The Tales

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Ricardo Liborio, The Heart of American Top Team

I know Ricardo Liborio as a kind, generous man with a sweet, supportive nature. Being a fan of Mixed Martial Arts, I was aware of American Top Team’s reputation as a top notch gym and for coaching elite athletes like Robbie Lawler, Tyron Woodley, and Jorge Masvidal to name just a few.

I was unaware of Mr. Liborio’s status as a martial artist until I casually mentioned him to a few friends who study grappling.

Each and every person I know in the Jiu Jitsu community reacted to the news that I count Mr. Liborio as a friend with awe, envy, and in some cases, downright hero worship. Not because he’s a founder of American Top Team, nor a coach to many of their elite fighters, but due to his own athletic accomplishments.

“Without Master Liborio, and the team he helped to create, I don’t know that I would’ve progressed as a martial artist. It’s very rare that you feel like family, but Liborio makes it irresistible.” -Jorge Masvidal

Curious, I asked a friend, writer and Jiu Jitsu practitioner Diami Virgilio, to explain why the name Ricardo Liborio inspired instant respect with my somewhat jaded male friends. This is what he wrote:

Ricardo Liborio Career Retrospective
By Diami Virgilio
There are names that are spoken of in hushed tones in gyms where men and women learn what it means to not give up. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has its heroes; athletes who ascend to the pinnacle of the competition circuit or transition successfully into mixed martial arts. Their names are invoked in casual conversation when discussing how to set up a new technique or execute a match-ending submission.

But there is a still higher pantheon of Jiu Jitsu masters. Their feats are near mythical and their abilities merge with their personas to cast a larger than life shadow across the whole of the sport. American Top Team founder Ricardo Liborio is such a man.

“Master Libo is a man who you don’t want to cross, very dangerous physically but if you cross him you’d be missing out on the best friend that you could ever have. Master Libo is the epitome of loyalty and kindness.” –Daniel Straus

Liborio began his Jiu Jitsu career under the tutelage of the great Carlson Gracie, son of the founder of Gracie Jiu Jitsu. Due to his childhood background in judo and his facility for grasping techniques quickly, Liborio became one of Carlson’s prize students. His reputation quickly spread as one of Carlson’s fiercest competitors in all of Brazil.

Very early in his career, Liborio was talked about by his trainer and many of his peers as possibly the greatest of his generation. At the inaugural Brazilian Jiu Jitsu World Championships in 1996, Liborio entered two weight classes above his usual division and dismantled the competition. He captured a gold medal in the 100 kg weight class, closed out the open weight division with his teammate Amaury Bitteti and was voted most technical competitor.
As Carlson’s focus shifted increasingly to MMA in the mid-90s, Liborio became one of the main instructors at the academy. He continued his competition success at the World Submission Wrestling Championships hosted by the Abu Dhabi Combat Club, taking third place in 1999 and second in 2000.

The legend of his otherworldly skills only grew during this period as Liborio would disappear from the academy for weeks or months at a time due to a full time job at a Brazilian bank. According to lore, he would come in on lunch breaks, change his clothes and tear through some of the toughest fighters in the world in minutes before re-robing and heading back to the office.


“Master Liborio is the father of our gym. He has the most amazing character, soul, mind. He is the most giving human being. His whole family is beautiful. I’m privileged just to know him.” – Hayder Hassan

Following a schism with his trainer, Liborio went on to found the Rio Jiu Jitsu Club and then later the Brazilian Top Team (BTT) with his old teammates. He became the primary Jiu Jitsu instructor at BTT, developing the grappling game of their MMA fighters while helping coach Jiu Jitsu competitors such as Fernando Margarida Pontes and Ricardo Arona to World Championships.

ATT-460082290
In 2002, Liborio decided to pursue new opportunities in the United States, opening the American Top Team (ATT) with Dan Lambert and Marcus and Marcelo Silveira in Coconut Creek, Florida.

Immediately upon arriving, Liborio set about infusing the academy with his character of openness and always being willing to lend a hand to someone in need.

Fighters dropping into ATT to train with the fabled master were shocked to meet such an affable gentleman capable of making them feel so helpless in training. His merciless pressure and technical precision on the mat became part of modern Jiu Jitsu folklore as high level competitors left training sessions doubting everything they ever knew about the art.

Not content to keep his knowledge bottled up, ATT expanded and Liborio began spreading Jiu Jitsu and mixed martial arts knowledge through his students’ academies.

Over the years, Liborio has trained a who’s who of mixed martial arts champions, including UFC Welterweight Champion Robbie Lawler, Bellator Champions Will Brooks, Douglas Lima, Daniel Straus and Hector Lombard, WEC Champion Mike Brown, Sengoku Champion Jorge Santiago and WSOF Champion Jessica Aguilar.

He has also trained grappling and Jiu Jitsu world champions such as Jeff Monson and Marcelo Garcia. In 2009, he was named the head coach of FILA’s US Grappling team where he successfully led the team to a gold medal in gi competition at the World Championships.

In the often ego driven world of fight sports, it can be a challenge to find someone who balances near superhuman abilities to impose their will with unrelenting generosity and kindness of spirit.

Competitive or commercial success can draw anyone down the path of believing their own hype and becoming unapproachable and withdrawn. But those who have met him will testify that the mythical status Ricardo Liborio enjoys is tempered by the fact that he is so adept at simply being a man.

Diami certainly explained the Liborio mystique, and everything I knew about Mr. Liborio as a man was confirmed. As a man, I know Mr. Liborio to be dedicated to his family as well as anyone he considers a friend. What attracted Jiu Jitsu and combat athletes to trust Mr. Liborio are the same qualities I discovered when getting to know him.

Dedication, warmth, acceptance, humor, and fierce loyalty. If he considers you a friend you are like family. Fighter Jason High fell ill away from home in California and required emergency surgery.

His trainer, coach, and friend Liborio (or “Libo” to those close to him) stayed at his hospital bedside the entire time. The last face High saw before surgery was the first face he saw upon reawakening; Libo was there in the chair at his bedside.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t Liborio’s first family visit to the hospital. Mr. Liborio’s youngest child Bella was diagnosed with craniosynostosis, a condition that affects the healthy development of an infant skull, and it caused Bella to lose her vision.

Instead of mourning the loss or lambasting Fate, Liborio set out researching what life is like for the blind. Always charitable, Liborio was touched by the daily challenges that the blind fight through and overcome.

Thus an outreach program was born at American Top Team. Not a person to help just one when you can benefit many, Mr. Liborio set up the program to gift knowledge — and most importantly, self esteem, — to children who may feel inferior.

There are a few interviews online that go into detail about the program, but Susan Cingari profiled the charity the best. Watch the video below to learn about American Top Team’s commitment to building our future by empowering our children:

 

Now I truly understand how special Mr. Liborio is, and I’m proud to know him. Not only accomplished in combat competition, not only a loyal friend and family man, but a generous spirit that gives without asking.

Diami was right, Mr. Liborio is someone who balances his near superhuman ability to impose his will with unrelenting generosity and kindness of spirit, and I’m extremely proud to know him.

 

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