Former UFC middleweight Antonio Arroyo is a straight, middle-class, Brazilian man, but he is still a minority. Much like the first guest of the ‘Not All Brazilians’ series, Virna Jandiroba, the 33-year-old differs from most of his fellow fighters when the subject is politics.
Born and raised in Para, one of the seven states of the country’s North region, Arroyo hails from the Amazon rainforest’s edge. He started his career fighting at local events before landing in the UFC after winning two fights on Dana White’s Contender series, earning a contract in July 2019, following a submission victory over Stephen Regman.
Arroyo’s home state was the only one out of the seven in the North region where former president Jair Bolsonaro did not win in the 2018 and 2022 presidential elections, both times losing to PT (the Brazilian Worker’s Party, same one as current president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva’s) candidates. Antonio was among those voters who tried to stop the far-right politician’s desire for power in the two occasions. However, in his line of work, he knows opinions like his are best kept to himself.
A former training partner of ex-UFC flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo, who much like most Brazilian mixed martial artists, has no issue supporting Bolsonaro’s ultra-conservative views, Arroyo was happy to show a different point of view when asked to participate in this series of interviews.
Firstly comparing Bolsonaro to former United States president Donald Trump, of whom Jair is a big admirer, Antonio takes a more psychological approach to try and find a reason why he thinks so differently from most of his peers. To Arroyo’s mind, the whole phenomenon is based on a simple feeling: fear. Fear of change, more specifically.
In a society that is constantly becoming more aware of minorities, their struggles and how much their voices are being heard, mostly due to the internet, Arroyo claims that that is the biggest threat to the conservative minds who are desperately trying to keep traditions and lifestyles the same as they were in the 20th century.
Nevertheless, Antonio guarantees the conservatives are fighting a losing battle, but also pointed out how a desperate group could also be at its most dangerous, referring to the pro military coup riots that took place in Brazil’s capital of Brasilia, on January 8.
“Bolsonaro goes hand in hand with Trump. This really conservative way of thinking how a society should be. The man goes to work and the woman stays home kind of thing. It’s really close-minded. The fact he got elected only shows us that a big part of society also thinks like that. Not everybody is open to the changes of the 21st century. Changes in mentality and behavior. Your morals and your values. But (those changes) are already happening. I think that both in the United States and in Brazil, this was their last shot at trying to keep things the way they are. Society is changing really quickly.”
“The people who still have this conservative way of thinking, they don’t accept these changes,” Antonio continued. “So I think they’re desperate. An example of that desperation is what happened in Brasilia. The coup attempt. They don’t want to see society evolve. But change is good for everyone. Not only for women or minorities. People need to understand that this is something that will make every citizen’s life better,”
Although Arroyo comes from one of the more left-leaning states in the country, Antonio says that more than his home state’s culture, it was his father who turned him to politics from a young age.
Additionally, Antonio shares his experiences about being a leftist fighter at the gym, how he learned it was better to leave the subject out of the cage and the way macho, fighting culture can affect relationships when someone shows a different stance.
“I was raised really close to politics because of my father. My father (an economy university professor) always worked with politics. He tried running (for office) a few times but never got elected. Still, he was always helping other politicians with their campaigns. He has also worked at public offices before, too. He’s a petista (Worker’s Party supporter) ever since I can remember. I’ve always been heavily influenced by him. But I’ll tell you this has never affected me at the gym. Because I was never one to argue. Especially in this world we live today, where there’s so much intolerance. I’ve always been very vocal on social media, but I’m not going outside and starting an argument about this. It’s obvious that it’s going to generate conflict. Especially at my workplace. I want everything to be flowing in the best way possible there. If I were to start an argument about that one day, I’m sure it would create an awkward situation or I would’ve been discriminated in some way,”
Nonetheless, instead of blaming it on the fighter stereotype, Antonio attributes those issues to ignorance, linking rampant education issues in Brazil to most fighters coming from poor backgrounds.
“I was never one to confront people about that. Not only when I used to train with Deiveson, but also when I used to train at Marajo Brothers. You need to know how to handle it, because everybody in the fighting world is like this. They’re all conservative and macho. They’re like: ‘I’m a man and I can sort this out by force’. I don’t think it’s because of the fact that they are fighters. I think it’s because of the fact that most fighters in Brazil had no access to culture, information or an education. Unfortunately, that’s the reality of most athletes in Brazil. Sometimes they haven’t even finished high school. I think this a big reason why so many people think that way. They have a really simplistic way of seeing things,”
“My family has always given me all the support I needed for me to pursue my career,” He said. “That’s not the reality of the majority of those who try have a career in fighting. This is an arduous journey. I’ve always suffered a little bit of discrimination because of that. Because I had a bit more, a bit more than the others. So I was the ‘playboy’. This has also moulded my way of thinking and my character. So I learned to just leave some subjects alone.”
Arroyo is aware that his origins are more privileged than most fighters’, but refuses to let the fact define him. Once again citing his father, the Brazilian explained how becoming aware of his social class played a role in forming his political views and the how the lack of said awareness hurts society, making the less-privileged vote for a far-right candidate who is not interested in social politics to bridge the inequality gap in Brazil.
Antonio says his father’s teachings were what ultimately made him understand he did not have follow the most obvious path, which would be to support right-wing politicians, as most people in his social class do.
“It was never fanaticism, though. My father always explained things to me. We never rooted for any politicians. All he did was show me the way he saw things. How things could work better for everybody, not just a small minority. It would be really easy for me, as a part of the privileged minority in this country, to support Bolsonaro. I could be like ‘That’s right, we should invest in the foreign companies. Yeah, let’s reduce taxes for big companies’. As a person who is in a better situation than most, it would make more sense for me to be a Bolsonaro supporter. Instead, people have this individualistic way of thinking. Every man for himself. That’s how 90 to 95% of Brazilians perceive life. This is deeply rooted in Brazilian people.”
Despite Bolsonaro’s disastrous administration over the past four years, Arroyo ends the interview on the same positive note it began, believing this was the far-right’s last effort at attaining power (at least for the time being). Antonio’s reason for such claim is based on society’s terrible tendency to forget is own history.
Although Bolsonaro stood for the same beliefs preached during Brazil’s dark military dictatorship, Antonio suggests the reason why someone like Jair was able to be elected president was because many of his voters were not alive to see the nefarious times for themselves and hopes they have now learned a valuable lesson.
“I think Bolsonaro has played his role in society. If it weren’t for him, we never would’ve seen how bad it would be to have a person like him in office. My generation didn’t see the military dictatorship. I didn’t see it. Most people need to feel things for themselves in order to rebel. The fact that this is the first time in the history of the country that a president didn’t get reelected (reelection was implemented in 1997 in Brazil) is very telling. We really dodged a bullet there.”
Arroyo’s UFC career lasted only two years, during which he suffered three straight losses, to Andre Muniz, Deron Winn and Joaquin Buckley. The 33-year-old was released from the promotion in 2021 and has since scored victories on the Brazilian and the Russian circuits. For now, Antonio has no fights scheduled.