Welcome back to part three of the five part series "Paving the Way For Anderson". In part one, I discussed the Gracie Family and the creation of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Part two covered Marco Ruas, one of the top Luta Livre fighters and the man credited for blending Muay Thai and BJJ. Today will be the first of a two part look at the stars who made Chute Boxe a powerhouse on the Brazilian and to a greater extent the world MMA scene.
Following the example set by the Gracie Family and Marco Ruas, a group of Vale Tudo fighters from all over Brazil began training together in the mid 90s. Among the first was a Cuban born fighter known simply as Pelé, who had made the move to Brazil at just seven years old. Growing up in Curitiba, Pelé found himself excelling at Muay Thai. When the Chute Boxe team finally came together he expanded his game to include Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Pelé first became recognized in the Vale Tudo scene when he entered the BVF 5 tournament. A tournament comprised of some of the toughest street fighters in Brazil. To say that Pelé dominated the field would be understatement. As a Muay Thai monster, he destroyed all those that stood in front of him that evening, winning his final fight in just over 30 seconds. The tournament win kicked off his legendary rivalry with a BJJ ace named "Macaco". Macaco was the next logical phase in BJJ evolution, a fighter who had fantastic wrestling and aggression on the feet.
The two first met at BVF 6, which is considered to be one of the early classic Vale Tudo fights. Nate Wilcox of MMA Nation has the background on the fight:
1996 also saw the first installment of one of the great feuds of early MMA -- Chute Boxe's Jose "Pele" Landi-Jons against BJJ star Jorge "Macaco" Patino. Macaco had been on a tear in 1995 and most of 1996. He was a much more aggressive and dominant fighter than the Gracies had typically been. While certainly not as skilled as Rickson, he used power and surprisingly good wrestling technique to overwhelm his opponents. Pele, the champion of the upstart muy thai based Chute Boxe camp, astonished the Brazilian scene with his refusal to be intimidated by the bully Macaco and beat the BJJ fighter down in two great fights.
The pair of wins over Macaco established Pelé as the top Brazilian Vale Tudo fighter. He dropped two decisions before going on a six fight run where he finished all his opponent by strikes. This winning streak set him up with the next great fight of his MMA career when he'd challenge Chuck Liddell at IVC 6. It was LIddell's second MMA fight and the contrast between Chuck's kickboxing and Pelé's Muay Thai was apparent from the get go. Pelé landed an early head kick that dropped Liddell that surely would have been a knockout later in the Iceman's career. Liddell was able to win the decision after Pelé ultimately tired and was unable to stave off the takedown.
Despite the loss, Pelé was matched against UFC champion Pat Miletich at WEF 8 for his first fight in the United States. It was for the World Extreme Fighting Super Fight belt. Miletich attempted to close the distance early to get the fight to the ground. Unfortunately for him, Pelé not only stopped his attempt but was able to put Pat on his back. Once on the ground he was relentless in his attacks. He attempted a flying stop which didn't connect and allowed Pat to regain his feet. Using his Muay Thai, Pelé damaged Pat's legs with vicious kicks. At the end of the first round, Pelé walked back to his corner and Pat was barely able to stand. The Miletich Fighting System boys threw in the towel at the 8:00 mark, having seen enough for the fight. Even though it wasn't for Pat's UFC belt, Matt Hughes recounts Landi-Jons' post fight reaction vividly in his autobiography:
"I remembered Pelé Landi beating Pat and yelling in Pat's face, 'You are no longer champion!' in his broken english."
Hughes got his chance avenge the loss of his close friend and coach in Kuwait. Hughes had made a name for himself on the regional scene but had yet to establish himself in MMA. A win over Pelé would be the ticket needed to become a star. It didn't happen. Hughes was stopped within five minutes. Again, in his own words:
I tried shooting in to take him down, and he brought his knee up a little bit, catching me in the head. I dropped to the floor and, before Pelé could get a third punch in on me, Big John stopped the fight.
Pelé had now beaten me, too.
Pat jumped up and leaned over the cage wall. "That's not a fair stop!" he screamed, "You shouldn't have stopped that! He didn't even fall down!" Then Pat looked into my eyes and kind of shivered. "Okay, I see," he told Big John.
For Pelé this was the last great win of his career. As quickly as he rose to the top, he fell even faster. A string of losses and a split from Chute Boxe over finances, Pelé never recaptured his past glory. He and Chute Boxe boss Rudimar Fedrigo had a disagreement over who truly should be credited with training the Rua brothers, most specifically Murilo Rua.
Pelé was the first success out of the Chute Boxe camp and showed that a natural aggression mixed with high level Muay Thai and BJJ can lead to greatness. He was one of the early training partners of Anderson Silva and Wanderlei Silva and had a direct impact on their developments as fighters. He was the blue print of the Brazilian MMA athlete and his legacy will live on as the country continues to embrace the Muay Thai/BJJ style. Tomorrow, I'll talk about the Rise and Fall of Wanderlei Silva.