UFC’s Virna Jandiroba speaks out against far-right ‘barbarism’ and explains why ES President Jair Bolsonaro offends her and her people

UFC’s Virna Jandiroba speaks out against far-right ‘barbarism’ and explains why ES President Jair Bolsonaro offends her and her people

Former Invicta strawweight champion and current UFC athlete Virna Jandiroba is in the minority. Hailing from one of the poorest regions of Brazil (the Northeast), “Carcara” has always been quite vocal on an issue that most MMA fighters don’t share their views on: politics.

Following her June 2021 TKO win over Kanako Murata, Virna went viral on the internet for slamming then-President Jair Bolsonaro in her post-fight speech. In a few words, Jandiroba criticized the former leader and praised Brazil’s universal health system (SUS), which has been vital during Bolsonaro’s disastrous handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Praise SUS. Go away, Naro (short for Bolsonaro)”. Virna shouted for the cameras at UFC Vegas 29.

Following news that former featherweight champion Jose Aldo is hosting Bolsonaro at his home in Orlando, United States, as well as flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo’s support for the far-right unrest in the Brazilian capital, Jandiroba agreed to speak with him Bloody elbow to show the other, less seen side.

She will be the first guest of my Not All Brazilians series, in which I will interview fighters who do not support Bolsonaro’s politics or far-right views and oppose the majority in the Brazilian MMA community, with notable names such as Mauricio Rua, Wanderlei Silva, Fabricio Werdum and many others are among his supporters.

Linked below is a video of a pro-Bolsonaro campaign titled Real Fighters Dial 22 (Bolsonaro’s Number in the 2022 Presidential Election). It lists all the names quoted above, plus many more.

In fact, this majority was one of the first topics Jandiroba delved into during the conversation. Virna, a member of Bahia’s Fight House, explained how relations develop between her and right-wing fighters in the place where she spends most of her time. It’s perhaps no surprise that the best approach Carcara found was to simply avoid discussing politics at the gym.

“I have a pretty good relationship with the people at my gym. Most people there are leaning to the left. So there aren’t many political disagreements, at least with the people close to me. But I train with people who are also Bolsonaro supporters. We just don’t talk about it. This subject is untouchable. We prefer not to talk about political views. Everyone knows I’m leftist. I talked about in the Octagon. So this topic is pretty clear and we don’t talk about it. We just prefer to focus on training.”

Virna may not discuss politics at the gym to avoid unnecessary stress at the place where she needs to focus on the task at hand, but that doesn’t mean she won’t be eager to talk about it in other circumstances.

After being asked where her political views came from, Jandiroba shared a brutally real story about her grandfather, a former military officer during Brazil’s military dictatorship who was persecuted for not supporting the evil regime, which became known for torturing its opponents , to silence and to kill .

Although she never met her grandfather, Jandiroba emphasized how the impact of his life affected her father and, in turn, herself.

“Our environment influences us. I’ve been influenced by it. By the fact that I’m from the Northeast region. Everyone in my nuclear family is leftist. My father, my grandfather. My grandfather was a colonel during the military dictatorship in Brazil. However, he was against the (military) coup of 1964. They put a price on his head. He was wanted dead or alive. After the dictatorship (which lasted until 1985) this bounty was archived and he was no longer a wanted man. They didn’t have enough evidence to pursue him. He was accused of treason and actually worked against the military, but they could never prove it.

“It was very detrimental to my life,” Virna said. “I didn’t meet my grandfather, but I listened to what my father’s life was like. Because of this, they have always been hiding (persecution). My father is a retired social sciences teacher. He was always a very quiet man and I didn’t understand why that was. After he told me his life story, I understood that he was forced to be like this. He was silenced by the dictatorship, something my father dreams of to this day. He dreams that the military will invade his house. He’s like a five year old boy. So I got all this background you know?

Despite her life story, Jandiroba still tries not to condemn other fighters who support far-right politics, although she finds these attitudes quite hypocritical. Since martial arts should be a liberating art form, Virna believes that supporting a government based on oppression goes against her roots. To explain the phenomenon, she points to the connection between martial arts and the military, which historically have always been closely linked.

“Bolsonaro insults me and my people on multiple levels. It’s impossible for me to like him. However, I try not to criticize fighters individually. I think it has a lot to do with ignorance. I also think it flirts with the military concept. Martial arts were born out of military tactics, so I guess they flirt. However, I find this contradictory. I practice Jiu-Jitsu and in its roots stretching back to the samurai, they are the ones who serve. People have distorted the meaning of it along the way. Now they think people can use force to fix things.”

Additionally, Jandiroba finds another explanation for why so many mixed martial artists support Bolsonaro in a more obvious place: sexism. In a country with profound problems in the perception of men and women in society (women earn on average 20.5% less than men) the sport, which is mainly practiced by men, has always attracted extremely conservative athletes. Especially when Bolsonaro himself has come forward to represent the same opinions,

Nonetheless, Jandiroba is happy to look on the bright side this time, claiming that it may be a long road but things are starting to change for the better.

“There is also a lot of sexism. This is a male dominated sport. It will take a long time to get over this, but it is important that we take that first step. There are some men who think differently. It doesn’t make much sense. We are such a diverse country. Martial arts should be for everyone. So how can you believe it’s for everyone while supporting someone who says that minorities should accept whatever the majority imposes (an infamous line Bolsonaro proclaimed in one of his speeches). It’s a bit contradictory, isn’t it?”

“That’s why we should strive to be inclusive,” Virna said. “We cannot exclude people. It’s against the world, it’s against civilization. If we go down like that, it’s barbaric. We’ve been on this path, and some of us pointed it out from the start. A lot of people spat out the homophobic, racist, sexist things he said. It was so anti-democratic, but people didn’t pay enough attention. The riots in Brasilia were just the last straw. And now Bolsonaro’s errors are for all to see. The Emperor has no clothes.”

In their last game, Jandiroba (18-3) scored a unanimous decision win over Angela Hill in May 2022. However, the 34-year-old suffered a meniscus injury during the fight and has since been sidelined. With no fights booked in the near future, the Brazilian is hoping for a return in the first half of 2023.

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