The MMA Hall of [email protected]#$%&G Awesome: Jose Landi-Jons

By Ben Duffy Apr 4, 2021
Ben Duffy/ 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!”

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“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.
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