Renato “Babalu” Sobral is many things in the MMA world. He’s a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Carlos Gracie Jr., a former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion and a Brazilian national wrestling champion. Notice how none of those have the word “legend” associated with it.

Babalu entered Bellator earlier this year to much fanfare. Bellator put quite a bit of hype behind the Brazilian and touted him as a MMA legend. Bellator was right in propping up Babalu, one of the more recognizable names in the MMA world, but were mistaken in labeling him as a legend. Sobral began his career all the way back in 1997 and despite being one of the longest active competing fighters in the game, he is not a legend.

Let’s start by looking at the easy things first. Sobral sports a very nice 37-11 overall record in MMA, but very few of those 37 wins came against top competition. He owns victories over former UFC heavyweight champ Maurice Smith, former Pride star and UFC champ Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Chael Sonnen, but after that it’d be hard to call any of the people he has beaten elite. He does own a victory over Jeremy Horn on the same night he defeated Rua. That is a testament to Sobral’s skills, as Horn is a grappling wizard. However, Horn would never be considered an elite fighter by anyone’s standards. Yes, Babalu has been in the cage/ring with some of the best fighters in the world, but he’s lost to them as well.

Along with a lack of victories over strong competition, Sobral is missing something that’s essential to every MMA legend: a title in the UFC. Very few fighters who are widely considered legends in the sport do not have an UFC belt on their mantle. It’d be a moot point if Babalu had been dominant outside the Octagon, but that’s not the case either. Competing outside the UFC, Sobral has only won a single title (the Strikeforce light heavyweight belt) and didn’t even make a successful title defense. A lack of titles combined with mixed success are not the traits you’ll find in many MMA legends.

A final point to make on Babalu not being considered a MMA legend is that he did not contribute enough to the sport of MMA. Yes, he was a very good fighter and enjoyed quite a career, but nothing Sobral brought to the table could be considered “game changing.” Many of the MMA fighters that are considered legends changed the game in some way. For example, Royce Gracie gave us BJJ, Mark Coleman gave us ground-and-pound and Frank Shamrock proved what a complete mixed martial artist could do in the cage. Sobral may have always been an entertaining and dangerous fighter, but he didn’t showcase anything we haven’t seen before.

However, Sobral can take some joy in knowing that fans will likely have a hard time forgetting him. He was always an entertaining fighter and would seek the finish, whether it be on the feet or with a submission hold. It got him in a bit of trouble at UFC 74 when he held on to a submission hold longer than he should’ve, but many fans were willing to forgive Babalu. He will also be one of very few fighters remembered by a single name—Babalu has become synonymous with Sobral.

Sobral shouldn’t be hit with the “legend” label that Bellator used in promoting him, but he had a fairly successful career and can also say he went toe-to-toe with some of the best in the world. No one will ever accuse him of being soft or fighting safe, and the admiration shown as he retired in the Bellator cage after losing at Bellator 96 proves that he’ll always be a fan favorite.

Photo: Renato “Babalu” Sobral (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Kyle Symes
Staff Writer

Kyle is a recent graduate of Aurora University, where he obtained a Bachelor's in Communications. Kyle resides in Illinois, just outside of Chicago. He played baseball and football in both high school and college, but is now focusing on an amateur MMA career.