I first met Paquetá on my first adventure to Brazil to train Jiu Jitsu back in 1999. I already knew who he was, because my instructor Kurt Osiander had lent me tapes of his to study of the old Mundials and Brasileiros. The tapes were black-and-white with some patches of green in between the fuzz. This was long before DVD’s and these tapes were often 10th generation copies, but they were the best thing in the world to watch. We all watched them at Ralph Gracie’s like they were the gospel for us.
I met him at Bibi Sucos, the legendary juice place that sponsored all the fighters we used to watch on those tapes. It was right down the street from the legendary Gracie Barra. They were playing the latest PRIDE MMA fights on the TV. I got a bowl of acai and waited for him to come. Soon this guy came up to me in a Carlson Gracie t-shirt and said "Scotch"? I said "sim", about the extent of my Portuguese at the time. Igor Gracie had been nice enough to call him for me. We couldn’t understand a word each other said, but he ended up taking me over to the trunk of his car, which was full of BJJ and Vale Tudo VHS tapes. Each duped blanks with a stick-on label, humidity making the labels bubble and peal off. I skipped all the Vale Tudo and got one copy of every BJJ tape he had. I got 8 different tapes and I almost couldn’t wait to leave Brazil just to watch them!
Back in the USA, Gumby and I started to follow Paquetá’s lead and started to film every Jiu Jitsu event we could get to. We started to put them on VHS tapes and distributing them around. This was how most people found out about OTM back in the day. We would show up and sell copies of our tapes to pay for our BJJ trips. I also had so many people ask about the videos we brought back from Brazil, that I started to copy them and sell them to people too.
About two years after my first trip to Rio, I sold everything I owned and headed down to follow my dream of living in Brazil training Jiu Jitsu. It was really tough at first. There was lots of problems getting set up and getting accustomed to Brazil. It took a while to get used to the Carioca lifestyle and to figuring out when I was getting gringo taxed.
I had not been there long when Carlinhos Gracie took me and a few other gringos up to Campos, a city about 3 hours from Rio, to watch some super fights on the beach that a lot of the Gracie Barra guys were competing in. While I was there, I ran in to Paquetá again! I still couldn’t say crap in Portuguese, but I really wanted to connect with him. So I grabbed a Gracie Barra black belt named Carlos "Escorrega" Lemos with great English and had him do some translating for me.
I had him tell Paquetá that he was my hero and the reason I bought a video camera was to cover BJJ events in America just like him. I told him I was the American Paquetá Jr. Paquetá found this to be pretty funny and made some joke that didn’t translate too well, because I didn’t get it, but Comprido was there and he had a hell of a laugh at my expense at whatever it was. For the next year, every time I saw Comprido, he would point and laugh at me. Carlos let Paquetá know that I was living there now and I had brought an editing bay with me from the USA. I offered my help to make any videos he wanted for free. Why not, I owed him for all the videos I copied and sold.
Well that day, Paquetá put me on the opposite corner of the mat at Campos from him and we filmed all night. There were some great matches with Pe de Pano, Tererê, Leozinho, and many more. At the end of the night, I offered him all of my tapes I shot, but he didn’t want them. With some translation, he let me know he was coming to my place and I was editing the tape for him. It was funny, because I think he thought he was getting some free work out of me, but I was happy as could be to do it.
Paquetá came over that next week and we banged out the video quick. I couldn’t speak a word to him, so we had to call my Portuguese teacher Renata to translate a bit here at there, but we got it done. I learned quick that "corta aqui" meant "cut it here". That turned out to be the first of many, many projects we did together. He introduced me to another great friend I had there, Denis Martins. We have a lot of great stories together, the three of us. Denis was like my Portuguese slang teacher there. Teaching me all the slang I didn’t understand and helped me get the names right on our videos.
As my language skills got better and we could communicate better, I started helping him with his camera settings and other video equipment. We shared having gringos bring down new equipment for him. He always knew how to get it through customs with no hassle. Shawn Williams has a crazy story about bringing some stuff down through customs for us.
He started picking me up on the weekends and taking me to all kinds of events, usually with Denis in tow. We had some great times together and saw a lot of great matches together. We shot a lot of Jacaré coming up, Thales Leites at purple belt, Lagarto, and many others that were just amazing on the mat. There were loads of great guys. That filled up our OTM video magazines back then. The most epic DVD being Dengue Fever.
There were so many great guys, that no one had ever heard of or ever will, because they just couldn’t get out of Brazil. A lot of guys used my videos to help get in the U.S. and get visas. We helped Tererê back in the day too, but that is a different crazy story. He was amazing to watch do Jiu Jitsu.
I have hundreds of crazy stories of our trips and working together, the three of us, but this is one of my favorites. At the time Margarida was huge, he had just tapped out Saulo, and he was the biggest thing in BJJ at the time. He was training at BTT and Paquetá took me over to ABBE with him to eat and meet up with Murilo Bustamante and Zé Mario Sperry. Legends to me and direct lineage of the great era of Carlson Gracie Jiu Jistu fighting. These guys were the real thing, heros of Jiu Jitsu, fighting all over the world with no gloves, and no time limits… just as Carlson had.
Paquetá had made some tapes with Japanese fighters for them, potential opponents. Paquetá did this for many, many fighters… both Brazilian and gringos. He has the largest collection of Vale Tudo footage in the world. Literally, thousands of tapes going back to the 60’s filmed on 8mm film.
Once we walked in the room at BTT, Margarida saw me and jumped up and started screaming for everyone to stop training. It was huge dramatic freak out. I had no idea what was going on. He told everyone I was a traitor and a spy from Gracie Barra and demanded that I leave. He was all up in my face and flipping out. I never seen Paquetá get mad before, but he snapped. I couldn’t even understand everything he was saying, but the jist of it was that he was disrespected, and that if his guest wasn’t allowed in BTT then he was never coming back. Paquetá went on to tell Zé Mario and Murilo that he was not wanted at BTT and he was leaving and never coming back. We walked out. About 1/4 of the room chased us out the door begging him to come back.
We went back in and Zé Mario made it clear that we were both welcome and that if Magarida didn’t like it, he could leave. It was pretty uncomfortable for me, but at the same time it felt really good to have him stick up for me. I was thinking, man Margarida thinks I’m a spy for Gracie Barra, and all those guys hate me too. No one likes me here and all I want to do is spread the love of Jiu Jitsu. At least I had Paquetá on my side. Murilo, Zé Mario, and the rest of the Top Team guys were always very cool. I even met Pequeno that day. The master of the Ten Finger Guillotine. He moved like no other on the mat.
After that one day, I was at Paquetá’s house, he would often pick me up and take me to his house to watch vintage Jiu Jitsu and Vale Tudo matches. I have seen the holy grails of Jiu Jitsu: Rickson vs. Sergio Penha, Rickson vs. Rigan Machado, and other Rickson matches. Royler matches that Paquetá said Royler had sued him not to show anyone, because he really lost the match. He also had old matches from blue belt of Jean Jacques, Ralph, Renzo, Gordo, and other legends we all know. He also had very old footage of many guys I would have never even have heard of if it wasn’t for him. He had old matches from all the old Carlson guys. All the old heros of BJJ. I even saw old blue belt matches of Vitor Belfort, where he won the Worlds.
On this day, I think Paquetá could tell that I was beat down by Brazil. I was getting fucked by my landlord and certain Jiu Jitsu guys were saying they were going to get me deported, because I had over stayed my visa. It wasn’t true. I was on a press visa for 5 years, but in Brazil the laws are blurry and you never know who has pull and what might happen. Guys were crank calling my phone, telling me I was going to get beat up and/or deported. After talking to Paquetá about it, he pulled me in his bedroom and showed me a badge he had. The best I could understand he was saying, he used to be a judge or some kind of official. Then he gave me a federal police officer’s card that was a friend of his and told me if I ever have any problems, call that guy and tell him Paquetá was my Brazilain dad. He even made me put the guy’s number in my phone, so I couldn’t lose it.
From then on I called him Pai Brasileiro, Brazilian dad… and he really was. He went on to help me get my Brazilian residency and my Brazilian social security card called a CPF. With that my landlord couldn’t fuck with me anymore and I was able to start living like a normal person in Rio. I don’t know how I would have done it without him.
(Keep reading below the Photo).
Above: Paquetá, my Pai Brasileiro (Brazilian Dad).
Once DVD’s came out, Paquetá had really wanted to try and convert all of his old footage. The air in Copacabana was full of salt from the sea. It was eating and distorting his footage. I had started selling our videos we made online and his old ones too. I always shared the profits with him and paid him in U.S. dollars. The first time I paid him it was a lot of cash. I hid all the hundreds in my sunga, under my shorts on the long bus ride from Barra to Copa. I pulled the wad of cash out and gave it to him. He was pretty happy, but he told me never to do it again. It wasn’t safe to ride the bus with that much money and he thought it was pretty gross too.
One of the saddest things for me was that we never finished converting and backing up all his old footage. We did just under a hundred tapes, I would guess, but that was just scrapping off the top of what he had. He would trust me with 20 or 30 tapes, I would digitize them, and give them back to him. He told me to make a back up for me, but not to let anyone know what I had. A lot of the gringos that lived with me back then, would crowd around my computer to watch the amazing footage. Guys that are black belts and legends here in the U.S. now. Guys like Pete the Greek, Eric Owens, Henry Akins, and Kenny Florian.
One of the deepest regrets I have is that I never got back to Rio to help him back it all up. I did get him a stand alone DVD burner that could copy 3 DVD’s at once, so he could back stuff up on his own. He trusted me with a lot, but there was some stuff he would never let out of his sight. I’m sure some of it was old Carlson footage that no one else ever had. I often think of how much he did for the sport. He was the caretaker of the history. I hope dearly it’s not lost and someone can share it with the world. Unfortunately, it will never be the same without Paquetá’s personal monologue and commentary of each match. He was amazing. We would watch a match from the 80’s and he would say, "Pay attention, there is a sweep coming up! You should use it. I haven’t seen anyone do it in 20 years!" Sure enough, a minute later there would be an amazing sweep right there.
I used to talk to him about a documentary, but he wasn’t that interested in himself. He always talked about the fighters, Carlson of course being his favorite. He used to tell me the world has it all wrong, Carlson was the king of the Gracie Family. He fought everyone. He loved Carlson, they were best friends. It was a very sad day, when I spoke to him after Carlson had passed. He was crushed, much like I am now.
I already knew Carlson from a long time ago, but Carlson never really paid me much mind til Paquetá invited me to Churrascaria with Carlson. There he told Carlson more about me, how I was helping him. He also showed off the new shoes I had brought him from the States. He told Carlson some of the B.S. I was dealing with there in Rio with the Jiu Jitsu community. Carlson suddenly took a real liking to me. Soon Carlson and I were doing everything together from listening to crazy French music, driving around Rio, and getting a history of his fights to going to cock fights and betting all of our money. There were many great times I had with Master Carlson Gracie.
The three of us would meet at these crazy little Churrascaria places and eat all the time. They were always off the beaten path and everyone always knew and loved Carlson. It was so much fun. I would love listening to them tell stories and break down the latest fights. They both loved B.J. Penn, so that was really the time I got to chime in. Paquetá had all of B.J.’s fights from blue belt to black belt. He even talked to me about how he never put B.J.’s Worlds win on the official tape, because too many Brazilians were mad about it, but Carlson always said B.J. had real fighting Jiu Jitsu not playboy Jiu Jitsu as he called it. I learned a lot from those lunches.
One of Paquetá’s saddest days was when the CBJJ had sold the rights to a gringo for the World Championships. He was mad, upset, and hurt. They made him put his cameras back in his car. He had been at every Worlds, since the very first one. He had collected all that footage for years and now he was cut off. He complained all day to anyone that asked him: "Where is your camera?" It was heart breaking.
I kind of thought I might have had something to do with it. I was selling the Worlds tapes on my website OnTheMat.com. A lot of people in Brazil thought I was getting rich off selling the tapes. I was confronted about it a few times. The CBJJ wasn’t getting a cut, but that was how Paquetá wanted it. He had his reasons. I tried to stay out of the politics, but at the time I was dating a super rich girl from Alto Leblon. I was driving her extra nice car around and living the playboy lifestyle, too bad for the haters. It was the best of times for me in Brazil, but it wasn’t that smart because it created a lot of jealousy. The truth was I was barely paying my bills in Brazil. I was traveling back to the USA and editing porn to make cash to go back. However, driving a $100k car in Brazil made everyone jealous, not just Jiu Jitsu guys, but also the cops.
Paquetá made me a part of his family in Brazil. When my family visited Rio, he met them too. He had us over for a Sunday meal and spent time with my mom, dad, and my brother Cade. His wife Marleen took great care in feeding us all very well. Many times, after I left Brazil, my brother Cade would still shuttle Nike Shock running shoes, video equipment, and my latest DVD’s down to him. Cade would then bring me back the latest tournaments Paquetá filmed. We always shared each others’ collections for years after I had left Brazil.
My heart sank to the bottom of my feet, when Gumby texted me R.I.P. Paquetá. I had just talked to him on his new Facebook account. I was really trying to get down there and convince him to share his life with the world through his videos and stories. He had done so much for Jiu Jitsu and Vale Tudo. I think in the 90’s and 2000’s, he is responsible for spreading more Jiu Jitsu around the world than anyone else. His tapes and later DVD’s were spread around the world by the thousands. There is not a fighter on this planet that didn’t see them and study them. If you haven’t, you’re missing out.
I never made it back. We never finished our projects. I will always regret that for the rest of my life. I feel like I let him down. I should have made the time. He helped me so much.
Saudades meu Pai Brasileiro.