Former UFC middleweight Antonio Arroyo is a straight Brazilian middle-class man, but still in the minority. Like the first guest of the series ‘Not all Brazilians’, Virna Jandiroba, the 33-year-old wrestler differs from most of his wrestling partners when the subject is politics.
Born and raised in Pará, one of the seven states in the northern region of the country, Arroyo hails from the edge of the Amazon jungle. He began his career fighting at local events before landing in the UFC after winning two fights on Dana White’s Contender Series, earning a contract in July 2019 following a submission win over Stephen Regman.
Arroyo’s home state was the only one of the seven in the Northern region where former President Jair Bolsonaro did not win in the 2018 and 2022 presidential elections, losing both times to the PT (Brazilian Workers’ Party, the same as the current president Luis Inácio Lula). da Silva’s candidates). Antonio was among those voters who tried to curb the desire for power of the far-right politician on both occasions. However, in his line of work, he knows it’s best to keep opinions like his to himself.
Arroyo, a former training partner of former UFC flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo, who, like most Brazilian mixed martial artists, has no problem supporting Bolsonaro’s ultra-conservative views, Arroyo was happy to share. a different point of view when asked to participate in this series of interviews
First, by comparing Bolsonaro to former US President Donald Trump, of whom Jair is a huge fan, Antonio takes a more psychological approach to try to find a reason why he thinks so differently from most. their peers. For Arroyo, the whole phenomenon is based on a simple feeling: fear. Fear of change, more specifically.
In a society that is increasingly aware of minorities, their struggles and how much their voices are heard, especially thanks to the Internet, Arroyo affirms that this is the biggest threat to conservative minds that desperately try to maintain traditions and lifestyles. the same as they were in the 20th century.
However, Antonio guarantees that the conservatives are fighting a losing battle, but also pointed out how a desperate group could also be more dangerous, referring to the pro-military riots that took place in the Brazilian capital, Brasilia, on January 8.
“Bolsonaro goes hand in hand with Trump. This very conservative way of thinking about how a society should be. The man goes to work and the woman stays at home. He is really closed minded. The fact that he was elected only shows us that a large part of society also thinks that way. Not everyone is open to the changes of the 21st century. Changes in mindset and behavior. His morals and his values. But (those changes) are already happening. I think both in the United States and in Brazil, this was their last chance to try to keep things as they are. Society is changing very fast.”
“People who still have this conservative way of thinking don’t accept these changes,” continued Antonio. “So I think they are desperate. An example of that despair is what happened in Brasilia. The coup attempt They do not want to see society evolve. But change is good for everyone. Not just for women or minorities. People must understand that this is something that will improve the lives of all citizens.
Although Arroyo hails from one of the most leftist states in the country, Antonio says that more than the culture of his home state, it was his father who drew him into politics from a very young age.
Additionally, Antonio shares his experiences being a left-wing fighter in the gym, how he learned it was better to leave the subject out of the cage, and how macho, feisty culture can affect relationships when someone takes a different stance.
“I grew up very close to politics thanks to my father. My father (university professor of economics) always worked with politics. He tried to run (for office) several times, but was never elected. Still, he was always helping other politicians with his campaigns. He has also worked in public offices before. He has been a petista since I can remember. I have always been very influenced by him. But I will tell you that this has never affected me in the gym. Because I was never one to argue. Especially in this world we live in today, where there is so much intolerance. I’ve always talked a lot on social media, but I’m not going to go out there and start a discussion about this. It is obvious that it will generate conflict. Especially in my workplace. I want everything to flow in the best possible way there. If I were to start a discussion about that one day, I’m sure it would create an awkward situation or I would have been discriminated against in some way.”
Rather than blame the wrestler stereotype, however, Antonio attributes those problems to ignorance, linking the rampant education problems in Brazil to the majority of wrestlers coming from poor backgrounds.
“I was never one to confront people about it. Not only when he was training with Deiveson, but also when he was training at Marajo Brothers. You need to know how to handle it, because everyone in the fighting world is like that. They are all conservative and macho. They’re like: ‘I’m a man and I can solve this by force.’ I don’t think it’s because of the fact that they are fighters. I think it is due to the fact that most of the fighters in Brazil did not have access to culture, information or education. Unfortunately, that is the reality for most athletes in Brazil. Sometimes they haven’t even finished high school. I think this is a big reason why so many people think that way. They have a very simplistic way of seeing things.”
“My family has always given me all the support I needed to continue my career,” he said. “That is not the reality for most of those trying to have a career in wrestling. This is an arduous journey. I’ve always suffered a bit of discrimination because of that. Because I had a little more, a little more than the others. So I was the ‘playboy’. This has also shaped my way of thinking and my character. So I learned to leave some issues alone.”
Arroyo is aware that his origins are more privileged than most boxers, but he refuses to let that fact define him. Citing his father again, the Brazilian explained how the awareness of his social class played a role in the formation of his political opinions and how the lack of that awareness harms society, causing the less favored to vote for a candidate from far right which is not. he interested in social policy to close the inequality gap in Brazil.
Antonio says that his father’s teachings were what finally made him understand that he did not have to follow the most obvious path, which would be to support right-wing politicians, as most people of his social class do.
“However, it was never fanaticism. My father always explained things to me. We never support any politician. All he did was show me the way he saw things. How things could work out better for everyone, not just a small minority. It would be very easy for me, as part of the privileged minority in this country, to support Bolsonaro. He might say ‘That’s right, we should invest in foreign companies. Yes, let’s cut taxes for big business.’ As someone who is better off than most, it would make more sense for me to be a Bolsonaro supporter. Instead, people have this individualistic way of thinking. Every man for himself. This is how 90 to 95% of Brazilians perceive life. This is deeply rooted in the Brazilian people.”
Despite Bolsonaro’s disastrous administration over the past four years, Arroyo ends the interview on the same positive note it began, believing that this was the far-right’s last push for power (at least for the moment). Antonio’s reason for such a statement is based on the terrible tendency of society to forget its own history.
Although Bolsonaro espoused the same beliefs preached during Brazil’s dark military dictatorship, Antonio suggests that the reason someone like Jair was able to be elected president was because many of his voters were not alive to see the dire times for themselves, and he hopes that Now they have learned. a valuable lesson.
“I think Bolsonaro has played his role in society. If it wasn’t for him, we would never have seen how bad it would be to have a person like him in office. My generation did not see the military dictatorship. I didn’t see it. Most people need to feel things for themselves in order to rebel. The fact that this is the first time in the country’s history that a president is not reelected (reelection was implemented in 1997 in Brazil) is very revealing. We really dodged a bullet there.”
Arroyo’s UFC career lasted just two years, during which he suffered three consecutive losses to Andre Muniz, Deron Winn and Joaquin Buckley. The 33-year-old was released from the promotion in 2021 and has since scored victories on the Brazilian and Russian circuits. For now, Antonio has no scheduled fights.