Bruno Pucci is hoping to kickstart a new chapter of his career in 2018 after finally putting his injury woes behind him.
The two-time BJJ No-Gi world champion faces Emilio “The Honey Badger” Urrutia at ONE: GLOBAL SUPERHEROES on Friday, 26 January, in a contest he hopes will see him progress further up a super-competitive featherweight division.
After a tough couple of years, the Singapore-based Brazilian feels he has a fresh start, as he gets set to compete pain-free for the first time in years.
“The last two years has been a big on and off,” the 27-year-old explains.
“I have been with ONE since 2013, but I was not able to compete much because a lot of injuries were holding me back. But the last year was the best because I stayed healthy for the whole year — no injuries at all. So even though I did not compete that much, I got a big win, and I managed to keep training day-to-day and sharpening my skills. That is the most important thing.
“So in 2018, I am looking forward to keeping more active, and it is good I get to compete at the beginning of the year. Hopefully I can get the win, and I can move on and get some more matches throughout the year.”
Pucci arrived in ONE Championship with world-class credentials, having captured back-to-back no-gi grappling world titles in both 2009 and 2010. He picked up two submission wins in Brazilian martial arts competition to earn his place in ONE, and he did not waste any time, claiming a first-round submission finish of Bashir Ahmad at ONE: CHAMPIONS & WARRIORS.
Since then, he has alternated wins and losses, as he tried to battle through a longstanding back injury. It affected his performance, and he struggled to establish the consistency inside the cage he had hoped for after joining ONE.
“I had two herniated discs in my lower back,” he says.
“I had them for four or five years where they were bothering me, but in the past three years, I tried to avoid the costly surgery. But it got to the point where I could not even walk very well because of the pain.
“It meant I could not really train, and it was a really big deal. I could not shoot for a takedown because of my back, and not being able to drill things like that when you battle on the ground was a big problem.”
After consulting with a number of physicians, Pucci decided he could not put surgery off any longer, and he went under the knife to fix the issue. While he admitted he went into the procedure with trepidation, he came out the other side knowing he made the right decision.
“It took a while to recover, but looking back, it was all worth it, because now I can be the best I can be,” he says.
“My surgery was complicated — there was a nerve that was pinched — and I did not know whether I would be able to come back or not. So at that point, it was very scary. But it all worked out perfectly, and I am so happy that I can train properly without pain, and I can compete at my best from now on.”
Pucci’s back was not the only injury he had to deal with, however. The effects of previous bouts left him needing surgery on his eyes after damaging both orbital bones in competition.
The two eye surgeries, combined with his back operation, meant he was forced to deal with each issue one after the other, all while trying to fit bouts in between.
“It was close to two years, on and off,” the Singapore-based Brazilian explains.
“I had to take some time off, and it was a bit scary when I returned to sparring. But over time, the fear went away, and now it is fully healed and I feel fine. I do not even think about the fact I had eye surgery.
“It was the worst timeline. I wanted to compete more, and I wanted to stay active, but it made my mind stronger, and now I am hungrier than ever.”
After all the trials and tribulations of the last few years, things are finally looking up for “Puccibull” as he heads into 2018. He is injury-free, he has the chance to kickstart his year at ONE: GLOBAL SUPERHEROES against Urrutia on 26 January, and he is happily engaged to ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion Angela Lee.
The couple are teammates at Singapore’s Evolve MMA, but Pucci first spotted his future wife while he was on the other side of the world, and she was making her debut at ONE: WARRIOR’S QUEST in Singapore back in May 2015.
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“Actually, it is a funny story,” he begins.
“I was in Brazil. I just had my back surgery and I was watching a ONE show from home in Brazil, and that is when I first saw her. It was her first match for ONE, and I did not know who she was.
“But what got my attention was she used the same walkout music as me — The Script’s ‘Hall of Fame’ — and I was like, ‘Who is this girl using my walkout music?’
“I watched her match and she won by armbar, and I was really impressed with her performance. And when I came back to Singapore from Brazil, I saw her in the gym. She had just joined the Evolve Fight Team. So we spent some time on the mats together and became friends for a few years, talking and talking, and then things happened!”
Two years later, the couple were engaged, after Pucci popped the question following a romantic meal.
“After dinner, we went for a walk in the Botanical Gardens, and I saw this tree and a bench, so I thought, ‘That is where I am going to ask.’
“I sat her down on the bench and I said ‘I have something I want to tell you. I do not want you to be my girlfriend any more.’
“She was confused and asked: ‘Why are you saying that? Are you breaking up with me?’ And before she got angry, I went on one knee and asked her to marry me. She said yes, smiled, cried, and it was really nice.”
After a tumultuous few years battling injuries, it finally seems as if the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are finally starting to come together for Pucci, whose career will certainly be one to follow closely as 2018 unfolds.