Part 1 of
Interview with Pele Landi
By Eduardo Alonso
Photographs by Joel Gold
Originally printed in the October 2001 issue of FCF
Jose "Pele" Landi Johns was born in Cuba, and spent most of his early days learning the values of family, patriotism and courage. There he took the first steps in his sporting life, and grew learning to like fights and dreaming of being a champion some day. But as life makes some unexpected turns, Pele and his family moved from Cuba when he was still a child, and destiny sent the young Jose Landi to South America, eventually settling in Brazil.
With the incentive of his father, a former boxer, and his will to compete and the fighting spirit that was born with him, he grew up fighting in the streets of Brazil. Reality gave him the need to learn how to defend himself against all sorts of violence. It was then that Muay Thai and the Chute Boxe academy appeared in the young boy’s life, and from then on, he wasn’t just Jose Landi, the kid, he was "Pele" the fighter.
What happened next is all history, Pele developed his skills training with the Chute Boxe team and became one of the most exciting, controversial and talented NHB fighters in the world, fighting in some epic battles, taking part in some of the biggest rivalries in the history of NHB, and mostly carrying the Brazilian and the Chute Boxe flag all over the globe with a lot of pride. Sometimes hated, and most of the times loved, Pele Landi now shows why he is so respected by those who know him well, and why he is one of the most honest fighters that ever stepped to an NHB ring. In this very long conversation, Pele shared his views all possible subjects, and showed why there’s not a single fighter like him in the game!
FCF: It’s a pleasure to interview you Pele!
Pele: My pleasure!
FCF: Although you were born in Cuba, you moved to Brazil and adopted the country as your own. When and how did you come to Brazil? How old were you?
Pele: I was seven or eight years old. I lived in Peru for a year, and then we came to Brazil. The reason was because of Cuba’s political regime, the communism and stuff. So, we came here.
FCF: You always show lots of pride in fighting for Brazil; you’ve entered the ring wearing the Brazilian national squad shirt a couple of times. What does the country mean to you? And do you believe that there is any kind of preconceptions towards the Brazilian fighters abroad?
Pele: I believe there isn’t any sort of preconception. Everybody is trying to win. As for Brazil, I’m an immigrant; in fact I’m Brazil you know! If you take a close look, Brazil is still young and everybody is somewhat of a foreigner here. I feel at home. There’s also something about patriotism that you get in Cuba. I went to school there when I was a kid, and you learn about patriotism, sports, and all that stuff. So I learned to have pride to fight for my country and this came with me all the way.
FCF: Your father was a boxer, and he was the one that gave you incentive to practice the sport. How did your interest for martial arts start, and how did the transition from boxing to Muay Thai happen?
Pele: I always did boxing during my whole life. But then my father was training in a new academy and he made friends with a Capoeirista [a practitioner of the Brazilian martial art of Capoeira] named Burgues from Parana [a state in Brazil]; he is very well known here. So, I started to train Capoeira, and I got into a street fight and I got the worst of it, so from then on I decided that I would never want Capoeira again. [laughs] I thought, "I want that Chute Boxe thing!" That was already getting very famous here. Everybody in the town was going like, "Chute Boxe is the real deal, Chute Boxe, Chute Boxe…" you know how it works, and I wanted to meet the guy that everyone was talking about, the guy that was kicking everybody’s ass, that fought hard, went after everyone and stuff like that, and this guy was Rudimar [Rudimar Fedrigo, Chute Boxe team coach], who was still very young at that time. And then they brought me to Rudimar’s school. I was 16 years old. I was already very old! [Laughs] I started to go to the academy, to train and stuff, and then within 3 months, less than 3 months, I was already fighting in the Metropolitan Muay Thai championship! And I won! And it was funny because my style of fighting appeared right there in the ring. It was comical, because the guy did a spin kick, and I got to the ropes and I’d shake my head, like saying, "No, no." Then it was [like in a move]! I did the same spin kick that he tried, and "Bam!" it hit him right in the stomach, and I almost sent him out of the ring with it! And the crowd went nuts! When he recovered, I got him in the clinch and knocked him out with knees!
FCF: Is it true that when you started at the academy, you were so good that with only 3 months of training you were already fighting in the Brazilian Championship?
Pele: Yes, but I couldn’t win the Brazilian Championship. They were more experienced fighters who knew how to carry the fights and stuff. Also, let me tell you… in this Brazilian Championship I kneed myself! [Laughs] I’m serious! We have the tape and everything. I was in the clinch, and went for a knee so high that I hit myself on the chin!! [Laughs] It’s funny that I only noticed that it was I that hit me after some years watching the tape!
FCF: And did you get staggered by your own knee in the fight? [Laughs]
Pele: I don’t know, at that time I felt it hard. [Laughs] It was very funny! [Laughs]
FCF: Was Rudimar Fedrigo your first master in Muay Thai?
Pele: The master [Rudimar] was opening two academies. The central academy was already full, and he was opening another one, very huge with two floors and stuff, and he told me to go there. A student of his, Noguchi, was teaching there. But I stayed with him for only about 6 months, because then Noguchi wanted to open his own academy, you know how it goes. When they split, he took all of his students and I stayed with Rudimar from then on.
FCF: The Muay Thai training is very tough and demanding. Did you ever think about giving up when you were a kid?
Pele: Never, never! I needed to defend myself you know. And the best way to do it was to learn at the Chute Boxe academy, to really be able to defend myself in the streets.
FCF: Did you fight a lot in the streets when you were younger?
Pele: Oh, I was always fighting. Even though I have some sort of a bad image, I haven’t been in street fights for the last 6 or 7 years. It’s a bit tough to get rid of this image. I was very aggressive, fighting all the time. I weighed 67kg [148 lbs.], can you imagine? It was easy to come and fight me [laughs], but I had a lot of speed, had a bad temper… And my dad was a fighter, so he didn’t like me to fight, but if I fought and took a beating… I would take another beating at home! It was tough! God! A lot of times I would have to stay out of the house crying, because I couldn’t go home with drenched eyes! I was afraid of my father! In fact my father is a very nice guy, but you know.
FCF: When did you realize that you were going to be a professional fighter and start dedicating all of your time to fighting?
Pele: The first time that I went to take a look at the Chute Boxe academy, I went there alone, to take a look and stuff, you know how it goes. Then I got there and I saw a guy named Edimar, who was a student of Rudimar’s. Edimar was a great fighter… he was perfect! There were cameras on him, people screaming and he was training hard! Globo [the biggest TV network in Brazil] was there too, and this was back in 1988. He was going to Los Angeles to fight in a championship… And I thought this was all wonderful! At that time I thought "Wow. I’m going to do the same!" I was used to see my father in the ring and stuff, so this feeling I had since I was very young! Back in Cuba, my grandma lived near the boxing gymnasium there. Across the street from her house there was the boxing gym! So I went to the entrance and kept looking at the ring, watching the guys training and stuff. I was still very young; I went there barefoot and stuff.
FCF: Did you have to quit studying when you decided to dedicate your time fully to training?
Pele: I always studied. But there was a time that I couldn’t do it anymore; I needed to choose between studying and training. There was a time that I would get to the academy early in the morning and would come back around 10 o’clock at night! I believe that for about 36 months I trained Muay Thai 7 hours straight per day.
FCF: How many Muay Thai matches did you fight before your NHB days? Are there any Muay Thai matches that you still recall with joy from those days?
Pele: I did lots of Muay Thai fights. I was Brazilian champion and stuff, but I believe that my first fight was the one that left the biggest impression on me. It was against a guy 15kg heavier, so it was great.
FCF: How did the sport of NHB appear in your life? Was it difficult to adapt to this new style of fighting in the beginning?
Pele: A good number of years ago, me and my wife were in need of money and stuff, you know how it is, so I started to go around and I told Rudimar about my intention to fight NHB, and he said, "Well Pele, you know you’ll have to win." and I said, "Okay, I know." So then I hit the road looking for fights. I remember that I hit the road, and some of my students took me to Sao Paulo, and I fought… And it went like that. It wasn’t difficult to adapt. I never believed in anything besides guts, courage! At the Chute Boxe academy, we were already doing some Jiu Jitsu training with Master Nico, who was a guy that trained with some of the Gracies and years and years ago; he died at 67 years old. He taught us everything in the beginning, the very basics of the sport.
FCF: Where was your debut in NHB?
Pele: My debut was back in 1990 or ’91, in a challenge between Chute Boxe and Capoeira. They challenged us; they got me on the beach with around 40 guys! I told them that this wasn’t going to end there. I got back here in Curitiba and I told the master about it. Then we went to their academy and made a mess, so we appointed a date for the challenge, to settle things. It was great, everybody from Chute Boxe knocked out their opponents!
FCF: Were there a lot of challenges in the academy back in the old days?
Pele: Lots! I remember that I was too light and nobody believed in my skills, so boxers would come to the academy to challenge me! People in the night clubs would start things like "Who is that? Who is that? That’s Pele?" and they would came right after me starting a fight! Suddenly I was there, quiet, well dressed and stuff, and I would have to fight right there on the spot, over and over again. It wasn’t easy by any means to be able to get the deserved space and recognition for Chute Boxe.
To be continued…