Rock star turned UFC commentator, Roman Laurito talks martial arts roots, UFC Sao Paulo contenders

Roman Laurito made his name in Brazil in the early 2000s as the bassist and backing vocalist for rock band Tihuana, but his love for martial arts gave him a new career after decades on the road.

At age 3, Laurito moved to Brazil from Argentina with his parents and older brother. His father was a fan of Brazilian poet Vinicius de Moraes and Bossa Nova, and Laurito constantly traveled between Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires for many years before and he and his friends started Tihuana in 1998. That was his life until he decided to change everything.

The Argentine is now 52 and a black belt in jiu-jitsu, with previous training in judo, taekwondo, kung fu, and karate. He’ll sit cageside this Saturday to provide commentary for Brazilian network Band TV during UFC Sao Paulo.

“The thing I love the most in my life after music is fighting,” Laurito said on MMA Fighting’s Trocação Franca podcast. “I was on the road for many years with Tihuana and turned 40, and I got that itch and started thinking of doing something else, because I was a bit tired of being on the road. I thought, ‘What do I like besides music? I can’t be a fighter, because I’m old.’”

Photo via Roman Laurito

Laurito created an MMA radio show in the early 2010s, and that proved to be a success. Years later, he joined Bandsports as a color commentator for smaller MMA events in Brazil and overseas. Eleven months after the UFC’s deal with Band TV kicked off, he finally had the chance to work cageside for a UFC event in Sao Paulo.

“I worked as a teenager at a store in Rio that sponsored Carlson Gracie Team, so Wallid Ismail and Amaury Bitetti would always show up to pick up clothes,” Laurito said. “I lived that vale tudo era in Rio, but I couldn’t do jiu-jitsu, because it was during that violent time of the pitboys getting into fights in night clubs. I saw that many times, luta livre against jiu-jitsu, and that pushed me away from jiu-jitsu, even so because I was already focused on doing music. I had long hair, and that had nothing to do with me.”

“I’m a huge fan of MMA athletes,” he continued. “I was still in the band while working on the radio, and I still have no idea how I managed to do both. I started working on the radio because of MMA. That was my main priority. I train with professional fighters, and I see their daily routine. They’re extremely focused, family men — many of them are religious people. You can’t lose focus like in other sports. This is not like soccer, where you can pass the ball, or ask to be substituted. When the cage closes, you’re on your own there, and the other guy wants to take off your head. I admire these guys a lot.”

A fan of Fedor Emelianenko, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Wanderlei Silva, Demian Maia, and his “master” Fabio Nascimento, Laurito also has a soft spot for Paulo Thiago, who walked out to his song “Tropa de Elite” during UFC 134 in 2011. He calls it “the greatest walkout in UFC history.”

UFC Sao Paulo may not be as stacked as that first Rio de Janeiro pay-per-view, but Laurito sees a lineup filled with promising talent, namely Vitor Petrino and Gabriel Bonfim.

“It’s not a stacked card, that’s a fact, but only for those who don’t follow [the sport],” Laurito said. “If you follow it, it’s the new generation coming — and it’s coming strong. Gabriel Bonfim is a phenom. Undefeated, slick submissions and heavy hands, well-rounded. We’ll be able to watch the new generation, and I have my expectations high. I’ll tell you this, I’ll be very frustrated if this card doesn’t deliver like I expect it to.”

UFC Sao Paulo headliner Jailton Almeida switched from facing top-ranked Curtis Blaydes to meeting fan-favorite Derrick Lewis, and Laurito sees a clearer path to heavyweight contention now.

“‘Malhadinho’ is a phenom,” he said. “He’s not big for the heavyweight division, but he compensates with speed and unique jiu-jitsu. He says it himself, he’s a fan of Khabib Nurmagomedov, and you can see similarities there. I see him as the favorite for this fight. It won’t be easy, but I thought Curtis Blaydes was tougher. Derrick Lewis deserves respect, he only needs one punch to end the fight. Anything can happen, especially at heavyweight, but I see ‘Malhadinho’ as the favorite.

“Depending on how he wins, if he puts on another stellar performance, he’s on the cusp for a title shot. This is a very important fight for ‘Malhadinho’. When they changed opponents, I saw that as bad news, because going from the No. 4 [ranked heavyweight] to the No. 11 pushes you further from the title, but that changed with Jon Jones’ injury. We can talk again about possibly fighting for the title if he wins. The stars have aligned.”

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