Nova Uniao head trainer Andre Pederneiras said most of his fighters come from the favela, and they're literally fighting to put food on their tables.
One star pupil, UFC interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao (31-1 MMA, 6-0 UFC), grew up poor, but no longer needs to live hand to mouth. Pederneiras, however, said the fighter isn't maximizing opportunity while he's very near the top of the 135-pound class.
Just this past weekend at UFC 165, Barao became the first fighter in UFC history to twice defend an interim belt when he stopped Eddie Wineland. The performance won Barao a $50,000 bonus for "Knockout of the Night" as well as his show and win purses.
Barao is making more money as he continues to dominate the competition in the UFC, but according to Pederneiras, he could be making far more from other sources.
"He's very frustrated because he needs to make money," Pederneiras told MMAjunkie.com Radio. "So many sponsors here in Brazil are not sponsoring him because he's not the real champion from the UFC. He's the interim champion. He's losing money every day.
"The sponsors here want a real champion. A linear champion."
At the moment, circumstances don't allow for that possibility, but change appears to be on the horizon. Undisputed champ Dominick Cruz (19-1 MMA, 2-0 UFC) estimates he'll be able to return to defend his title in January, and UFC President Dana White has said the promotion will strip him of the belt if he's unable to meet that deadline.
For Pederneiras and Barao, the time can't come soon enough.
"I don't want another opponent," Pederneiras said. "I want to make the fight happen by February, or I need to talk to Dana to take his belt, because more than two-and-a-half years, I don't understand. But he said he was probably going to be fighting in February.
"I've been waiting for that and praying every day for it to happen. Renan wants to fight Dominick."
Meanwhile, Pederneiras' other UFC champion, featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo (23-1 MMA, 5-0 UFC), is gunning for a previously booked match. He said Aldo is still set on fighting recently minted lightweight champion Anthony Pettis, whom he was scheduled to fight before Pettis withdrew with a knee injury.
Pettis, of course, was able to recover in time to make a lightweight title fight with now-former champ Benson Henderson, whom he submitted inside one round at this past month's UFC 164.
"Aldo wants to fight Pettis, but I don't know if the UFC wants to put Ricardo Lamas first," said Pederneiras.