by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
Few fighters have been as influential and perhaps underrated as Jose “Pele” Landi-Jons has been. One of the original driving forces behind the early days of the Chute Boxe Academy, Landi-Jons was instrumental in developing the team’s signature style of Muay Thai. After a successful career in Brazil, Landi-Jons seemed destined for international stardom, however things never quite materialized for him.

Despite some huge wins on his record, Pele has remained as something of a cult favorite fighter. At the upcoming Cage Rage 15, Pele has an opportunity to continue his recent comeback against UFC vet Travis Lutter and make his case for finally getting his shot at the MMA bigtime.

Before Wanderlei Silva and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, there was Pele. During the early days of the sport when it was still very much Vale Tudo, the Brazilian term for “anything goes,” Land-Jons was one of the true standouts on the circuit. His combination of viscous striking and surprisingly adept submission skills made him a fighter to be feared during the birth of MMA.

Winning his first seven bouts, none of which went beyond thirteen minutes, Pele spearheaded the Chute Boxe movement and quickly established himself as the man to beat. Even after back-to-back decision losses in mid 1997 that saw him go a total of 50 minutes combined, Jose still remained one of the top draws in the business.

No sooner than it appeared as if opponents were figuring out his game, Landi-Jons ripped off six wins in a row, brutalizing opponents as he had in the previous years, not going to a decision in any of the fights. Then in the late months of 1998 Pele would meet up with a young upstart by the name of Chuck Liddell (in only Liddell’s second ever fight) at IVTC 6 and lose for the third time in his career, again via decision to the future UFC Light-Heavyweight Champion.

As he had after his previous two losses, Landi-Jons would rebound, winning his next four in a row, including his US debut against MMA legend Pat Miletich. After losing his second American bout via majority decision to future UFC Middleweight Champion Dave Menne, Jose would win his next three including a highlight reel KO of another future UFC Champion, this time in Miletich’s protégé Matt Hughes.

During this same time period Pele split with Chute Boxe to head off on his own under the slightly modified Team Pele banner. With all he had been accomplishing as if Landi-Jons was destined to make an impact on the biggest stages of MMA, but it never happened as things turned for the worse.

Pele would unbelievably lose his Pride debut journeyman pro wrestler-turned-fighter Daijiro Matsui at Pride 14 via decision. He would then fallow that up with three more consecutive losses to Carlos Newton via submission, Lee Murray via KO and finally Renato “Babalu” Sobral via decision. It looked as if the once dominant fighter of the 90’s would never achieve the greatness he seemed destined for in the new millennium.

Perhaps seeing his career settling into its twilight, Landi-Jons came back in 2005, winning both his fights and now seeks to keep the momentum going in a possible last attempt to make his impact and become a recognized great by the MMA masses. In order to keep the roll going he has to beat a tough and determined Travis Lutter at Cage Rage 15 in what could be a classic contrast of styles.

Lutter, a UFC vet, is coming off a stretch where he’s lost two of his last three, is in need of a win to keep himself from slipping into the second tier show status. Knowing all that’s at stake for his own career, Lutter will look to make this his statement fight and use it to build momentum for his own resurgence, which makes him a very dangerous opponent for Pele.

To win this fight Pele must do as others have against Lutter, not allow him to get comfortable and take the fight to the ground where he’s at his best. Having been in the sport for ten years, Landi-Jons has seen it all and knows all the tricks of the trade, but he must remain busy and use his superior striking skills to keep Lutter at bay. If the fight goes to the mat it could be anyone’s game with perhaps the slight edge going to Travis, being an accomplished BJJ black belt.

A win for Landi-Jons and he can continue to prove that there’s still gas in his tank and he could continue to be a strong contender in the 185lb weight class. A loss and it may signal the end to a very decorated, but at times unappreciated, career of one of the true innovators of the sport.

Jose Landi-Jons is one of the true foundations from which the modern inception of Mixed Martial Arts was built upon. In a time where fighters were still stuck in one-dimensional attacks and training on their own, Pele sought to combine striking with grappling and helped to pioneer the team structure that’s so prevalent in today’s game. Even if he may not have become a house hold name internationally, he is still one of the true greats in the sport, and if he has his way, he’ll continue to be so for quite some time.