Johil de Oliveira Speaks on His Blindness and Fighting

Apr 26, 2004
Luta-Livre legend Johil de Oliveira talks about coping with near blindness, the history of Budokan and of course returning to fighting.


James Hirth: You are the winner of two 4-man Vale Tudo tournaments, an 8-man Vale Tudo tournament…

Johil de Oliveira: …Nope, I won three eight man tournaments; I won a Brasileiro de ValeTudo, Freestyle and a tournament in Minas Gerais.

JH: I did not know about that. Plus IVC Superfight, a 3-time Pride veteran and you are the former Japanese Super Lightweight Universal Vale Tudo champion. What do you feel was your greatest accomplishment in NHB fighting?

JO: I think that the IVC was my best, because I was in a good condition and I was one of the best in my weight class. I think that I would have fought very well against Matt Serra in Pride. I did not see him as an opponent that would beat me. I was very well prepared and that accident harmed me a lot.

JH: You were originally supposed to fight Matt Serra in Pride but you were injured in a pyrotechnic accident. And later you had a car accident. Have you fully recovered from those injuries?

JO: I cannot tan my skin nor shave my facial hair often. When I fought Newton I was not 100% healthy but that was a contract and as I don't have sponsor, I had to fight. My eyes problems are better now. I stopped my career but I kept training during much time after that accident. When I came back to the scene they (Pride) put me against one of the most skilled fighters around the world, Carlos Newton. I am not complaining about the fighter that I faced, I don’t like to face tomato-cans, but I think that Pride could’ve given me a lesser ranked fighter. I was unprepared to fight in Pride at that time.

JH: I knew you had an eye injury prior to your fight with Carlos Newton. Is it true you are blind in your left eye and have very limited sight in the right eye?

JO: Yes. It was not the main problem but I was almost blind. Against Nino "Elvis" Schembri I was totally blind. I only saw figures and blotches. I could not really see Nino in that fight.

JH: You had fought Newton and Daiju Takase prior Nino’s match. It was a shock to see you submitted someone so new to MMA. How did you deal with that?

JO: Man, I don't think I lost to Takase. They should given me a draw or an overtime period. I stayed on the top in first round and he did the same in the second. I think that the Pride organizers forgot what I did for them. They didn't give me any consideration, because I didn't sue them when I was burned alive and my skin smelled like barbecue. I expected a little more respect from them but they didn't oblige. They gave me Newton after they were biased in the Takase match and finally I fought Nino. I didn't train to fight Nino because I was feeling very bad. I trained on a punching bag three times before fighting him. Nino was a rookie but he was one of the most skilled fighters in the world on the ground. If I had my vision in that fight I could have beaten him. He shot some inaccurate takedowns and I didn't land knees or kicks because I didn't see him in that fight. How can I defend it if I cannot see it? When I was backstage to fight Nino the doctor came in front of me to check my eyes. He asked me to close one of them and tell him how many fingers he was showing me. I didn't see them. I only saw a blue-wall. My coach Joao Ricardo slapped my leg three times and I faked it like I was seeing them, saying "Three fingers" (laughs). When I fought my last match in BCN 2 versus Silmar Rodrigo, I was like “Mr. Magoo”. I couldn’t see anything. I needed that money because I’m a professional fighter without a sponsor. So when I stood up in the ring, I told my coach that I’d only win if I got a lucky punch. Otherwise I’d lose and this is what happened. After that fight, I realized that I couldn’t fight until I got my eyes fixed and they healed properly.

JH: Most databases have your record at around 11-7-1 but I have the impression that is inaccurate. How many ValeTudo fights have you fought in your career?

JO: I have fought 24 times and my record is 16-7-1. When I started in ValeTudo; the events were not given as much attention as they are today.

JH: Your father ran a karate academy with Joao Ricardo and then he and Roberto Leito Sr. introduced Ricardo to Luta-Livre right?

JO: Yeah, my father and Joao Ricardo did not know anything about fight on the ground. They were blind about submission skills. So they met Roberto Leitao Sr. and he introduced Luta-Livre to them. I think that everybody who is from the old Luta-Livre generation learned it from Leitao Sr. The academy was named Johil Academy, but it was never known as a karate academy since Luta-Livre started here. We're known as a huge Luta-Livre team and now we're called Budokan.

JH: What style of Karate did they teach there? Was that your first martial arts experience, being trained by your father?

JO: This was the Shotokan Karate and I never practice that. I started Luta-Livre when I was a 6 years old kid and I never stopped on training that since then. It was my father who brought me to the academy and I had fun at not only training Luta-Livre positions, but I got a passion for this martial art and I am a Luta-Livre fighter. The same thing is happening with my two kids but I will not impose that on them. I like to see them training but if they choose to do others things, it will be okay.

JH: I have to ask you about the legendary "Pele" fights. You are one of only two men to have faced "Pele" twice, the other being current Chute Boxe fighter Jorge "Macaco" Patino. You split the bouts, with you winning the first fight in WVC 4 and then losing the rematch two years later at IVC 11. Both bouts went the 30-minute time limit to decisions. After spending so much time fighting one person, how do you feel about Jose "Pele" Landi-jons at this point in your life?

JO: These were two very tough fights. This was during the period that "Pele" and I were winning our all matches. "Pele" had schooled "Macaco" twice and I had a lot of tournament wins on my resume. So when we clashed, it was a clash of titans. He was a specialist in Muay Thai and I was the Luta-Livre fighter, the classic grappler versus striker. I think that both fights were very good. When I lost I had a problem with my knee and when Sergio Batarelli announced that the fight would start in 10 minutes, I took a drug injection in my knee to fight because it was bad. Even though I lost, I think that I had 10 good minutes in the second fight but the crowd complained to restart the fight on the feet. When that happened “Pele” kept the fight on his pace and tied the score among us, one victory to each one.

JH: Do you ever speak to him or have you spoken since you last fought in 1999?

JO: We almost had a brawl in airport prior our second match because he had never lost a fight and he did not accept being beaten. Nothing happened but we are not friends. We did talk to each other when I suffered that accident on Pride.

JH: Would you consider bringing some of your fighters to Landi-Jons' Challenge Original Vale Tudo event?

JO: Myself (laughs). I want to fight again soon. I am very well trained and I am ready to fight. However I have students, and Carlos and Pedro are the two ones that I would like to introduce in any show, not only on “Pele’s” show.

JH: The Luta-Livre classes in Budokan are totally full yet many of the top fighters have left the team.

JO: I think the Budokan Luta-Livre Team is recognized around the World. Just because some of the fighters left, the Budokan is no worse a place to train. I think the opposite happened. We're getting young fighters here and they are making themselves part of the team. They want to fight MMA and to practice the real Luta-Livre style. I'm here teaching Luta-Livre three times per day and seven days a week. I know I lost my 4 last fights but I already won a lot of events and the new students liked my style. They looked for the Budokan Team because of that. I have attracted a lot of fans to become a part of the team. We're doing well and the team is strong!

JH: You have some women there training too. How do you split the training between women and men? I know that women fight Luta-Livre with the men.

JO: Everything is based on respect. I know Luta-Livre is practiced with trunks and a t-shirt for the women and only trunks for the men but I work with discipline here. Nobody trains here without discipline so I don't have problems with this issue. The men respect the women a lot and they know if something wrong happens, they will not train here anymore. This is a respectful fighting academy.

JH: So do you feel you will continue to train to fight or are you considering retirement from the ring and strictly becoming a trainer?

JO: I don't intend to stop fighting. I had injuries to my eyes, knee, elbow and that pyrotechnic accident and these problems would discourage any fighter. On the other hand, I have the heart to fight and I don't choose opponents. My sight isn't 100% and it will never be okay again but it is much better than it was for my last 4 fights. I came back to train hard and I am ready to fight now. I don't think about retirement. I will be 35 this year and if my body tolerates it, I'll fight until I’m 40.

JH: A few fighters with a Luta Livre background such as Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos (Pancrase/Jungle Fight), Flávio Luis Moura (UFC) and Alexandre "Pequeno" França Nogueira (SHOOTO champion) and veterans such as Hugo Duarte (Pride, UFC), Eugênio Tadeu (UFC) and Pedro “The Pedro” Otavio (Pride) have made it to bigger shows. However fighters like those in the Ruas Vale Tudo Camp with a foundation in Luta-Livre such as Pedro Rizzo, Renato "Babalú" Sobral, Gustavo "Ximú" Machado, Alexandre "Cacareco" Ferreira and Ruas himself have had more success. Why do you feel this is and why today are there no true Luta-Livre fighters involved in many top MMA events?

JO: “Cyborg”, Moura, “The Pedro” and the RVT fighters aren't the real Luta-Livre representatives. They have a no gi background, but they don't represent the true Luta-Livre style. A lot of them just trained here at Budokan or represented us. Ruas and his current and former students competed in Luta-Livre events, but they have their own style; the Ruas Vale Tudo System. The exception is "Cacareco" who is one of Duarte's Luta-Livre black belts. Nowadays he doesn't represent the Luta-Livre, he's a Gracie Barra Combat Team fighter. “Cyborg”, “The Pedro” and Moura represented us, but they were Muay Thai and kickboxing fighters. Unfortunately, Duarte and Tadeu didn't get the success in the new MMA era. They were the pioneers, represent the Luta-Livre and got wins in the UVF, but when the sport grew they didn't win any fights. Actually the only real Luta-Livre fighter today is “Pequeno”. He has already trained with BTT but he is a Luta-Livre fighter and he raises the Luta-Livre flag. Actually, when I comeback to the MMA scene, "Pequeno" and myself will be the only two guys representing this martial art. I am very sad because the Luta-Livre fighters turned their backs on this martial art and created or represent others styles.

JH: Is that what happened with the Super Campeonato Cyclone events? The first event was named Super Campeonato Cyclone de Luta-Livre, the second called Super Campeonato Cyclone de Luta-Livre & Submission and the last one was called Super Campeonato Cyclone de Submission. Is that correct?

JO: You are totally right, they forgot from where they came. In my opinion submission is Luta-Livre. Jiu Jitsu guys will never admit that they practice Luta-Livre so they just call this new training “fighting without a gi”. Here you can see the problem. How will Luta-Livre continue to live if our own people forget the name? How will this martial art come back and grow? It will be hard. We had 13 editions of Copa Budokan de Luta-Livre and we will never stop using this name. I don't know if the Luta-Livre fighters like the name “Submission” more than the other one.

JH: You, along with Hugo Duarte and Eugenio Tadeu were the pioneer fighters of Luta-Livre in the beginning. What is your relationship like with them now? Do you still train with them?

JO: We trained at the beginning of the Luta-Livre in the 1980’s and the last time was when Tadeu fought in the UFC. Since then we no longer train together. You know the Luta-Livre training sessions from the past was more together. In our academy we had training between Duarte, Rizzo, Ruas, "Babalú" Antoine Jaoude, Tadeu, “The Pedro”, "Cacareco", "Ximú", Antonio Carlos "Bigú" and others. The training in Budokan shook the city. I am friend of all of them but we never train together anymore.

JH: Who are the future fighters of Luta-Livre? If the opportunity arises for you to send new talent to a major show, who would you send?

JO: I can't tell you of anybody other than me. I'm not a dominant fighter today but I was trained in Luta-Livre and I think that I am a real Luta-Livre fighter. I want prove this to the fans again. Obviously new talents will arise, but they are being groomed at this moment. I am ready to fight anywhere, at anytime, against anyone. I would like to fight again soon. I would especially like the opportunity to fight Carlos Newton again. My International contacts are ++ 21 25041705 ++2197843592.

JH: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview.

JO: Thank you very much for this opportunity. I enjoy the website a lot.
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