Welterweight Luiz Cado explains what is it like to be an openly left-wing MMA fighter.
Brave Combat Federation welterweight Luiz Cado is in the minority. A declared left-wing mixed martial artist, ‘Golden Boy’ is one of the most vocal athletes to oppose former far-right Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro.
Being a fighter and hailing from the South of Brazil, the region with the most Bolsonaro voters in the country, the 30-year-old knows he is not in the most comfortable of situations when it comes to his political views. In fact, he shares his home town of Curitiba with some notable names that have openly supported the former president in the past, such as Wanderlei Silva, Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua and Cris Cyborg.
For this reason, and several others that will be detailed in this article, Cado is the fourth guest of the ‘Not All Brazilians’ series, which focuses on mixed martial artists who do not support far-right politics.
During this interview, myself and Luiz had a chance to discuss numerous topics regarding Bolsonaro’s politics, such as ignorance, religion and even homelessness. However, we started the interview with the question that I ask all my guests; why do you think some people and fighters are still in favor of the former president?
Cado’s answer came divided into several different parts, ranging from political ignorance, a lack of social class awareness and Bolsonaro’s populist speech, which was developed to prey on Brazilians’ most desperate needs. To exemplify, Luiz talked about how his own family members voted for Jair, even though they belong to the working class.
“Why do people still support him? Why are they so blind? I can understand that from some perspectives. Inside my family, even. Most people in the fighting community come from lower classes. They are people who have suffered in life. They’re not playboys. They’re people who come from the working class and still support a right-wing candidate. It was the same thing in my family. Everybody was in the working class. My parents, my uncles, nobody went to university. My dad is a butcher. My uncle works at a metal factory. I have another uncle who fixes machines. They’re real workers. My dad is not, but my uncles still are Bolsonaro supporters, but much less than they were in 2018,”
“This is how I see it,” Cado said. “I think people got tricked in 2018. When someone comes along with a shallow, convenient discourse, saying things like: ‘I’m going to end corruption, I’m the best option, I will solve the problems. I will fix it,’ this tricks people. However, four years have passed and I ask myself how can people still support that guy. I believe they were just naive. I believe in people’s naivete. A lot of people were able to realize that that discourse was based on lies. Anyone who’s a little bit more politicized saw that coming. We have to consider that most people in Brazil are not politicized, though. The easy discourse got them. So they got tricked in 2018, but my problem is with people who still support him today, even after the anti-democratic events (January 8’s coup attempt), after 700 thousand people died of Covid. And it was directly (because of Bolsonaro’s administration) that those people died. Because of his denial, because he delayed buying vaccines.”
Although Cado mentioned that most fighters come from poor upbringings and have fewer opportunities in life, the 30-year-old proves to be yet another exception to the rule. He went to law school in 2016 and studied there for three years, but eventually left it to focus on his fighting career. Luiz claims the experience made him understand some political issues better and helped him realize the shallowness of Bolsonaro’s discourse.
“I was raised to be a polite person, to respect other people and I couldn’t accept that. I started studying in 2016. I started to study politics more, that’s why I entered law school. I ended up not finishing it, but when this Bolsonaro wave came, I was already politically aware. So it was easier for me to see through it. I loved studying it, but I didn’t finish it because of my fighting career. I didn’t have time to do both and because of money, too. I went to a private school. I was only four semesters shy of finishing it, but I’ve got a good contract now, so I need to dedicate myself more. This is the chance I have to change my life. When I retire, I’ll go back to school and finish it, for sure. Not even just for money, just for a personal accomplishment, really. I like reading and learning. I can’t do it that much anymore, but I used to do it a lot back then.”
Cado’s strong views in such a conservative community did not come without a cost. Though he prefers not to get into heated arguments these days, he revealed he has lost friends, followers on social media, training partners and even sponsorships due to his political stances in the past years.
Although he does not regret losing people who used to defend far-right politics, Luiz does not feel such a need to argue anymore. Mostly because of the fact that left-wing candidate Luis Inacio Lula da Silva has won the presidential elections of 2022, but also out of respect for his father.
“I have a tattoo of Marielle Franco on my leg. Before I even say anything, people already know how I think. I had a lot of problems around 2018 and 2019. I used to post about politics all the time on Instagram. I even did some live streams during the pandemic, too. So I lost sponsors because of that. I’d rather not say which companies, so I don’t give them any free publicity. I told them ‘If you don’t want to sponsor me because of what I think, then you don’t deserve to be with me’. I lost my temper a little. Some friends stopped talking to me. Guys who used to train with me. A lot of people stopped following me (on social media). After a while I was like ‘Fuck it. I don’t want those guys around me’.”
“I used to be much more radical,” He said. “Nowadays I’m more chill. Especially since we won. There’s no reason for me to be fighting all the time anymore. My uncles stopped talking to me at the time, but we’re on good terms again now. We used to argue at family gatherings and it would kill the mood. Things would get awkward. So I told myself I’d never fight in my father’s house again. So when they say something stupid now, I just stay quiet out of respect for my dad. My dad was never a Bolsonaro supporter. He’s not into politics that much, but he’s one of the smartest people I know,”
The woman whose face Cado has tattooed on his leg is a former city councilor for Rio de Janeiro, who was brutally gunned down while sitting in traffic, in 2018, alongside the vehicle’s driver. To this day, it is still unknown who ordered her assassination. Franco was a member of PSOL (One of the biggest socialist parties in Brazil), and so is Luiz.
Though never proven because investigations were halted, Franco’s assassination has been strongly linked to Rio de Janeiro’s militias, para-military groups (mostly composed of corrupt police officers) who control entire zones in the city. Marielle’s project as a city councillor focused on doing social work in such zones, going against the militia’s operations.
The most accepted theory is that this conflict of interests ultimately led to Franco’s assassination at the age of 38. Over the years, several reports of the Bolsonaro family’s involvement with Rio de Janeiro’s militia have emerged. As well as Jair’s families’ close ties to some suspects in the unsolved case.
Being a leftist is not the sole reason why Cado has issues with Bolsonaro’s administration, though. While Jair associated himself with Christianity throughout both of his presidential campaigns, with the fascist ‘God, Homeland, Family’ slogan, he was eager to promote his religion as a tool to secure religious voters.
Considered a secular state according to the Constitution, Brazil should not officially favor any religion over another. However, Bolsonaro’s actions as president have frequently crossed this line. While Brazil is mostly composed of Catholics and Evangelicals, there are exceptions, such as Cado.
A follower of Umbanda, one of many African religions celebrated in Brazil that developed in the country due to centuries of slave trade, Cado takes offence in the way both Bolsonaro and his followers have spread intolerant speech towards non-christian faiths. In fact, Jair’s wife, Michelle, has associated African religions with ‘things from darkness’.
Luiz says he was able to see the growth of this religious intolerance in his home town of Curitiba during Bolsonaro’s administration. In fact, Cado believes that, alongside homophobia and extreme sexism, is one of the reasons why his region had more Bolsonaro voters than any other in the country.
“Here’s what I think of the South. There’s a lot of macho pride. That manly thing, They’re like ‘Gay marriage, that’s absurd’. What I see is if you ask them what they think about Bolsonaro’s plans for the economy, the liberal plan, They don’t know, They’ll just look at him and say ‘He’s against gay marriage. He’s a man. The wife should obey the husband. That’s why I’m voting for him. He’s a Christian. That’s why I’m voting for him’. In case you don’t know, I’m an umbandist. There’s a lot of hate speech towards us. One of our‘terreiros’ (the sites where umbandists meet to have their celebrations) got burned down here in Curitiba. People were raising money to restore it. We don’t know who did it, but the one I go to is trying to move and they’re trying to find a new place because it’s growing and we need a bigger place. So they’ve been looking for a new place to rent and lots of real estate agencies refuse to rent them out to us,”
“Sometimes at the very end of the transaction,” He said. “When they find out what it’s for, they say they won’t rent their place out for people who will practice ‘macumba’ (offerings that people make to their African gods, commonly mistaken for dark magic). This intolerance has absolutely grown during the last four years, for sure. At the same time, you see the other side. Lots of people coming out of the closet and showing their faith. We’re proud of being umbandists. This has given us a chance to explain what our faith is, It has saved my life. So this was a good consequence of all this,”
A former member of the MTST (Homeless Workers Movement), a social project responsible for housing homeless people in Brazil, Cado is also proud to say he was able to bring the movement to his home town and help his community, housing and feeding people who have no place to live.
The MTST works by occupying any unproductive or empty buildings or areas in a city, turning them into places where homeless people can live. These places are called ‘occupations’ by the movement, though those who oppose them (usually the owners of such unproductive sites) prefer to call them ‘invasions’.
A fierce enemy of the movement, Bolsonaro has tried to criminalize their actions as terrorism during his tenure as a member of the country’s parliament. According to the Brazilian Constitution, housing is a social right of any Brazilian citizen. Furthermore, any building or site that does not fulfill its social function can be deemed illegal, thus becoming available for the MTST to occupy it.
Cado explains what made him join the movement and how he has been able to help his community since. Though he is not with them anymore because of his fighting career, Luiz is proud of the work he was able to do while there.
“I’m not with them anymore because it’s very time consuming and I needed to focus on my career. MTST is a really serious movement. I had to take many courses before I became a coordinator, I had to attend many lectures. I had to go to Sao Paulo many times to learn from them and see their occupations so we could bring it to the state of Parana. I was part of the group that brought it here around 2019 or 2020. There were other similar movements, but not MTST, which is the biggest one in the country. I’ve been involved with occupations since 2015, I would go there to help, teach martial arts, donate basic needs products and I started to become friends with the people there,”
“Then it got more serious from there,” He said. “We did our first occupation in 2020, it’s named Marielle Franco, it’s still going to this day. We do a program called ‘Solidarity Kitchen’, which exists all around the world. We give meals to the people living there, all done through donations. Gas for the kitchen. All the hardware to build the kitchen, too. We built that from scratch. It’s really cool. There are probably around 300 or 400 people there,”
While checking his Instagram profile page, I noticed Cado’s bio said he was a patient of medical marijuana. The statement left me curious as to what his opinion on the matter is when it comes to Bolsonaro’s strong anti-legalization and cultivation stance. On record, the former president has gone as far as blaming a spike in the homicide rates in Uruguay on legalization.
Since Brave does not test athletes for the substance when out of competition, Cado feels comfortable discussing why he uses it and the benefits it brings him. As for Bolsonaro’s stance on the matter, Luiz believes it matches the rest of Jair’s conservative speech, stating it goes against what the rest of the world is doing.
“I use it to improve my performance. I’m an athlete. I use it to recover from muscle injuries and Brave does not forbid athletes from using it. It really improves my sleep, too. When the president talks about being against legalization, it goes against the world. The whole world is legalizing it. Israel is one of the biggest producers of cannabis in the world. One of the most conservative countries in the world and people are still against it. It’s so hypocritical. It’s all about what he thinks is right, not what’s better for the people. It’s like a McDonald’s meal. Some people are like ‘I vote Bolsonaro because I agree that women should obey their husbands’. I tell them, ‘What about the reduction of worker’s rights or the retirement pension reforms?’ and they’re like ‘No, I’m against those’. So do you see how you agree with me on many things? Why would you vote for that guy, then? Is it a McDonald’s meal? Do you have to get fries and a soda with the burger? You have to consider a lot of things, not just one.”
Despite all of his strong views and negative outcomes of Bolsonaro’s government, Luiz wanted to end the interview on a positive note. Now that Lula has won the elections, Cado hopes things will change for the better as far-right supporters lose their relevance. However, the Brazilian also emphasized the importance of following the new administration closely and not just become complacent now that a left-wing leader sits on the chair.
“I think Bolsonarism is going to self-destruct. It has become like a cult. Of you course you’ll still see racists, homophobics, nazis, even. I don’t think they’ll be as loud, though. They’ve always been around, but they were not in the government like they are now. I don’t think it can last, though. Politics is like a pendulum. It goes all the way to one extreme and then it swings back, We got to the far-right and now the tendency is to swing back. I think we’ll see some good times, now. I have hope. Of course we can’t be soft towards Lula, too. Otherwise we’ll be just like Bolsonaro’s supporters. I didn’t like it when people said we couldn’t criticize Lula because it would make Bolsonaro stronger. My fight is to change society. I don’t care about elections, I just want society to be better. If we want society to improve, we can’t think about it every four years. We have to do it now so that it’s better 20, 30 years from now.”
Cado (15-7) has been a part of Brave’s roster since July 2022, when he won his promotional debut via knockout against Felipe Dias. For now, he has no future fights scheduled.