Walter Goncalves was just a teenager when he left behind everything he knew and left his native Brazil to hone his martial arts skills in Thailand.
It was the most difficult decision he has made in his life, and his time in his sport’s birthplace was not easy, but all his hard work and sacrifice will be vindicated if he claims the ONE Flyweight Muay Thai World Championship next Sunday, 13 October.
The 21-year-old has been on an emotional roller coaster, but he says his experience has prepared him to take his sport’s biggest prize from Rodtang “The Iron Man” Jitmuangnon at ONE: CENTURY PART II in Tokyo, Japan.
Goncalves was not even a legal adult when he traveled more than 17,000 kilometers from his humble home in a favela of Fortaleza to immerse himself in the culture and lifestyle of “the art of eight limbs” at its source.
“I left Brazil at 17 years old to go to Thailand,” he explains.
“I wanted to fulfill my dream, and my family’s dream, and especially that of my coach, Anderson Dentao, who always told me he wanted to coach a World Champion.”
Goncalves would achieve just that by winning three World Titles, but those belts seemed like a distant dream during his early days in Thailand.
That time was the most difficult, but not because of the hard training.
“I tell everybody, when I arrived [in Thailand], I spent a whole month crying,” the Blackthai CT representative explains.
“I had a difficult time – leaving my home, leaving my friends. When I looked around, there was no one [I knew] – just me.
“Then I stopped and thought, I’m going to achieve everything I want, here and now. I saw it as a big challenge I had to overcome. I didn’t want to disappoint my coach or my family, because they believed in me – and I got there.”
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That determination to succeed made Goncalves force himself to adapt to his new environment.
“My experience in Thailand was one of leaving my comfort zone,” he adds.
“I noticed differences – the training, the food, the culture. I hadn’t seen anything like it before in my life, but I knew if I stayed in Thailand, I could achieve something, and I did it.
“I overcame the difficulties, I got more mature, and I got respect from everybody.”
Goncalves was hungry – both for success, and literally – as he built his reputation in Thailand. He had to compete as often as possible to climb the ranks and earn bigger opportunities, but also to survive.
“If I did not fight, I could not eat,” he says.
“In any case, I didn’t have enough money to go back [to Brazil], so I went deep into combat for real, and dedicated myself to the sport so I could make money and eat.
“Obstacles? I climb them like a ladder.”
Though he often struggled through hard training and even harder contests in the ring, Goncalves’ time in Thailand was made easier because he knew he could always count on the support of the two most important figures in his life.
The first was his father, Assis, who had first introduced him to martial arts, and never failed to let his son know he had made the family proud.
“He continues to support me to this day. He is my biggest fan, he is my focus, and my inspiration,” he says.
“If it wasn’t for my dad, I wouldn’t be here today.”
The other was coach Dentao, who had recognized Goncalves’ potential from an early age, and then encouraged him to travel halfway around the world to take his skills to the next level.
“I had a big dream to visit other countries, and with the help of my coach Anderson, I was able to achieve this,” he says.
“Meeting new people, and seeing a new world, that was my achievement right there. And my coach was with me in spirit the whole time, supporting me, advising me through the phone. That’s why my success happened.”
That kept him on his path to World Title glory in “The Land Of Smiles,” which in turn paved the way for his shot at immortality on the global stage in Tokyo, Japan, at ONE: CENTURY.
Ahead of his bout with Rodtang for the gold, the flyweight star is full of confidence. In his eyes, he has put in the hard work, and not even a five-round clash with “The Iron Man” can faze him.
“The biggest sacrifice I made for Muay Thai was leaving my family, but it was worth it. I would do it all over again,” he says.
“After all that I went through, now nothing else can shake me.”
- Watch PART I in USA on 12 October at 8pm EST and PART II on 13 October at 4am EST
- Watch PART I in India on 13 October at 5:30am IST and PART II at 1:30pm IST
- Watch PART I in Indonesia on 13 October at 7am WIB and PART II at 3pm WIB
- Watch PART I in Singapore on 13 October at 8am SGT and PART II at 4pm SGT
- Watch PART I in the Philippines on 13 October at 8am PHT and PART II at 4pm PHT
- Watch PART I in Japan on 13 October at 9am JST and PART II at 5pm JST
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.