Becoming a True Champion
March 2023

“Becoming a True Champion,” For the Strength of Youth, Mar. 2023.

Becoming a True Champion

Felipe is one of the best in the world at martial arts such as karate, judo, and MMA. But serving a mission is his number one priority.

young man doing martial arts

Photographs by Shirley Brito

Felipe F. from Pará, Brazil, is not your average 18-year-old. He has competed in professional mixed martial arts (MMA), judo, and karate competitions. And he’s pretty good at what he does. He won the International Iron Man MMA competition. He’s a 2-time Pará state champion, a Brazilian vice-champion, and an international vice-champion for judo. And he is a 10-time Pará state champion, a 10-time Brazilian champion, a South American champion, a Pan-American champion, and a 3-time world champion for karate. Whoa!

young man with awards

The Reasons for His Success

Felipe has been training since he was seven years old. But he believes the biggest reason for his success is God. “I always pray for the Lord’s help,” he says.

During his last Pan-American karate championship, Felipe wasn’t feeling very confident. But then his dad gave him a priesthood blessing. “After that my mind was better, and that helped me win the championship that day. The last two matches I won, I had only one second left. Everyone thought it was impossible. I did an unexpected move that helped me win, and for me, it was all because of my dad’s blessing.”

young man jumping and kicking in martial arts

His dad has given him many blessings over the years. Felipe knows that receiving a blessing won’t always mean he’ll win, but he believes that the Lord can help him stay focused and improve his talents. “This helps me be more confident,” Felipe says. “I know that regardless of the result, the hand of the Lord was there.”

The rest of his family has been a big support as well. At one MMA tournament, Felipe saw his family in the bleachers. “All of them were there cheering my name. I was speechless.” He adds, “I am extremely grateful for my father and mother, who showed me the right path.”

family walking outside

Felipe feels that following that path has helped him in his sport. His friends would often laugh at him when he wouldn’t do the things they were doing. But Felipe doesn’t regret it. “Just like the gospel brings blessings, in sports it also brings achievements! Not going to party with my friends and eating the right things both influence the result.”

family at mealtime

Deciding to Serve a Mission

Now that he’s 18, Felipe has lots of opportunities. He was recently invited to train in a prestigious MMA academy, and he has offers from managers around the world. But he wants to serve a mission first.

“For me, it’s an easy choice,” he says. “The Lord is in first place. The rest can wait, because He always blesses you for being obedient.”

Felipe’s older brother Júnior, who recently got back from a mission, was part of his motivation. He told Felipe that there is nothing better than serving a mission and that he should go even if people try to convince him not to.

And Felipe has had people telling him to stay. Many people in his extended family aren’t members of the Church. “They don’t understand that serving a mission has more value than becoming rich and famous. I just try to teach the gospel when those moments happen,” Felipe says. And one of those moments led to a powerful missionary experience.

Felipe’s cousin had recently passed away, and Felipe’s uncle was grieving his son’s death. Felipe told his uncle about the plan of salvation. Afterward his uncle hugged him and apologized for telling him not to go on a mission. “He told me that I had the gift of touching people’s hearts and that I needed to serve,” Felipe remembers. “It was a special moment for me when someone who had no idea what a mission was understood its real purpose.”

Felipe did have times when he wasn’t sure about a mission himself. “I read my scriptures every day, and one night I had a lot of doubts about my choice. I started thinking, ‘Should I stay and compete a little longer?’ But then I read in the Book of Mormon about the Nephites starting to become ungrateful and prideful. Jacob taught them that they needed to put the Lord first. [See Jacob 2:12–21.] At that moment I had no doubt about my choice.”

young man reading scriptures

“Today I know what I want, and I know that I will come back from my mission and be blessed in some way. It could be doing MMA or something else, but I know that God gives us what we need.”

The Power of Daily Conversion

Felipe didn’t always feel so excited and confident about a mission—or the Church. “I had a time in my life when I wasn’t as strong in the gospel, and it always felt like something was missing,” he says. “You know that person who just goes to church and doesn’t do anything else? That was me.” After talking to his brother and bishop about serving a mission, he decided to start praying and reading his scriptures every day.

“I think what helped me was daily conversion. I grew up in the Church, and for a time I didn’t search for conversion because I grew up in a home with a belief and thought that was good enough. But now I am looking for a testimony every day.”

young man with martial arts trainer

A Champion Because of the Lord

Felipe knows that choosing the right doesn’t mean he’ll always win or have things go his way. “I remember going to a competition thinking I was prepared, and I lost in the first round. Another time I was at home injured. I remember waking up early, looking at the ceiling, wondering if it was all worth it. Sometimes I just wanted to turn around and go back to sleep, but I stood up and went to training. To be a champion goes beyond the moment of winning. It is someone who overcomes every day, overcomes failure, overcomes trials.”

The Savior is Felipe’s motivation to overcome in all aspects of life. “If we want to become like He is, we need to do what He does, always trying to stand firm, strengthen ourselves, and think what He would do. That inspires me in my actions every day, to be like Him. When I see something that I can change, I pray and ask forgiveness, trying to be better always. A true champion is the person who falls many times and even in the midst of frustration gets up and keeps going.”

“I am a champion because of the Lord,” Felipe says. “If it wasn’t for Him, I have no idea where I would be. But I’m sure I wouldn’t have all that I have today. Living the gospel has made me a champion in life and in sports.”