Fighter’s eye-witness account of Rio shanty conflict

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Relma in the Vila Cruzeiro community, where recent conflict took place. Photo: Personal archive.

Broadcast live across Brazil on television, the scenes from the conflict going on in Rio de Janeiro’s Vila Cruzeiro shanty shocked the world this Thursday. Hundreds of heavily-armed members of drug gangs fled, while police went só far as to use tanks on loan from the navy to occupy the underprivileged community. So who suffers from all that? The common citizen, of course, among them martial arts practitioners.

One of the community’s dwellers, Professor Relma heads a social-benefit project that teaches martial arts to those who perhaps would never have an opportunity in the sport. The main idea is to keep young people off of drugs, but Relma has gone one further by launching athletes at the forefront of Brazilian MMA, among them cousins André Chatuba and Igor Chatubinha.

“It was heavy. Chatuba, Chatubinha and I were returning from training when it all started. They stayed at my place because you couldn’t go out. Shots were going off everywhere, those war tanks coming in, and no one could go out on the street. We had to stay inside and wait,” he recounts.

The trainer and his student Igor are now in a very different place. They hopped a flight this Friday morning to the city of Belo Horizonte, where Chatubinha faces Marcelo Uirapuru at Brasil Fight 3.

“This morning, when we left there, things were still really heavy. Police cars drove up and down the roads and residents were still afraid there would be more confrontations,” he says, now in the comfort of a hotel.

For the future, the coach hopes for better days.

“Look, I’m here in Minas and I don’t know how things are over there now. I was going to hold an MMA event there next week, but I don’t think that will be possible now. I hope the community will be able to live in peace. Who knows, maybe now I’ll get more support for my project. I’m thinking about that not for me, but for my students,” he says in closing.

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