Rumble in the Jungle: The Kamayurá Indians Teach Mixed Martial Arts Champion New Moves


Even mixed-martial arts (MMA) best pound-for-pound fighter can still learn a few new tricks. So Anderson “The Spider” Silva headed into the heart of darkest Brazilian Amazon jungle to learn the indigenous style of wrestling perfected by the Kamayurá Indians centuries ago. He also taught them a thing or two.

Silva’s accomplishments are legion: reigning Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) middleweight champion; undefeated for more than six years; has never lost inside of the “Octagon,” the UFC’s eight-sided—and caged—ring; black belts in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo, taekwondo and muay Thai; widely regarded as the greatest MMA fighter in history. Not bad for a former McDonald’s worker from Curitiba, Brazil.

Facing a title defense this June versus his formidable nemesis Chael Sonnen, Silva is going all out in his training. Recently, this included accepting an invitation to return to his native nation to meet with the Kamayurá, in the state of Mato Grosso, north of the Xingu River. Although part of a special aired on Brazilian network TV Globo’s Esporte Espetacular, this was no publicity stunt—the Spider went to study.

Although nearly wiped out after being “discovered” by Conquistadors, the Kamayurá were never defeated. Their warrior code is embodied in the ancient art of Uka-Uka, as these Indigenous Peoples call their traditional form of wrestling. Simple appearing to the outsider, mastery of Uka-Uka requires complete dedication—and years of practice. Tribal boys begin to wrestle by age 13, the age when they are considered to be men. Prior to fighting, a Kamayurá tribesman will paint himself, outwardly expressing his warrior spirit. Silva, too, wore war paint before tangling with a respected member of the tribe in a short match.

The explosive 6’2”, 185-pound Silva appeared uncomfortable at times, by all accounts “losing” to the smaller Kamayurá. The Esporte Espetacular voiceover regaled viewers with a lively description of the spectacle. “Anderson didn’t have to do this, but here is a tradition that no Uka-Uka warrior can escape, [he has] to turn [into] a beast. Take the kids out of the room and register that historical moment. What was seen is unbelievable. Anderson Silva was neutralized, was knocked out. And only after being ‘beaten,’ he began to learn the technique. So, Anderson Silva has returned to be Anderson Silva.”

Following the skirmish, Silva did return to being Silva, enthralling with displays of his Brazilian jiu-jitsu moves, plus he showed off a few steps usually reserved for the Octagon, including the “Kimura submission.” reports that the Kamayurá were so impressed with Silva’s performance that they asked him to break down his MMA moves—Silva became the teacher. He obliged, working through some controlling techniques, plus a takedown move. Perhaps we’ll see a Kamayurá enter the Octagon one day.

For now, though, the question is if Silva will incorporate any of the Uka-Uka into his repertoire. Fittingly, his showdown with Sonnen will be fought in Brazil. “It’s different the way [the Kamayurá] fight,” Silva told an Esporte Espetacular reporter. “The techniques used are very strong. As my current coach says, the mind is like a parachute, always open.” And that idea of an open mind extends to respecting and learning from the traditions of the world’s Indigenous Peoples, a lesson for all of us.

“In the end, [there was] a great celebration to thank the visit of a great idol of the world, and the union of MMA with Uka-Uka,” the Esporte Espetacular voiceover rejoiced. “Everyone won. And, of course, [there] was a lesson, the mind [is] always open!”