MNMMANEWS.COM: Welcome to Rochester’s Academy

Interview by Ben Pherson
Be sure to check out Ben’s excellent website at



In 2004, Mario Roberto packed up his things and left Brazil for Rochester, Minn., where his wife already was working in the medical field.

Already a medical doctor himself in Brazil, Roberto decided it was time to follow his heart. And his heart wasn’t into being a doctor.

Instead, Roberto wanted a career in martial arts. He had received his black belt in 1998 from Anibal Braga, so when Roberto arrived in Rochester, he started looking for a place to teach Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

He stumbled across the Fourth Street Boxing Gym, and Roberto said it was a perfect fit.

For the next six years, Roberto taught jiu-jitsu and mixed martial arts classes at Fourth Street. But he always knew he wanted to open his own gym, or more importantly, to create “the perfect gym.”

So in 2010, Roberto finally did it. He opened the doors to Mario Roberto Jiu-Jitsu Academy in northwest Rochester. It’s a state-of-the-art facility, featuring a 30-foot MMA cage, a full jiu-jitsu mat area, an extensive weight room, a full collection of cardio machines and many other intricacies (kettle bells, a tractor tire and sledgehammers, gymnastics rings, a strongman heavy stone … you name it) intended to get people into “fighting” shape.

Minnesota MMA News caught up with Roberto to talk about his new digs.

So Mario, when you first came to Rochester, how did you find Fourth Street?

ROBERTO: It’s an interesting story actually. I was just on an internet forum, posting and just basically asking what the scene was like in Rochester. I told people I was a BJJ black belt, and I wanted to start teaching. A guy named

Gary Ryan, he actually got me started there. He brought me to Fourth Street, and it was a perfect match. It was a fighters’ gym, a fighters’ atmosphere. I have a great relationship with those guys there.

But did you always know you wanted to have your own gym?

ROBERTO: It was always my goal to have a great gym, not necessarily always to move out on my own. I wasn’t dissatisfied at Fourth Street, not at all. There were just certain things I wanted to do, and there wasn’t space to do that at Fourth Street. There were already two rings in Fourth Street, so there was no room for a cage. We had to expand, so this was what I needed to do. But we parted on great terms.

Was it a little scary going out on your own, taking a risk like this?

ROBERTO: Absolutely. But I’m a risk taker. If you’re not feeling like you’re flying by the seat of your pants, you’re living life too safely. He who dares wins.

Not many people in Minnesota know this, but your 30-foot cage has a special story. It’s the old YAMMA Pitfighting cage, which was sold off when YAMMA went bankrupt. Of course, you got rid of that crazy incline, but how did the YAMMA cage end up in Rochester?

ROBERTO: It’s a funny story, especially since it’s the cage that one of the top two pro fighters (Travis Wiuff) out of our gym had probably his best one-night performance in. (Wiuff won the only YAMMA Pitfighting Heavyweight Tournament.) After they (went bankrupt), some guy in Wisconsin bought the cage. But it was such a big cage, and it was taking up all of the space in his shop, so he needed to get it out of there and sell it. We went all the way out to Hayward, Wis., to pick it up. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the biggest cage in the four-state area. I was looking for something, not necessarily this big, but I came across it, and I was able to negotiate a good price. I couldn’t turn down the deal. One of the unique things, aside from the size, is that it has double doors, unlike the UFC cage, which has one. The wiring and coating (of the cage itself), the thickness there is just unbelievable. YAMMA put a lot of money into it.

Yeah, at 30 feet, that’s a big cage … you could get lost in there. So did you have to do some serious measuring at the gym before you committed to purchasing it?

ROBERTO: Actually, I bought the cage before I finalized the floor plan for the gym. We had to come in here and measure, and we actually had to knock out one of the back walls for it to fit in there and allow us to still make it back to my office. There aren’t a lot of places that can hold a 30-foot cage.

Your new facility is focusing a great deal on fitness. But why will fighters love it?

ROBERTO: Basically, I believe it’s one of the best outfitted facilities in the upper Midwest. It has everything a pro fighter needs for training. All of the equipment, and basically everything in here, is fitted toward performance instead of looks. We’ve got the full set of kettle bells, and we have no machines; I don’t believe in machines. We have a cardio room, with anything you need. There are some basic things like bikes and treadmills, but then there are higher-end things like the VersaClimber and the rowers. You can train for all kinds of levels. It really has everything a pro fighter would need, but we also have everything the average person needs just to get fit. As far as classes, we provide training in every single area. The two main disciplines are BJJ and Thai boxing. We have high-level wrestlers in here, Division I wrestlers in this gym. I mean, it’s Minnesota; it’s like ‘Field of Dreams.’ ‘If you build it they (wrestlers) will come.’

What’s an average class size?

ROBERTO: We’ve got everything, from a small class of 10 to 12, and a big class of 20-plus. We have the freakish day where we get 25 or so.

I know you’re the longest tenured BJJ black belt in Minnesota. When did you get it?

ROBERTO: I got it from Anibal Braga in 1998, July 14. Everything in my life has been on the 14th. I was born on Jan. 14. So I made sure to get my black belt on the 14th. … I think it makes me a third-degree black belt. But I don’t wear it. It’s not a big deal to me; it just tells me I’m older.

Do you have many guys who are training to fight, minus the guys we know like Wiuff and Tommy Speer?

ROBERTO: Yes and no. We do train some elite guys, and we have a few up-and-coming prospects. We are about to start a fighters-only session, for those who want to compete. But everybody who steps into the gym has different goals. We want to cater to everyone.

So when are we going to see Mario Roberto in the cage again?

ROBERTO: I don’t know. I wanted to go to Thailand and have a Muay Thai fight, but with the political upheaval there now, I don’t know when that will happen. Maybe 2011. As for MMA, I can’t say I’m thrilled about fighting again. I’m always looking for my next thrill. I’ve already done MMA. Now Thai boxing in Thailand, yeah, I’m for that. With MMA, I feel like I’m in good enough shape that I could go back any time. I never say never. Who knows? If I get motivated enough, maybe. I’m the kind of person who says you either do things 100 percent or you don’t do them at all. I can’t handle subpar effort, especially from myself. We’ll see if I can get motivated to fight again.

How’s the gym doing? Are you adding plenty of new members?

ROBERTO: Pretty good. It’s been a great success. This has been the biggest month ever for us. It’s bigger than ever before, and it’s still growing. We keep branching out, and we just opened a fitness class. We’re really trying to establish our fitness program. We want to be a powerhouse in fitness, too.

Have you given out any black belts in Rochester?

ROBERTO: No, none in Rochester. I’ve given out four overall.  It’s a very subjective thing. It varies from teacher to teacher. In general, a lot of guys are promoted too fast. I’m old school. I like to wear belts tight. I would rather be the best blue belt instead of the worst purple belt. There’s something wrong with it when you’ve got these guys giving out purple belts after two years. I don’t care how skilled you are, that’s just not right. There are little things you just can’t pick up in two years, the spatial awareness and experience. We build our system around fundamentals. With the guys I gave black belts to (one in Brazil, one in Texas and two in Indiana), they averaged about 10 years of experience each.

Finally, what should fighters know about Mario Roberto Jiu-Jitsu Academy?

ROBERTO: Just the fact that we’re open to anybody from any team. There are a lot of politics in Minnesota MMA. I can’t believe how much. It’s sad to see it, and it’s sad how childish it all is. I’m here to train people to get better at fighting. Whether they fight for Team Crazy or whatever other team, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m here to train people. One thing that tears me up is seeing guys from our area lose. It sucks to see people from outside come in to Rochester and mopping the floor with us. We have enough good guys here, that that shouldn’t happen. It would be nice for us to all work together. I’d love to help anyone with their ground game, since that’s our focus here. It doesn’t matter if they want to rep Team A or Team B, I don’t care. They all have an open invite to come in here and check us out. Shoot me an email or give me a call. I’m all for taking the politics out of this stuff.


Mario Roberto has agreed to do a weekly technique segment here at Roberto’s first segment, highlighting the fundamentals of the basic jab, is up on the site already. To find his segment each week, look for the MRJJA CORNER link in the main menu. This week’s video segment can be found at this link.

To find out more about MRJJA, visit Roberto’s website at or stop by the gym at 4915 Suite B, Highway 52 North, in Rochester.

Be Sociable, Share!