It was after a Vitor Belfort fight that Barral found his calling. He wanted to be a professional MMA fighter and he knew that to be successful he would have to take his ground game more serious. That’s exactly what he did. Barral began training hard in BJJ and the proof is in his accomplishments. A 5-time Pan American champ and 5-time Mundial champ along with other numerous BJJ titles Barral is considered one of the best black belts in the world.
The Draculino black belt had a big year in 2007. He won gold in the medium heavy division and had a big win over Xande Ribiero in the absolute to win gold at the Pan-American Championship. Just a few months later at that years' Mundials, Barral won gold again in the medium heavy division and was the absolute runner-up.
Romulo sustained serious injuries after his major accomplishments in 2007. The injuries that he incurred were enough to have most competitors thinking twice about following through with their life calling of professional fighting. Barral showed no signs of injury or sitting out from competition and even training after his 2009 return. It was as if he came back even stronger. He won the gi and no-gi World’s in his weight class. Oh, yea, he also sports a 2-0 MMA record. Both victories coming by way of rear naked choke.
With a work ethic tough for anyone to match, one of a kind talent, and the mental strength of a true warrior Romulo possess the tools necessary to do even greater things. The young boy that grew up in a tiny house with dirt floors in a tiny town in Brazil knew he wanted to do something big. He’s only just begun!
BJJ Legends: When and how did you begin BJJ and who was your first instructor?
Romulo Barral: “I began BJJ a long time ago. I trained Tae Kwon Do starting when I was 7 years old. When I was 11 or 12 I started jiu jitsu. My Tae Kwon Do teacher was also a BJJ master as well and one if his students started teaching at my old Tae Kwon Do academy in Brazil. I used to go sometimes to the BJJ classes, but I didn't like it because I was more into stand up. I did well in the first class because I was very athletic, but at that time I was just playing on the mats.
I really started to train when I was 15 or 16 years old under my first instructor Christiano "TiTi" Lazarini who really helped me a lot. He is one of Draculino's top students and one of his first black belts - very very good by the way.
I decided to train BJJ because it was my dream to fight MMA and every one told me how important it was to be good on the ground.”
BJJ: Describe your journey to black belt and how long did it take you to get your black belt?
RB: “My journey wasn't easy, but very enjoyable. I began BJJ to fight MMA, but things changed during my journey. I intended on fighting MMA in the beginning, but everyone told me to stay with BJJ because they believed I could be good.
I come from a small town in Brazil with no money, but with big dreams and God put me with a lot of great people to help me reach my goal. I took every opportunity they gave me. In 2000 I started to train hard and put everything into it and in 2005 I received my black belt. It was one of the happiest days of my life.”
BJJ: Your guard is very dynamic and has been described as one of the best in jiu-jitsu. How did you develop such a good guard?
RB: “I developed my guard by training with a lot of different types of guard. I'm a lucky guy because when I started training I had so many good guys in my academy and they all had different styles. I took a little bit of everybody and developed my own guard.”
BJJ: What makes your guard so good?
RB: “I think I have a good guard for a couple reasons. I'm a strong guy and very flexible so I'm a big guy with a light weight guard. Also, training with a lot of good guys who smash me every day.”
BJJ: You won gold in the medium heavy division of the 2007 Mundials. Can you tell us about that and what the experience was like for you?
RB: “Man, my first gold as a black belt was in 2007 and it was for sure a very memorable day. Until now, it was a dream come true. It was good to accomplish a dream. I put a lot of work into it. Everything in my life to win and I did. I'm very proud of myself and in 2009 I did it again. It was almost the same feeling as the first one, but I want a gold in the open weight.”
BJJ: Who have been some of your toughest adversaries in competition?
RB: “Roger Gracie, Xande and Saulo Ribeiro, Tarsis Humpreys, Demian Maia, Braga Neto, Gabriel Vella, Alexandre Souza, Cyborg Abreu, Fabricio Werdum. Man, there are a lot of guys. Everybody is tough.”
BJJ” Who are some jiu-jitsu players you like watching or whose games you like? Also, same question, but for MMA fighters.
RB: “Rubens Charles Cobrinha, Braulio Estima, Samuel Braga, Rafael Mendes, Andre Galvao, and Michael Langui. If those guys are fighting i will be watching. I like watching George St Pierre in MMA.”
BJJ: You’ve had to deal with some serious injuries in the last couple of years. Can you tell us about that?
RB: “In 2007 I fought in the Worlds with a big shoulder injury. My lambrum was torn and it was really hard to train but when you are an athlete you need to know how to deal with injuries and make adjustments in your game to make it happen in competition.
In 2008 I was out the whole year because I had surgery.”
BJJ: Tell us about your rehabilitation and come back from the injury.
RB: “I had a hard time healing from my shoulder surgery. It was supposed to take a maximum of 6 months to heal but I had a complication. I had a nerve injury so I couldn't move my arm for almost one year. I was training using one arm because my arm was dead. I lost all the muscle in my arm and shoulder so it was really tough, but I never gave up and I did everything to heal. When I came back to compete I was hungry to fight. My first competition was the 2009 Pan Ams after almost two years without competing. One week before the Pan Ams I injured my knee and one night before the competition I slept at the hospital. When I left, the doctor said I could not fight, but I did and I won my weight division and placed second in the open weight. Two months after that, at Worlds 2009 I won my weight division and placed second in the open weight. I came back stronger than before.”
BJJ: It must have been tough psychologically to go into surgery thinking you would begin the healing process and get back to training. You went from dealing with one serious injury (labrum tear) to another (nerve damage) to another (knee injury). Then you came back in a big way and won? What did you do to stay mentally strong and positive? What kind of thoughts did you have throughout all of this?
RB: “It is hard for everybody. It is hard when you train everyday 3 or 4 times a day and you have to stop for a long time. It is hard knowing that you might not be able to do what you love again, but if you are an athlete you need to deal with this kind situation and need to be able to pass through. In all my recovery process I was very positive and I kept my mind clean without bad toughs. I was waking up with positive thoughts and I was going to my bed with positives thoughts. Your mind works with your body. If you have a strong body with a lot of muscles, but have a weak mind you will not be great. Great people have a strong positive mind. I’m again in the recovery process and I know I will be better than ever next year. Everybody can expect the best Romulo Barral ever. That’s how I am.
BJJ: What competitions are you focusing on now?
RB: “I had another injury and I had surgery in my knee. I am recovering now and I'm going to compete next year. Im focusing on competing in the European Championship, Pan Ams,World Cup Pro, Worlds and ADCC.
I also want to fight MMA, so I have a lot to look forward to next year.”
BJJ: How long have you been living in the US and where are you living?
RB: “I have been living here almost two years and I currently live in Los Angeles.”
BJJ: Obviously, teaching and training in BJJ and MMA take up a lot of your time. What other hobbies do you have and enjoy in your spare time?
RB: “ I like to be at home relaxing. I also like to go to the movies. I like a good comedy.”
BJJ: Any plans on a seminar tour? If so, when and where?
RB: “Yes, I’m starting a seminar tour at the end of September. I will be going to New Hampshire and Alaska. I will be going to four different cities in Texas: Houston, Abilene, Corpus Christi, and The Woodlands. I will be in Knoxville, Tennessee and Panama City, Florida. I will also be in Vancover, Canada, Brazil, and few more.”
BJJ: Tell us about your academy (where it is, contact info, website). Also, any other big plans you can share?