The word "team" means different things depending on the sport that is being played. There are those who stand on the field of play to compete together in a game or match from start to finish. But in an individual sport like MMA, although they may prepare together, a competitor's "teammates" are forced to watch from the sidelines during competition. However, despite the lack of "teamwork" in competition, the saying that "iron sharpens iron" is where the concept of teams rings its truest in the world of mixed martial arts. Based on their performances UFC 169, the stars of Nova União showed why that group may be the best team in mixed martial arts today.
Jose Aldo and Renan Barao left no space for question marks when they defended the UFC's featherweight and bantamweight titles convincingly. Between the two of them, they've put together a streak of 11 title defenses that date back to when Aldo won the featherweight championship from Mike Thomas Brown in the World Extreme Cagefighting organization. These two competitors stand out as the top "faces" for the Nova União team, but they have a roster that is as deep as any collection of fighters in one location. Andre Pederneiras has put together a team that could go name for name against any other camp in the sport.
The list of fighters at Nova União is an expansive one. Hacran Dias, Leonardo Santos, and Ronny Markes are three more names that the team has been able to place on the UFC roster. Eduardo Dantas is the reigning bantamweight champion in Bellator MMA, and his last title defense was against his teammate, Marcos Galvao, who has since gone on to win two fights since that loss. On the women's side of the sport, the team even boasts undefeated strawweight Claudia Gadelha amongst their core, and she is one of the front runners to come out of the UFC's TUF 20 tournament to crown the organization’s first women's strawweight champion. It's clear that a wealth of MMA talent has been accumulating in Rio de Janeiro.
Their success has been so widespread that they've been the destination of other fighters, such as B.J. Penn and Gray Maynard, in recent months, and just this week, former UFC Heavyweight Champion Junior Dos Santos announced that he will be training at Nova União for the purpose of “evolving” his game.
Nova União is known as a team that boasts crisp striking technique, world class Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and takedown defense that makes their fighters a nightmare for any fighting style they could potentially face. Although the whole group hasn't had the same type of dominance that Barao and Aldo have enjoyed, they have still reached a level of success that is hard for other teams to emulate. Much has been said about the recent resurgence of Team Alpha Male, but head to head, their fighters have still fallen short. American Kickboxing Academy, which boasts Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier, as well as others, and Greg Jackson's camp, which has hosted a number of world champions during its tenure, are viewed as the elite teams in the sport, and Nova União should be mentioned in the same breathe.
The benefits of a strong team behind a fighter should not be underrated. Gabriel Gonzaga has long been criticized for being the best fighter at his gym, Team Link, which has hindered his growth as a heavyweight. Former AKA welterweight Josh Koscheck is an example of a fighter that left a well-established group to form his own training camp, and has not experienced the same level of success. If iron sharpens iron, the lack of those irons seem to dull a fighter’s tools.
And right now, Nova União’s irons couldn’t be sharper, particularly in the lower weight classes. With champions Jose Aldo, Renan Barao, and Eduardo Dantas leading the charge, and with former champions Penn and Dos Santos under its roof to enhance their already world class skill sets, expect to see fighters from this team holding gold in some form of fashion for a long time.