WEF 8: The MMA World Meets ‘Pele,’ ‘Minotauro’ and Hughes
Held in Rome, Georgia, on Jan. 15, 2000, the eighth WEF show made the names of a new generation coming up in MMA, including Renato Sobral, Matt Hughes, Jose Landi-Jons and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
Minotauro’s Fifth Win
One morning in 1999, as Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira trained no-gi at Conan Silveira’s gym in Miami, WEF promoter Jamie Levine showed up to train. Impressed by the Bahia native’s potential, Conan matched the two of them to roll together, and told Rodrigo not to take it easy on the blue belt. Amazed at the Brazilian’s skill, after tapping dozens of times in five minutes, Levine didn’t hesitate and invited Nogueira to make his debut at his show. Thus began the career of one of the greatest heavyweights in MMA history.
Less than a year after submitting David Dodd with a crucifix armlock at WEF 5 and tapping Nate Schroeder with an armbar at WEF 7, Levine offered “Minotauro” a chance to fight for his first title, against veteran Jeremy Horn, who had more than 40 fights’ worth of experience at that point.
Horn drew on all of his experience to avoid the Brazilian’s feared guard. Despite being more aggressive in the standup and taking Horn down repeatedly, “Minotauro” could not get past the American’s guard. Regardless, thanks to his clear dominance over three rounds, he left no doubt in the judges’ minds and won by unanimous decision, securing his first heavyweight title.
“Pele” Puts On a Show against Miletich
IVC champion Jose Landi-Jons, with an enviable record of 18 fights and losses only to Chuck Liddell and Johil de Oliveira, was invited to make his stateside debut, fighting for the WEF against no less than UFC champion Pat Miletich, who was riding high on a streak of 29 fights and only two losses. Miletich had beaten Jorge Patino by decision, and knocked out Andre Pederneiras.
Fighting on his home turf, the American was seen as the clear favorite by the local press. However, when it comes to “Pele,” where the fight is held is a mere detail. The clearest evidence of this was his carefree walk to the cage, mixing in breakdance steps to the surprise of even his coach, Master Rudimar Fedrigo. “Where does ‘Pele’ get this crazy stuff from?” said Rudimar to me by cageside, smiling in disbelief as he watched his student’s “unrehearsed” entrance performance.
As the fight got underway, “Pele” continued his show, using Miletich’s clinch to take him down and immediately going for a foot lock. Miletich defended the submission, but was caught off-guard by the Brazilian, who stood up and landed a kick. Following up, “Pele” initiated the clinch, landed a series of knees on the American, took him down with a leg sweep and fell right into side control, where he landed more knee strikes. Struggling, the UFC champion finally managed to get his opponent back in guard, but that was when Landi-Jons stood up and jumped over his opponent’s legs, landing a kick to the face of Miletich, who started bleeding. At this point, the showman had won over even the American crowd.
Right before the end of the round, the fighters got back to the standup, and “Pele” managed to land a series of low kicks on Miletich. Once the round was over, the American limped back to his corner and told referee “Big” John McCarthy that he was in no condition to continue. Upon seeing McCarthy signal the end of the fight, Landi-Jons celebrated Chute Boxe’s first international title, receiving the belt from Levine’s hands.
“Babalu” Wins with a Broken Hand
Coming off a streak of nine consecutive wins by knockout or submission, Ruas Vale-Tudo representative Renato Sobral also made his American debut at WEF 8. However, an unfortunate accident would mark that debut. While warming up backstage with Marco Ruas and Roberto Leitao, the Brazilian slipped and broke his hand. “Shoving me in a slippery storage room to do my warm-up was garbage. I trained for months with no injuries, and this is what happens,” said a concerned “Babalu,” who would face a tough challenge in wrestler Brad Kohler.
The Brazilian started off defending the American’s takedown attempts, countering with knee strikes that started hurting Kohler. Gradually, the American grew more and more desperate with his unsuccessful takedown attempts while “Babalu” chopped at his legs with low kicks.
Early in the second round, Sobral defended another one of Kohler’s takedown attempts and this time, managed to take the American down himself. The Brazilian moved to the opponent’s side and ended the fight with a pinpoint soccer kick, 59 seconds into the second round.
Matt Hughes: Jiu-Jitsu’s Nightmare
Called 20 days before the show to replace Ricardo De La Riva, and coming off a loss to “Pele” at IVC 5, Rickson Gracie black belt Jorge Pereira faced new American wrestling talent Matt Hughes, who had 14 fights and only one loss.
Curiously, Landi-Jons and Pereira – who had become sworn enemies after IVC 5 – met again at the backstage sauna to cut weight, and struck up a friendship. “None of that matters. We’re all Brazil here. He had to cut 4.5 pounds, and I kept him company. We became quick friends, and agreed that we’d only fight again if the compensation was a deal we could not refuse,” said “Pele.”
In that night’s fight, however, Pereira didn’t stand a chance against the wrestler. After a failed takedown attempt, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt decided to pull Hughes into his guard with a guillotine. Hughes defended the submission, lifting the Rio de Janeiro native on his shoulders, taking him to the center of the ring and slamming him down to wild cheers from the crowd. From that point on, the wrestler got to half guard and delivered his ground-and-pound masterfully. With a series of punches and elbows, Hughes opened a huge gash over the Brazilian’s eye. Despite the heavy bleeding, Pereira hung in there until the end of the round, when the doctors took his blood loss into account and did not allow him to go back for the second round.
Jorge would be the first in a series of Brazilian black belts beaten by Hughes. He was followed by Renato Verissimo, Royce Gracie, Renzo Gracie and Ricardo Almeida.
WEF 8 also had the participation of three other Brazilians: Rodrigo Ruas, Alex Paz and Wald Bloise. Ruas, nephew of the famous team founder, had a great fight with Roman Roytbarg and left with a draw. Bloise was submitted by a second-round keylock from Adrian Serrano, while Paz was knocked out by Bobby Hoffman's ground-and-pound in the second round.
“The Flu Cover”
When you accumulate the roles of photographer, copywriter and editor of the most important Brazilian martial art magazine, your mind needs to turn on turbo mode at the end of an event like WEF 8. After all, it's not all the time that you have two Brazilians winning belts on the same night.
I knew that the editorial competition for the cover of Tatame No. 50 that month would be tough; after all, Royce had defeated Nobuhiko Takada in Pride, Renzo had defeated Maurice Smith in Rings and a brown belt named Ricardo Arona had rocked at the national trial for ADCC 2000.
But as I said, a photographer-editor always has to work with the idea that your coverage will be the cover. In the worst case scenario, you guarantee a nice opening photo for your report. That's what I did in that sleepless night. Still in the heat of the show, I decided that, despite “Pele” and “Minotauro” being the big stars of the event for having won belts, “Babalu” and Ruas also deserved to be highlighted. Before everyone went to sleep, I called the four of them and made an appointment for 9 a.m. in the hotel lobby.
In those rivalry-rich times, when icons of different teams barely spoke to each other, it was a tall task to get those four to pose together, but the most difficult thing was to convince them to take their shirts off in the hotel courtyard on a 45-degree January day!
Right when I looked into my Canon’s viewer I knew I had a great candidate for the cover. In a single shot, I had managed a tribute to four icons of the new generation, representatives of the three largest vale tudo schools in Brazil: Ruas Vale-Tudo, Chute Boxe and Carlson Gracie. Interestingly enough, later everyone would reveal to me that they had the flu. But the effort was worth it. With this image in hand, I managed to get one of my favorite covers and one of the best-selling issues in Tatame history.