Mixed Martial Arts is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. One of the unfortunate downsides of having a sports so very rapidly evolving sport with such a quickly evolving fan base is that often times some of the new fans can miss huge chunks of the sports history. One of these fighters who often gets lost in the shuffle and most casual fans are not familiar with is Brazilian Vale Tudo Legend Jose “Pele” Landi-Jons.
“Pele” is known among avid fans of MMA’s early days for two things: being a well rounded fighter and being one of the scariest fighters in the world below 200 pounds. His 5’11” 170 pound frame is marked by long, sharp limbs packed with wirey explosive muscles launching violent kicks, knees and punches, dangerous at short and long range. Famous for his knees and elbows in particular, Pele cut a bloody swath through the Brazilian promotion International Vale Tudo Championship and in 1999 he won their Middleweight Title. Although having suffered setbacks via Luta Livre legend Johil De Olivera (a loss he had since avenged) and future UFC Hall of Famer Chuck Liddell earlier in his young career, Pele was widely regarded as one of the most dangerous fighters on earth by this time.
Perhaps his two greatest career triumphs were over Welterweight Pioneers Pat Miletich and his disciple Matt Hughes. Miletich was the reigning UFC Welterweight Champion of the World when he went to Georgia to meet Pele. Miletich was so badly damaged by Pele’s dynamic strikes that his corner was forced to throw in the towel, giving Pele a TKO victory. Pat Miletich was widely regarded as the best in the world at their weight going into the match, and Pele emerged as the premier sub-185 pound fighter on earth.
When Pele met UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes later, Hughes was on a 17-1 streak in his last 18 fights having only lost to Dennis Hallman in the UFC during that time. Late in the first round, Hughes shot for a takedown and Pele launched a violent knee that separated Hughes from this dimensional plane. It still stands today as one of the most spectacularly well timed KO’s in history. Hughes would not lose again until 12 wins and 3 years later when he was upset by BJ Penn.
One of his greatest performances of all time however would end in defeat. When he met former UFC Champion Carlos “The Ronin” Newton at Pride 19:Bad Blood the two were counted among the best WW fighters in the world. In a wild back and forth affair that saw Newton lock on a tight arm bar only for Pele to escape and hurt him badly with a big knee and swarm to finish. Newton showed great durability, defended and ended up taking Pele down and locking on a fight ending arm bar. If you haven’t seen the fight, you owe it to yourself to check out the fight. This fight is still many fans favorite of all time, and was my favorite before being dethroned by Henderson/Shogun.
Another aspect of Pele’s legacy that cannot be ignored is his impact on the current generation of fighters. Being one of the most technical and explosive Muay Thai instructors in the legendary Chute Boxe academy, elements of his style can still be seen the current elite fighters who used to train there. Anderson Silva, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Wanderlei Silva were all once cornered by Pele. Pele was both a teacher and skilled sparring parter and played a marquee role in the Chute Boxe academy dominance in Pride FC.
Also: Do yourself a favor and search YouTube for “Pele vs Maccaco” and enjoy the highlights of two of the greatest Vale Tudo fights in the sports history.
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