Renato Canuto Chats Upcoming ONE Debut: “I’m Very Excited to Put on a Good Show”

Checkmat star Renato Canuto, who first joined ONE Championship’s growing stable of grappling talent back in May, is thrilled to be making his ONE grappling debut on August 26 at ONE 160: Ok vs Lee II. “I’m feeling good,” Canuto tells the Jiu-Jitsu Times. “I’ve actually had a very slow year, in terms of competition – I haven’t competed yet! The last time I competed was at Worlds last year, which I won as a black belt for the first time, so it was super cool. But then I went through this super slowed-down [period of time] – but at the same time, I’ve been training so much.”

Instead of making his usual rounds on the competitive jiu-jitsu circuit, Canuto’s focused most of his recent training on a potential MMA debut. “It’s been so hard not to compete,” he admits, “but I really had to focus on my other priorities, and this year, my main priority is to try and fight MMA. So I’ve been training a lot for that, and it’s been taking a lot of my time, but I haven’t slowed my jiu-jitsu down even a bit.”

Has he spent much time studying Valdir Rodrigues, his opponent? “I know that he likes playing half guard, and that he has a very good base – I’ve seen a couple things on him, but I couldn’t find a whole lot,” says Canuto. “But in my head, I’m just trying to figure out what his strategy would be to fight me, and how he would be able to attack me. And I just base that off little things that I know.”

Mainly, however, Canuto has focused on his own aggressive, submission-oriented game plan – especially since he’s keeping ONE’s submission-only ruleset in mind. “I feel like I have a bunch of different things – I’ll call them tricks,” says Canuto. “I’ll make you think that I’m going to do one thing, and then do another.” The fact that he’s particularly well-known for a more acrobatic jiu-jitsu style – complete with backflip passes and flying armbars – makes it easier for him to bait opponents. “I’ll make [my opponent] think I’m going for [a flying submission], then do something super basic,” he offers as an example. “It keeps people guessing.”

“I think being in a cage also helps me a lot,” adds Canuto. While not every pure sport grappler – even at the most elite levels – trains in a cage like the ONE circle, Canuto has the advantage of his MMA training to fall back on when it comes to cage work. “I’ve already figured out a bunch of tricks I can do [from the cage wall],” says Canuto. “So I’m really interested in seeing what happens.”

Canuto likes keeping an open mind when it comes to competition prep. “I don’t really have anything special in mind like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to hit this one move’ – I’ve never really been like that,” he explains. “On a couple occasions, I had something in my head, and in the middle of the competition, I was so focused on trying to do that one thing, that I ended up messing up the whole match.”

For example, shortly after his first time pulling off his famous backflip guard pass in competition, Canuto felt immediately pressured to pull off more backflip passes in his other matches. “I was thinking so much about it that the opportunity just never showed up – I was too stuck on the idea, and I threw off the whole match trying to wait for the right opportunity to do something cool.” He gives a self-deprecating grin. “So like I said, I’ve learned from it. And now I have all this cool stuff I want to do, but I’m not going to make [doing cool stuff] my main goal. If it happens, it happens, great! But either way, I’m always going to push the pace, and try to press them as much as I can, and break people. That’s my main goal: break the other person.”

Canuto also finds that his MMA training has enabled him to push a more aggressive pace in his jiu-jitsu. “[MMA] has helped me a lot,” says Canuto. “I feel like my pressure game has improved so much – I’ve been training with so many good wrestlers, and people who just find so many different ways to scramble up as soon as they touch the ground. Nobody wants to be on the ground [with me], so they’re always finding ways to try and beat my game, and I’m always finding ways to try and beat their game. So that’s made me a lot better at control, and using my legs properly to slow people down, and really locking them up.”

“I feel like in jiu-jitsu, that’s helped me a lot, because whenever I come back and train just jiu-jitsu, having that kind of different style throws people off. Because I can move a lot, and I can also slow it down, and not allow [the other guy] any space. So it’s been good for me.”

When it comes to grappling for MMA, Canuto takes inspiration from jiu-jitsu specialists at the top of the cage fighting game. “I think Charles Oliveira is my favorite guy,” he says. “And right after that is Buchecha, so far as jiu-jitsu [in MMA] goes. Gilbert Burns is also a great friend of mine, someone I’ve looked up to since I was like fifteen, one of the best guys I’ve trained with at a young age – and he has great striking. He doesn’t even do much jiu-jitsu at this point, and people forget that he’s a jiu-jitsu world champion!”

“Because jiu-jitsu is so hard, I feel like we’re able to learn techniques and things really well, but there’s also a lot of jiu-jitsu guys who can’t adapt to the striking style.” Canuto laughs. “So my main concern right now is getting my hands up, moving my head, and avoiding getting punched as much as possible!”

Canuto’s glad, however, to have the opportunity to showcase his pure grappling skills in his ONE debut before donning MMA gloves. “ONE FC is probably the best-paying promotion I’ve ever fought for,” says Canuto. “And I’m happy about that. I want jiu-jitsu to continue on that pathway. I want people to be able to make a living from jiu-jitsu.”

“I’m actually really happy that [ONE Championship] called me up first for grappling,” he adds. “One of the first things I told them was that I’d been training to fight MMA, but so far I only have a grappling contract right now.” He grins. “And I’m not gonna lie, my main goal is going to be putting on a show there, then going back to them and saying, ‘Hey, now give me an MMA fight – now that you’ve seen what I can do with my jiu-jitsu, let me show you that I can do it with MMA too!’ I am very excited about getting to go there and put on a good show – that’s my main goal.”

While Canuto’s hungry for the win, he’s not as stressed about it as he might have been earlier in his career. “I’m not gonna stress about ‘Oh, if I lose, or if I win’ – I feel like I’ve gone through so much of that throughout my career, where things feel like they matter so much, and titles matter so much. At this point, I’m just happy to be the guy who goes there and puts on a good show, and fights really hard, and who people always really enjoy watching. I want to keep getting called back, and I want to help jiu-jitsu continue progressing.”

“I’m super excited to see grappling at ONE FC,” he emphasizes. “I want [ONE’s grappling] to be the biggest thing that people look up to, the thing that makes people go, ‘Wow, let’s watch this, let’s support jiu-jitsu,’ because I feel like that’s where everyone should be looking – where all the best grappling should be at. Even though I’ve been training for MMA, I’ve also been doing so much jiu-jitsu because I want to reign over that too.”

Given ONE CEO Chatri Sityodtong’s penchant for showcasing multi-discipline combat athletes, not to mention his stated goal of turning jiu-jitsu into a true spectator sport, Canuto’s ambitions may yet bear fruit.

Tune into Renato Canuto’s debut grappling match at ONE 160 on August 26, 9 PM EDT.

For additional updates, follow Canuto on Instagram.


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