MMA: UFC fighters in spotlight following Brazil riots

Brazilian Deiveson Figueiredo competes against Mexican Brandon Moreno during their flyweight title bout on Jan 21. PHOTO: AFP

BRASILIA – As the lines are blurred between politics and sport, Brazilian mixed martial arts fighters have come out in support of former president Jair Bolsonaro and an attempted coup against incumbent Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

On Jan 8, thousands of far-right supporters of Bolsonaro, decked in Brazil’s iconic yellow and green, stormed Congress, the Supreme Court and the presidential palace – damaging artwork, spraying profanity on walls and destroying architecture.

The rioters, 39 of whom have since been indicted, were protesting against Bolsonaro’s election loss late in 2022. The BBC reported that Bolsonaro has voiced “regret” for the unrest, but denies causing it.

Deiveson Figueiredo, a former UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) champion who lost his flyweight title following a technical knockout loss at UFC 283 last Saturday, was among MMA fighters who went against Brazil’s current elected government.

According to website BloodyElbow.com, a recent investigation showed that Figueiredo had shared pro-Bolsonaro posts on WhatsApp, including one that said it was time to “invade Brasilia” – the capital of Brazil.

“Either a free country remains or (we) die for Brazil,” read the post, which was also reported by The Guardian. The British newspaper also said there was a second post by Figueiredo which encouraged rioters to “camp inside the Congress” while another showed he was saluted by military generals.

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The fighter’s strong support for Bolsonaro on the messaging platform was reportedly also shared by several other Brazilian athletes in the MMA fraternity, including jiu-jitsu stars and UFC fighters.

It is not by coincidence, however, that these athletes are all united in their stance regarding Bolsonaro, who served as Brazil’s president from 2019 to 2022.

In recent years, the 67-year-old had regularly maintained good relations with UFC fighters. He had received endorsements from UFC champions such as Anderson Silva, Rafael dos Anjos, Ronaldo Souza, Mauricio Rua, Cris Cyborg and Fabricio Werdum.

Bolsonaro had helped some of them to assume political positions. For instance, former UFC fighter and jiu-jitsu champion Renzo Gracie was named Ambassador of International Tourism in 2019 when Bolsonaro was president.

The latest incident has put these Brazilian MMA fighters in the spotlight, while it could also be said that politicians are using sport for political gain.

Brazilian football star Neymar had also previously declared his support for Bolsonaro, having appeared on a radio show together last October.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward received backlash for his actions and, while he promised that he would celebrate his first goal at the Qatar World Cup with a tribute to Bolsonaro, he ended up not doing so in the end.

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