For two years in a row now, the UFC has come to the Capital city and cashed in on the Midwest’s love and respect for mixed martial arts. Much like the gritty, mash-mouth style of football our region is known for, the UFC leaves little room for showboating and pageantry; victory and respect are all that matter. Midwestern athletics is known for leaving everything on the battlefield—dreams, pride, sweat, blood and tears—so it makes perfect sense that we’re drawn to the UFC. After all, what’s not impressive about individuals who spend every waking moment training for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fight the world’s best martial artists in front of millions of people?
This year, C Magazine and the UFC partnered together to create a cover story unlike any other. We were assigned a fighter, Jorge Gurgel of Cincinnati, an established Brazilian Jujitsu black belt who fought on the UFC 82 card. The UFC and Gurgel afforded us full-access privileges before, during and after the fight.
So your injuries would be the equivalent of a real bad car crash?
Yeah, pretty much, just a little bit at a time. That’s the hardest part. Being in great shape, you’re training so hard, and then you blow a knee out and you have to wait a whole year. That’s why I feel like I have a lot of catching up to do. It’s a whole year of letting the cadaver attach and getting your body to absorb it and accept it. Going from physical therapy, to walking with the crutches, to actually walking again, then going from walking to kicking, punching, jumping, wrestling, you’re never gonna be the same again.
So when you look to the sky, what do you ask for?
All life does is try to kick you down and keep you there. Life is a fight, man. I’ve never been the kind of guy who’s gonna sit down and mope around. I don’t have the time for negativity anymore. I try to lead my team by example.
What’s your background?
I came here as an exchange student when I was 15 years old. I learned a lot about myself, about American culture, about being independent, about fighting for what you want. I learned the value and the difference in cultures, that you earn your keep here. The whole year I spent as an exchange student really opened my eyes to what I wanted to do with my life, and made me realize that I didn’t want to depend on anybody anymore. When I went back to Brazil, I took the college entrance exam and placed 31st out of the 35,000 students who took the test for international business, and only the top 50 get scholarships. My dream was to go back to the US.
Did your parents ever give you advice?
When I told my parents I love jujitsu, they said they did not invest all these hundreds of thousands of dollars in my education for me to speak three languages, for me to live in the United States, learn other cultures and be at the best college for international business in the northeast region for me to waste my life bruising my neck and blowing out my ears and breaking my fingers and replacing my knees. My dad would tell me that if I took all the hours I spent at the gym lifting weights and practicing jujitsu and spent them studying, in the future, those hours would turn into success, money and wealth. My master plan was to apply for college in the U.S. That was the only way I would be accepted back without a visa. Well, my parents told me if I was going back to the States I’d have to apply to Wright State University, go to Ohio and share a place with my brother. Go to the same school, take the same classes, share a car. So I did.
How’d that go?
It was very tough for the first two years that I lived here. Me and my brother lived in the ghetto of Dayton and bussed tables in addition to school for 12-13 hour days. I would go to school from 7:30 until about 1:30, go home and change, go to work and bus tables until midnight and then go home and do homework until 3 a.m. International students pay double tuition—you are required to do so because of international taxes. A lot of times, my brother and I had to make a choice between buying food or paying rent. We used to eat leftovers from the restaurant from plates that looked clean enough. I’ve often said that if my parents knew that was going on, they would have come here and made us go back to Brazil.
So you are a second-degree black belt, right?
As of this month, I’m a 2nd degree black belt, yes. As a matter of fact, as a black belt, every three years you get a stripe on your belt. It’s my 6th anniversary as a black belt. It went by fast.
Give us a quick overview of your business agenda.
It started like this... The first phone call came from Huntington, West Virginia. A couple guys heard of me, got together and wanted to start an associate school of mine. I’ve never looked for an associate school; every single one of them looked for me. I started making trips to West Virginia every month for 3 1/2 hours and came back with like $300-400 for teaching a private seminar. I couldn’t believe I made $400 in a weekend! I was so happy. One thing led to another: another school here, then Missouri, Wisconsin, Michigan and 5 more in Ohio.
So how many total now?
13 total, with one in Nova Scotia, Canada. We’re working on one in Munich, Germany next.
How many prospective students?
600 students that are dedicated to your program?
They are Jorge Gurgel Jujitsu Affiliates. It’s called JG Jorge Gurgel Brazilian Jujitsu Association. They are my team, they wear my name and they fly my flag. Sometimes, I feel like maybe I bit off a little more than I could chew, since I’m pursuing a career to be the best fighter I can be. At the same time, I’m running my own business with 13-14 full-time instructors, a clothing company within my gym and 13 schools that call me for everything they need for seminars, for advice, for shows.
You were on the TV show Ultimate Fighter Season 2. Didn’t you blow your knee out while you were fighting?
When the first show started, they had a computer poll when they announced the cast for season two and I was a 94% favorite to win that whole show. It was very embarrassing for me. I already knew the result and I knew I had lost. The other 6% was split between the other 7 guys in my weight class. Nobody knew that 3 weeks before the show I completely blew my ACL kickboxing with my coach.
So your own coach blew your ACL?
It was the worst thing I ever felt. I kicked him with my right leg and he blocked it and he power kicked the leg I was standing on. I went straight to get an MRI and my ACL was completely torn. I bought a bunch of tape and I taped my knee every practice. I actually did nothing, no wrestling, no kickboxing. If you watch the TV series, they show me going to the hospital and getting a lot of blood and fluid out of my knee and I tried to play it off like I was okay. And then I had to finally fight, and I was still 100% convinced that I could win the show with one knee. My knee completely buckled, and I finished the fight to a split decision.
Going back, you’d take the time off next time, wouldn’t you?
No, I have to fight. That’s what you don’t understand. When I fought and I lost, I tried to fight like I was a healthy person. It’s so weird how life works. Two fights after that, while training in Utah, I blew my right knee. I fought in the UFC with that same injury twice. I’ve fought in the UFC twice with one leg. Rich [Franklin] was absolutely against it, said I was going to ruin my career. I followed my instincts and I fought. So I won, and now I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been in my life, I’m the strongest, I’m the best I’ve ever been. I live with no regrets. I don’t think people should live like that. I look forward to what’s coming my way, and I don’t regret any decisions I’ve ever made in my career or in my life, period.
How long have you and Rich Franklin been friends?
We’ve been best friends since 2000.
How did you guys meet?
He walked into my school once to learn some jujitsu. Long story short, we hit it off from that first day that we met. I finally had a steady partner that was always there for me. It was really the best thing to happen to me; it was one of the best things, I’m sure, to happen for him. We found each other; we found somebody who had the same work ethic, the same dream, the same goals, the same go-get attitude, instead of waiting for shit to just fall into our lives.
What is the center of your faith?
The center of my faith is that every single person has a personal relationship with God. I have my personal relationship with God. I believe in God; I pray every day, numerous times. He’s the only person that can judge me.
What is the biggest mistake most often made by Americans?
Coming from a third world country and living how I’ve lived and seeing what I’ve seen, Americans take their lifestyle for granted. I think that some Americans don’t understand the value of being an American. This is the economic power of the world. And if you have an idea and a good work ethic, you’re gonna have a car and an apartment with a heater on and air conditioning and a television. It doesn’t matter if you deliver mail; it doesn’t matter if you’re a garbage man. You’re gonna have a car, you’re gonna take a vacation and you’re gonna drink a beer on the weekends. In Brazil, a bank manager doesn’t even have that kind of lifestyle. So, I definitely think some Americans take their lives and their lifestyle for granted.
So you’re an English major?
I have two degrees that allow me to teach any level of English in Brazil.
Okay, you’ve admitted to having ADD. Name some pros and cons with how it affects what you do for a living.
It makes my job great. My stepfather is actually one of the top psychiatrists in New York City. He said, “Jorge, do you know that every genius and overachiever in the whole world has ADD?” I’m very hyper and I’m always going, and I like it. My stepdad says, “For your line of work, Jorge, having ADD is perfect.” Because I can talk to people and move around and work out and run and go from place to place for 24 hours straight. But if you make me sit down in a classroom, be polite and pay attention to a lecture for an hour, I will go insane. My ass starts to cramp, I have anxiety attacks, I cannot sit still and I cannot be quiet. I speak first and I think second. I expect everybody to be on my speed. I expect people around me to move at the speed of business, to the speed that I think, to the speed that I act, and if you’re not fast enough for me, I will leave you behind. I like being ADD. I get more stuff done being ADD. The worst part is that I get lost everywhere I go. I get so into the music in my car that I repeatedly get lost going from the gym to my house. From my school to my house, I miss the exit at least once a week because I’m listening to music. I can be in a place 30 times, and every time I have to ask for directions again.
What don’t we know about you? What’s your most embarrassing moment?
I don’t have one, but you need to know I’m a fashion icon.
What are your three biggest vices?
Brandy, my girlfriend, would say work, the gym and training. Fashion definitely. Everybody makes fun of me.
Tell me the greatest things in life.
Health and being healthy is number one. Sunny days and the ocean put me in a good mood. A Bentley Continental fits in there somewhere, too.