Walter Goncalves’ life began in the impoverished slums of Brazil, but his tenacity and commitment to success took him to the world’s largest martial arts organization.
The 21-year-old striking sensation will challenge Rodtang “The Iron Man” Jitmuangnon for the ONE Flyweight Muay Thai World Championship at ONE: CENTURY PART II in Tokyo, Japan, and this massive opportunity will be the culmination of his journey from poverty to international stardom.
On Sunday, 13 October, Goncalves will arrive on a stage that could not be further from his humble upbringing as he performs in front of millions at the biggest martial arts event in history.
Before he enters the Circle at the Ryogoku Kokugikan, Goncalves reveals how he has made his awe-inspiring ascent from humble beginnings to the global stage.
Poverty In The Favelas
Goncalves was born in the favelas of Fortaleza, Brazil, and grew up with his mother, father, and younger brother. For the most part, he had a happy childhood.
“When I was younger, I just wanted to hang out with friends. I just wanted to stay outside with the kids in the favela, playing with kites and playing soccer,” he continues.
However, for many people in these poor neighborhoods, just surviving was sometimes a challenge.
“My biggest difficulty with my family was not having food on the table – not having rice or a simple sausage to eat,” he recalls.
As Goncalves grew older, the reality of his family’s situation began to hit home. He realized that if he wanted to lift them out of poverty, he had to do something more productive than spend his time on the streets.
Their struggles were his biggest motivation to aim high.
“This is something that motivates me to be who I am – hardworking, a dreamer, and focused,” explains the three-time Muay Thai World Champion.
“I don’t want to go through this again, and I can guarantee to my family I’m going to change their lives, and mine too.”
The Route Out Of The Slums
Goncalves believed his best route out of the favelas was through martial arts.
His father, Assis, took him to his first karate class when he was 5, but he soon switched codes to Muay Thai, where his competitive nature could really be nurtured.
“What I liked most when I started Muay Thai was the sparring. I liked a challenge,” he says
It did not take long for Goncalves to step over the ropes to begin his competitive career. That was when he saw what he could achieve in the ring, and a potential path to success.
“My first fight was a tie. I did not win, but it was an experience that made me realize [I liked to compete],” he says.
“I was 8 years old at that time. When I fought, I realized that I was part of that world. From that moment I told myself, ‘I’ll keep fighting until I win for the first time.’
“After I got my first victory, I [thought I] would try to help my family. I noticed I could become someone. I could look for a bigger challenge. I could make my name and my career.
“When I started [competing], I noticed that I could change my life by winning belts – like I will do [in Tokyo].”
Heading To The Home Of Muay Thai
Goncalves rose through the ranks in Brazil before he was persuaded to travel to Thailand to continue his progression in the sport’s homeland.
With the support of his father and his coach at Blackthai CT, Anderson Dentao, he moved to the home of “the art of eight limbs” and settled at Sitsongpeenong in Phuket.
The ONE Flyweight World Title contender quickly built a reputation as a fierce competitor, amassed an impressive 65-5 record, and won a collection of World Titles.
“My coach always told me I would become a World Champion one day, and I always believed it. I was training until my time came,” he says.
“This dream was realized successfully thanks to God and to my family. My dad helped me, and my coach Anderson Dentao was the one that put me there in Thailand to achieve my dream.”
Though he was overjoyed to win prestigious belts in Thailand, the 21-year-old was not satisfied. His goals have grown relative to his success, and now he has his eyes on the biggest belt of them all.
“I was only a boy that came from a slum, who is now winning the World Title. I realized I could achieve much more with my strength and my faith,” Goncalves adds.
Building A Future In ONE Super Series
Goncalves now has the chance to showcase his skills on the biggest platform of them all in ONE Super Series, and in the world’s largest martial arts organization’s most spectacular event ever, ONE: CENTURY.
He will go straight in at the top against defending flyweight king Rodtang, who has far more experience, and a flawless record in The Home Of Martial Arts.
That will not deter the Brazilian, who has made a habit of overcoming the odds in his life, and this is another chance for him to show that anything is possible.
“I’ll prove to the world that if there is a dreamer, there is also a determination. I’ll be fighting in the biggest event in the world. I’ll conquer the world and the ONE belt,” he asserts.
The Blackthai CT athlete is not just competing for himself. He remains motivated by his family and the coach who has supported his journey every step of the way.
“I’m grateful for [my father] for being so supportive, motivating me, always advising me, and putting me in the hands of the guy that I’m most grateful for, that’s Anderson Dentao,” he reveals.
“If it were not for these two men, and especially God, what would I be today? This will be the biggest dream of my life, to repay all they did for me.”
ONE: CENTURY is the biggest World Championship martial arts event in history with 28 World Champions featured across various martial arts. No organization has ever promoted two full-scale World Championship events on the same day.
The Home Of Martial Arts will break new ground as it brings multiple World Title bouts, a trio of World Grand Prix Championship Finals, and several World Champion versus World Champion matches to the famous Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo, Japan on 13 October.