Alan Finfou: From the Favela to the World

Published on by Nico Ball

Photo Credit: Hywel Teague

Alan Nascimento, better known as Finfou here in the Cantagalo Favela, is one of the many names that I often hear repeated both inside and outside of the academy. Finfou started Jiu Jitsu here in the Cantagalo favela alongside Fernando Terere, Rico Vieira, Leandro Martins, Jackson Sousa, and Bruno Matias. Like the rest of them, Finfou has used Jiu Jitsu as a stepping-stone to a better way of life.  Now a lot kids that start training Jiu Jitsu in one of the many social projects located here in the Cantagalo/ Pavao/Pavaozinho favela look to Finfou as a mentor and role model. Finfou credits Jiu Jitsu for keeping him out of the streets and away from the violent drug traffiking that often captivates young children from the favela. Thanks to the Arte Sauve, he is now living in Europe where he dedicates his time to raising his family and teaching BJJ in a small town outside of Stockholm.

Finfou was born and raised in the Cantagalo/ Pavao/ Pavaozinho, a small favela hidden neatly between Copacabana and Ipanema. He took his first step onto the mats at Amigos do Morro, a social project that was started by Fernando “Terere” Da Silva and his cousin Leandro Martins.

Finfou fell in love with the sport and decided that he wanted to make a living in Jiu Jitsu, but it wasn’t a decision that was readily accepted by his family. Finfou’s father was incarcerated when he was a little kid, leaving him and his mother to fend for themselves on the streets. His grandmother took him in and provided a safe home, but growing up in the favela is never easy. Finfou cites the lack of support from his family as one of the hardest obstacles that he had to face when persuing his black belt. By the time he was a teenager, his family put a lot of pressure on him to show results and that meant providing financial support. Jiu Jitsu has never paid well and at times it was hard for him to stay motivated when most of his friends were making more than twice the money he was by working with the local gangs. In 2004 after the death of his father, Finfou was even more tempted to join his two brother were aslo involved with the local gangs.  

Training helped keep him focused and that same year he was invited to teach at an academy in Sweden current girlfriend. His brothers were not so fortunate; He lost his youngest brother to gang violence in 2006 and then in 2010, on his birthday, Finfou’s oldest brother was a victim in a police shooting.

Choosing a career in Jiu Jitsu was not easy, especially considering the personal loss and constant pressure from his family, but his hard work and dedication were finally starting to pay off.  Europe was everything that he imagined, except maybe, a lot colder than he had expected.

“The language, the culture, the system, you learn to adapt, but to deal with a long cold winter of -25oC when you come from Rio where summer is +36oC and sunny almost every day… that’s hard to deal with!”

Adjusting to the Nordic climate was anything but easy for the native carioca, but it was a challenge that he took on with pride. Jiu jitsu was still growing in Sweden and, unlike in Rio where a lot of people were already making a living off the sport, he was one of the pioneers in the sport.

In 2010 Finfou decided to settle down permanently in Sweden and start a family with his girlfriend in Nykvarn, a small town outside of Stockholm.

"I want to help continue Terere’s legacy from Canatagalo."

“It wasn’t easy at first” he admits. “I had to prove myself so people would believe in me, but I had a strong will and that made it easier for me to adapt and manage it all.”

Eventually things did get easier. Finfou made a name for himself in the European competition scene and his relentless attitude earned him respect as a teacher.

In 2013, at the IBJJF Worlds that took place in California, Finfou suffered a major neck injury that many people thought would end his career. It was a hard time for the Cantagalo native, but the love and support that he received from friends and family worldwide helped him recover. Once doctors cleared him, he flew to Italy and brought home gold in the 2015 IBJJF Rome Open.

Now his main focus is taking care of his family, and like most BJJ athletes, he dreams of opening his own academy. He’s still living in Sweden and training at Prana Jiu Jitsu. Despite his hectic training schedule, teaching obligations, and family responsibilities, he still tries to make it home to Rio once or twice a year to visit his family and the community where he grew up.  While he’s home, he always stops by Fightzone in Copacabana to train with his teacher Rico Vieira, but the favela native prefers to spend most of his time with the kids at the VBteam Social project that is run by Antonio Carlos (Body), Douglas Rufino (Trator), and Sandro Vieira.

The social projects in the Cantagalo favela have produced quite a few BJJ stars like Bruno Matias, who also lives in Sweden and Jackson Sousa, who is currently living in London. When they come home to visit, they always make sure to stop by and spend time with the kids. Seeing as they are veterans of social projects themselves, they can attest to the power that these community based programs have in changed young kids lives. Finfou is still close with the friends like Jackson that grew up along side him at the Project.

“Jackson comes to visit me a lot in Sweden. He is the new generation of high-level Jiu Jitsu athletes from Galo and I want to help him. I want to help continue Terere’s legacy from Canatagalo.”

And they have been doing just that. Both Cantagalo natives have been having a very successful 2016 competition season.

In January, Finfou traveled to Lisboa to compete in the IBJJF Europeans where he brought home the silver medal in the adult -82kg category after losing in the final. Sousa, who also competed, traveled back to London with double gold.

Then in March at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam London edition, Finfou fought again in the adult -77kg category and won first place, bringing home the gold medal AND a cash prize.

Most recently, Finfou traveled to Abu Dhabi to compete in the 2016 World Pro along with some of the biggest names in BJJ. He was once again victorious, winning the gold medal in the -85kg Master 1 division.

After securing yet another medal, Finfou was able to enjoy Abu Dhabi before heading back to Europe to deal with another Nordic winter. He won’t have much idle time though, Jackson Sousa is planning a trip to Stockholm so that him and his long time friend can prepare for IBJJF Worlds that will take place this June in California.