SHARE


Ben
Duffy/Sherdog.com illustration

Headquartered in scenic Woodloch, Texas, the Mixed Martial Arts
Hall of [email protected]#$%&g Awesome (HOFA for short) commemorates the
achievements of those fighters who, while they might not be
first-ballot selections for a traditional hall of fame, nonetheless
did remarkable things in the cage or ring, and deserve to be
remembered. The HOFA enshrines pioneers, one-trick ponies and
charming oddballs, and celebrates them in all their imperfect
glory. While the HOFA selection committee’s criteria are mysterious
and ever-evolving, the final test is whether the members can say,
unanimously and with enthusiasm, “____________ was [email protected]#$%&g
awesome!”

* * *

“I like Pride because you can soccer kick to the face
and I like UFC because you can throw elbows. But I prefer the
traditional freestyle, without time and without rules.”

Jose
Landi-Jons


THE PITCH: Vale tudo legend. Chute Boxe OG. A man
ahead of his time. All of those accolades and more can be
comfortably accorded to the man who, as much as any other single
fighter, bridged the gap between the style-versus-style, proto-MMA
era and the modern sport. And while age and the wear of a brutal
fight career relegated some of his potential greatness to the realm
of what might have been, “Pele” was competitive far enough into the
modern era that his shadow looms over the early years of the
Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight
division.

Born in Cuba, Landi-Jons immigrated to Brazil with his family at
age 7. Perhaps if they had remained in Cuba, a born scrapper with
the physical gifts of “Pele” would have come up through that
country’s robust amateur boxing and wrestling programs. Instead, he
dove into some of Brazil’s most beloved martial arts: capoeira as a
child, then muay Thai and eventually, Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Within
months of beginning to train in muay Thai at Chute Boxe Academy,
Landi-Jons was representing the style and the school at
no-holds-barred events. As the first fighter to truly carry the
team’s name outside its home base of Curitiba, he exemplified the
style that would become synonymous with Chute Boxe: muay Thai, with
an emphasis on vicious kicks, elbows and especially knees, paired
with conditioning and nearly pathological aggression. Subsequent
representatives including Wanderlei
Silva
and Murilo and
Mauricio
Rua
, all of whom cited “Pele” as an influence and inspiration,
would make the style famous worldwide.

Any discussion of Landi-Jons’ greatness must touch, at least
momentarily, on the subject of size. Simply put, “Pele” was
probably the best welterweight on the planet for several years
during which the division barely existed. Checking in at a wiry
5-foot-11, in his prime years from 1997 to 2000 he typically fought
at his walking weight of around 175 pounds. When the man across
from him was 30 or 40 pounds heavier, as they often were,
Landi-Jons did well. Consider his fight with future UFC light
heavyweight champ Chuck
Liddell
, an elite kickboxer literally two weight classes larger
than himself, in which “Pele” knocked the bigger man down twice
with head kicks and forced Liddell to lean on his wrestling
background for what felt like the only time in his career.

If Landi-Jons performed admirably as the smaller fighter, he was
nearly unbeatable when faced with a man his own size. “Pele” fought
the first three UFC welterweight champions, in their primes, and
more than held his own. In a situation that would be unthinkable
today, Landi-Jons defeated a sitting UFC champ outside the UFC,
hammering Pat Miletich
into quitting between rounds at WEF 8. Miletich would go on to
defend the belt twice more in the Octagon. A year later, he knocked
out Matt
Hughes
with a step-in knee. Hughes would be UFC champ within
the year, and the consensus greatest welterweight of all time
shortly thereafter. At Pride 19 in 2002, “Pele” engaged in a wild
seven minutes with Carlos Newton,
fighting off Newton’s submission attempts while tagging him with
several huge knees like the one enshrined on his HOFA plaque,
before succumbing to the fight-ending armbar.

While the Newton fight was a great scrap and a more than
respectable showing, it was the beginning of a decline for “Pele.”
Though he was not even 30 yet, the wear of a hard fight career — to
say nothing of years of Chute Boxe sparring — had slowed him down,
and the well-roundedness he helped pioneer was becoming the rule
rather than the exception. He fought on for another decade, even
after a horrifying broken leg against Brian
Gassaway
of the kind that his teammate-turned-rival Anderson
Silva
would suffer a few years later, but his days as one of
the sport’s underground sensations and best-kept secrets were
over.

SIGNATURE MOMENTS: For a single, GIF-worthy
highlight, it would be hard to top Landi-Jons’ knockout of Hughes
at the Shidokan Jitsu one-night tournament in February 2001. It
also stands as his best win and perhaps his greatest single
performance, as he had successfully fought off several of Hughes’
takedown attempts over the first four minutes of the fight, and
escaped without damage the one time he was taken down. A few
seconds later, “Pele” read Hughes’ level change and met him with a
perfect intercepting knee. Hughes fell to his seat in a daze, and
“Big” John McCarthy waved it off a second later. While the stoppage
looks strangely quick when viewed on grainy 2001 video, Hughes’
cornermen that night (who happened to include Miletich) could see
his eyes, and lodged no complaint; they knew their man was
done.

As moments that made Landi-Jons’ legend and encapsulated his
historic importance, however, we must mention his pair of fights
with Jorge
Patino
. Four months apart across 1996 and 1997, “Pele” and
“Macaco” fought twice. Both fights were TKO wins for Landi-Jons and
both were among the very best fights of the proto-MMA era. They
also represented a bridging of eras. At a glance, muay Thai
specialist “Pele” and BJJ black belt “Macaco” were a fine example
of the style-versus-style battles that had been a hallmark of
Brazilian no-holds-barred fighting for decades. However, Landi-Jons
was a striker who was comfortable on the ground and well on his way
to earning his own faixa preta, while Patino was a grappling
specialist, yet also an able and willing striker, and would go on
to fame as an MMA coach, pointing the way the sport was headed.
Even more telling, they were both smaller men of the kind who had
hard sledding and limited opportunities in the Wild West of
pre-2000s MMA, but would truly come into their own once weight
classes became the norm.

THE HOFA COMMITTEE SAYS: If the HOFA exists to
exalt and commemorate great fighters of yesteryear who might be in
danger of being forgotten, Landi-Jons qualifies with top marks. He
was one of the top pound-for-pound fighters on the planet, could
lay claim to a lineal UFC welterweight title if he were so
inclined, and yet he doesn’t even have an English-language
Wikipedia page as of the time of this induction. Beyond mere
importance, however, he ruled, taking on opponents of all
shapes, sizes and styles with fearless aggression, always bent on
the finish. The committee could not think of a finer candidate to
be the first Brazilian in the Hall.

It is with great pleasure that we say: Jose “Pele” Landi-Jons, you
are [email protected]#$%&g awesome.


LEAVE A REPLY