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UFC’s Jandiroba speaks out against far-right ‘barbarism’, explains why Bolsonaro offends her and her people

UFC strawweight Virna Jandiroba shares stories about being a leftist fighter in a far-right dominated community.

Virna Jandiroba defeated Angela Hill in May 2022.
Virna Jandiroba defeated Angela Hill in May 2022.
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Former Invicta strawweight champion and current UFC athlete Virna Jandiroba is in the minority. Coming from one of the poorest regions of Brazil (the Northeast), ‘Carcara’ has always been rather vocal about a subject where most MMA fighters disagree with her views: politics.

After her June 2021 TKO win over Kanako Murata, Virna went viral on the internet for bashing then president Jair Bolsonaro in her post-fight speech. In a few words, Jandiroba famously criticized the former leader and praised Brazil’s universal healthcare system (SUS), which was pivotal during Bolsonaro’s disastrous handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Praise SUS. Go away, Naro (short for Bolsonaro)”. Virna shouted to the cameras at UFC Vegas 29.

Following the news of former featherweight champion Jose Aldo hosting Bolsonaro in his Orlando home in the United States, as well as flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo’s support for the far-right riots in the country’s capital of Brazil, Jandiroba agreed to speak to Bloody Elbow to show the other, less seen side.

She will be the first guest of my “Not All Brazilians” series, where I will interview fighters who do not support Bolsonaro’s politics or far-right views, going against the majority in the Brazilian MMA community, with notable names such Mauricio Rua, Wanderlei Silva, Fabricio Werdum and many others, among its supporters.

Linked below is a video of a pro-Bolsonaro campaign named “Real fighters vote 22 (Bolsonaro’s number in the 2022 presidental elections). In it, all the names cited above are shown, as well as many more.

In fact, this majority was one of the first topics Jandiroba dived into during the conversation. A member of Bahia’s Fight House, Virna detailed how relationships between herself and right-wing fighters develop at the place where she spends most of her time. It may be no surprise that the best approach Carcara has found was to just avoid discussing politics at the gym.

“I have a pretty good relationship with the people at my gym. Most people there lean left. So there aren’t many political disagreements, at least with the people I’m close to. I do train with people who are also Bolsonaro supporters, though. We just don’t talk about it. That subject is untouchable. We prefer not to talk about political views. Everyone knows I’m left-wing. I talked about in the Octagon. So that subject is pretty clear and we don’t talk about it. We just prefer to focus on training,”

Virna may not discuss politics at the gym to avoid unnecessary stress at the place where she needs to be focused on the task at hand, but it does not mean she will not eagerly talk about it under different circumstances.

After being questioned about where her political stances come from, Jandiroba shared a brutally real story involving her grandfather, a former military officer during Brazil’s military dictatorship, who was persecuted for not supporting the vicious regime that became known for torturing, silencing and killing its opponents.

Although she never got to meet her grandfather, Jandiroba emphasized how the impact of his life affected her father and, by consequence, herself.

“Our surroundings influence us. I’ve been influenced by this. By the fact that I am from the Northeast region. Everyone in my nuclear family is left-wing. My father, my grandfather. My grandfather used to be a colonel during the military dictatorship in Brazil. He was against the (1964 military) coup, though. They put a prize on his head. He was wanted dead or alive. After the dictatorship (which lasted until 1985), this bounty was archived and he was no longer a wanted man. They didn’t have enough evidence to go after him. He was accused of treason and he really was working against the military, but they could never prove it.

“This was very detrimental in my life,” Virna said. “I didn’t get to meet my grandfather, but listen to what my father’s life was like. They were always hiding because of this (persecution). My father is a retired social sciences teacher. He was always a very quiet man and I didn’t understand why that was. After he told me the story of his life, I understood that he was forced to be like that. He was silenced by the dictatorship, My father has nightmares about that to this day. He dreams that military men are invading his house, He’s like a five-year-old boy. So I have all this background, you know?,”

Despite her life story, Jandiroba still tries not to judge other fighters who support far-right politics, though she considers those stances rather hypocritical. Since martial arts should be a freeing art form, Virna believes it goes against its very roots to support a government based on oppression. In order to explain the phenomenon, she notes the bond between martial arts and the military, which history shows have always been intertwined.

“Bolsonaro offends me and my people on several levels. It’s impossible for me to like him. I try not to criticize fighters individually, though. I believe it has a lot to do with being ignorant. I also think it flirts with the military concept. Martial arts were born from military tactics, so I think they flirt. However, I think it’s contradictory. I practice jiu-jitsu and in its roots, going all the way back to the samurais, they are the ones who serve. People have been distorting the meaning of it along the way. Now they think people can sort things out by using force.”

Furthermore, Jandiroba finds a different explanation on why so many mixed martial artist support Bolsonaro in a more obvious place: sexism. Mostly practised by men, in a country with deep problems in the way society perceives men and women (on average, women are paid 20,5% less than men), the sport has always attracted extremely conservative athletes. Especially when Bolsonaro himself has come forward to support the same opinions,

Nonetheless, Jandiroba is happy to look on the bright side this time, claiming that it may be a long road ahead, but things are starting to change for the better.

“There is also a lot of sexism. This is a sport dominated by men. It’s going to take a long time for us to overcome that, but it’s important that we take that first step. There are already some men who think differently. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. We’re such a diverse country. Martial arts should be for everybody. So how can you believe that it is for everybody and at the same time support someone who says that minorities should accept whatever the majority imposes (an infamous line proclaimed by Bolsonaro in one his speeches). It’s a bit contradictory, isn’t?”

“That’s what we should strive for, being inclusive,” Virna said. “We can’t be excluding people. It goes against the world, it goes against civilization. If we go down that way, it’s barbarism. We were on that path, and some of us have been pointing that out since the beginning. Lots of people regurgitated the homophobic, racist, sexists things he said. It was so anti-democratic, but people were not paying enough attention. The riots in Brasilia were just the last drop. And now Bolsonaro’s fallacies are out there for everyone to see. The Emperor has no clothes.”

In her last outing, Jandiroba (18-3) scored a unanimous decision win over Angela Hill, back in May 2022. However, the 34-year-old suffered a meniscus injury during the fight and has been sidelined ever since. With no bouts booked in the near future, the Brazilian hopes to still make a return in the first half of 2023.