How PFL Heavyweight Champion Bruno Cappelozza Plans to Honor His Father's Memory

Tom Taylor@@TomTayMMAContributor IIDecember 1, 2021

Image provided by Professional Fighters League

Bruno Cappelozza was two nights away from the most important fight of his life when he awoke to the sound of his training partner, Ronny Markes, crying quietly in the bathroom of their Fort Lauderdale hotel suite.

He wouldn't learn the cause of Markes' tears until the fight had come to pass.  

Cappelozza was in Fort Lauderdale for the Professional Fighters League's annual championship event, which emanated this year from the guitar-shaped Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in nearby Hollywood, Florida. The Brazilian was matched up with Croatia's Ante Delija on the card, with the league's heavyweight championship and a million-dollar prize hanging in the balance. 

It was a wild and gruelling fight, but Cappelozza ultimately won a unanimous decision, earning the PFL heavyweight belt—his first major title in MMA—and a life-changing million dollars in the process.

"It was such an amazing feeling," Cappelozza told Bleacher Report through PFL translator Eduardo Lima, looking back on his win over Delija. "It was such a great moment for me, for my family, for my team. It was one of the happiest moments of my life." 

After posing for a photo with his team, with his new belt slung over his shoulder, Cappelozza headed backstage, ready to celebrate his success with the people that helped him achieve it. Instead, his world came crashing down as his team informed him that his father had died earlier in the week.

In an instant, all his elation faded away.

"I forgot about the belt, I forgot about the money, I forgot about what just happened," the PFL heavyweight champion said, looking back on the moment his team informed him of his father's passing. "I was just focused on what they were telling me." 

Cappelozza's team had learned the news themselves earlier in the week but refrained from telling him, fearing that it would tear his focus away from his imminent title fight—and perhaps even drive him out of the matchup.

Fans were quick to criticize the fighter's handlers for that decision but, as it turns out, it wasn't only their decision.

"I'm so thankful for my team, and especially to Ronny Markes, for keeping this information from me and for doing it the way it was done, because, at the end of the day, it was not only his decision but also my dad's," Cappelozza explained. "When my dad got admitted to the hospital, the first thing he said was 'do not tell Bruno. Don't let Bruno know. I do not want him losing focus on his fight and how big of an opportunity this is.'

"This was one of his last wishes."

It was the kind of selflessness Cappelozza expected from his father—particularly when it came to his MMA career.

"He's the main figure in my entire athletic career," he said. "At times when I was struggling financially, thinking about stopping fighting, he would take money out of his savings and be a sponsor for me and say 'don't worry about it, son, I've got you. Follow your dream.'

"When I was still living and training in Jau, my hometown, he would attend every single one of my training sessions, to the point of counting how many strikes I'd thrown in that particular training session," he added. "He was my biggest fan, my biggest supporter, and at times even a sponsor.

"It's just unfortunate that my biggest fan wasn't there—physically—for me to put the belt on his shoulder."

Time heals all wounds, but Cappelozza's have barely started scabbing. In the month since his victory over Delija, a stretch he might have spent settling into the luxe life of a millionaire MMA champion, he's been mourning.

He's finding the finality of his father's absence particularly difficult to fathom because it had already been seven months since they'd seen each other.  

"It still hasn't hit me, and that's because I'd spent the last seven months away from home, so I hadn't seen him for seven months," he said. "It's been a tough month. I've been struggling to sleep, struggling to keep my head up, struggling to absorb this whole thing."

Cappelozza hasn't done much training since his win over Delija, partly because he's distracted, and partly because the fight took an immense physical toll on both men.

He's been doing what he can, though, knowing it's what his father would have wanted.

Image provided by Professional Fighters League

"Slow and steady," he said. "I'm getting back into it. I took about three weeks off completely. I haven't gotten back into MMA training, per se. I've been working on strength and conditioning.

"Light work for now," he added. "It was a hard-fought battle, 25 minutes of war, so I'm still kind of healing. I still can't really close my hands. I have a couple of injuries I need to take care of, minor stuff, but I'm giving my body some time."

Just don't take Cappelozza's gradual return to training for flagging motivation. 

While the heavyweight says his father's death has taken an immense toll, he's already dreaming about returning to the PFL cage in early 2022 and beginning his pursuit of another championship and million-dollar payday.

It's the surest way to honor his father's memory.  

"This year has been a mix of a dream and a movie," he said. "I've matured a lot as a fighter. It's been a year of incredible growth for me, and I look forward to 2022.

"I'm going to do exactly what I did this year: keep on fighting, keep winning, and bring another belt home for Brazil, and especially for my dad."