ceiling of success continues to rise.
Another Nova Uniao fighter who has made waves outside of the UFC is Marlon Sandro. Though he has struggled to get over the hump, Marlon Sandro is not a fighter to be overlooked. Since leaving the Sengoku organization and heading over to Bellator instead of the UFC, he’s put together a 5-2 record that has seen him lose twice in the finals of their featherweight tourney. Sandro has held both the Sengoku and Pancrase featherweight titles, but he has not been able to carry that success over to the North American MMA circuit. At 35 years of age, he may be nearing the end of his time in the cage, but he should be able to put together another run, one which he hopes will finally bring him the title shot and gold in Bellator that has been evading him for the last year.
Ronys Torres, Marcos Galvao, and the emerging Claudia Gadelha are just a few other examples of fighters who are competing at a high level outside of the UFC. Nova Uniao has grown to include multiple academies across the United States, but it is their Brazilian contingent that has put this team on the proverbial map. If you believe that the team aspect is a powerful driving factor in a competitor’s success, it is hard to ignore what Nova Uniao is doing, with multiple fighters gracing the rankings of multiple divisions within the sport. This team looks to be a force to be reckoned with for many years to come.