Making a Fighter: The Education of Tiger Ruas

The muscular, bald, and bearded man shifts his balance and knocks out his opponent with a reverse roundhouse kick, impacting his heel to their chin. They fall numb, they are covered, the referee gives the three count and it is over. If not, he entangles them like an Amazonian anaconda, applying a double ankle lock, they tap out and the man emerges with his arm raised in the center of the ring.

His name: Adrian Jaoude, a man who within time I started to also call “friend”.

The images above describe the meia lua de compasso (compass half-moon) from the Brazilian martial art capoeira and a lock employed by high-level Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighters. They can be seen in MMA fights but in this case, they are employed by the veteran martial artist turned pro-wrestler formerly known as Arturo Ruas in WWE, who now goes by Tiger Ruas. His firing caught Brazilian pro-wrestling internet like wildfire, me included.

Making a Fighter

To achieve this mastery and bring reality to a business based on choreographed performances that are still hurtful for its players took decades. His attire, comprised of gi pants tied up by a black belt, tapped up fists, and bare feet, isn’t a costume—in reality, it’s his lifestyle.

His base is amateur freestyle wrestling, in which his main authority figure is his own brother, Antoine Jaoude, the sole representative of South America at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Under MMA legend Marco Ruas he learned Muay Thai and techniques to be applied in the octagon; Eduardo “Brigadeiro” Venâncio taught him and gave his black-belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

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Jaoude never stopped evolving, as Hugo Duarte mentored him in luta-livre, a Brazilian martial art; while the capoeira kicks that dazzle the audiences with their plasticity were learned from Master Sorriso and Master Lázaro. He is also a black belt in aikido.

I had already heard of him when I started to practice amateur wrestling as a novice in São Paulo and my colleagues showed concern about facing him or his brother in competitions. We respected them and knew that if they were between us and medals, the path would be harder.

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Origin Story

Not only did lessons of pain and discipline bring this fighter up, but also life experiences. Jaoude was born in Lebanon during its civil war, one of the most gruesome in history, which lasted from 1975 to 1990.

His parents went there to visit and introduce Antoine to his grandparents. However, they ended up embroiled in the war zone, and his father, also named Antoine, had to take up arms to defend his family. Adrian’s late mother, Tania, was Brazilian citizen who birthed him there.

“Our childhood had different experiences given our age gap of almost five years. Still, it was wonderful in spite of the civil war that ravaged Lebanon. Our parents tried to provide the best for us: education and protection. There were magical moments that will be forever in our hearts”, confided Ruras’ older brother Antoine in an email interview with FanFyte.

Coming back to Rio de Janeiro wasn’t easy. Although Brazil is the twelfth largest world economy, it has high levels of social inequality and criminal activities. The favelas are disputed by drug dealers and far-right paramilitary groups, meanwhile the tropical city is also the board for the games of Brazilian organized mob, the illegal gambling mafia (Jogo do Bicho). On top of that, in recent history five state governors were arrested in corruption scandals.

The paradisiacal Rio de Janeiro of samba and bossa nova, known for the happiness of the carnival parade and Pelé scoring goals at the Maracanã stadium, is so far in the past that it feels almost like a fever dream or a parallel universe. The city is overtaken by violence and, like in Lebanon during the civil war, it isn’t uncommon to hear the sounds of assault rifles.

This scenario that hurts athletes, as they are denied proper sponsorship and can’t outgrow the limitations imposed by the ruling dark liaisons. A game that I was a victim and can tell in first hand; only soccer players seem to not be damaged by it.

Emerging from Trauma

I asked Antoine if the experiences in Lebanon and those faced as a Brazilian citizen influenced Adrian’s personality. He puts it bluntly: “Definitely! Adrian experienced the war from a very young age, our way out of Lebanon was rushed as also his coming to Brazil. Adapting to school life as well as the language, although we spoke Portuguese with our mother at home—we had hardships in Brazil because of our accents, but each one of them was easily surpassed.”

An escape from those daily struggles was martial arts and combat sports, a mentality ingrained by his Lebanese grandfather, who was an amateur wrestling aficionado. For ten years Adrian Jaoude dominated the 84 kg wrestling division in Brazil and landed a respectable fourth place at the 2011 Pan-Am games. “Strength, technique and intelligence, Adrian was extremely strong for his weight division”, explained Antoine.

A highlight of his mat career was the silver medal at Bulgaria’s Dan Kolov-Nikola Petrov tournament in 2012. “He topped many European medalists and brought the first world level medal [to Brazil]”, recalled Antoine, one of their cherished moments.

“Brazil is not for beginners” – Tom Jobim

Marco Ruas became known as “The Hybrid” by bringing a mixture of styles that led him to become UFC 7 champion in 1995 and a legend in fighting sports. Adrian Jaoude started to train under Ruas during his adolescent years.

“His skills as a fighter are immense, he became a complete fighter when training under me”, Ruas told me in a WhatsApp talk. His voice denoted how proud he is of his student. He pointed out that he dominated every lesson he was taught, and that his most polished Muay Thai strike is the low-kick.

Since Jaoude is a real martial artist and we come from a dangerous country, I questioned Ruas on how his pupil would fare in a real fight, a situation where he has to defend himself outside a dojo, a gym, a tournament, or a pro wrestling ring.

“Absolutely,” he answered in a stoic tone. “He knows everything and would perform well; I believe he would immobilize the aggressor and submit or knock him out. He has every tool, and I’m confident that he would be fine.”

In due time, Adrian Jaoude became a sparring partner for Ruas, who was still beating up folks in the game. Among his other sparring partners are names that shine in combat sports history, such as Pedro Rizzo.

The young Jaoude was chosen because he had a very quick double leg and would aim very low– UFC is known to have many high-level wrestlers competing. He helped Ruas on his sprawl technique, the defense for rivals going for the legs.

Later, the student became a mentor in his own right. The MMA veteran also praised Jaoude’s intelligence, which he employs in fighting but which also helps him out in the ring, as he has a degree in journalism and is a polyglot.

Wrestling In America

At the 2015 WWE tryouts in Brazil, both Jaoudes took part and were approved, but it was a moment that saw the two break apart. Adrian enrolled in the WWE Performance Center while the elder opted to go back to amateur wrestling and invest in his political career as he is also a polyglot focusing on foreign relations.

For the first-time the brothers were apart.

I questioned Antoine on his brother’s legacy of wrestling on Brazilian soil. “Besides his medals,” he said,” “he taught many concepts to the current generation. His strength, agility, and physical build are his assets.

In pro wrestling, those skills, alongside his punctuality and charisma, will lead him further.
For his first wrestling name, Adrian became “Arturo Ruas”. In our talk I commented this to Marco Ruas, who couldn’t hide his emotions: “I felt highly honored, it was a great and beautiful tribute to use my last name and carry it on. I’m very thankful to him.”

Recently, my friend was dismissed from WWE. When I read the news, I felt stung, as if I was the one who got fired. Still, I prefer remember happier moments. I’m thankful because he intervened when I was being bullied at wrestling practice and paid attention when some colleagues treated me as “rice and beans from yesterday,” and above all his plastic and intense moves and the realness he brings to sports entertainment, as well as his moral compass, which is unlike most others.

I look at wrestling news sites hoping that he gets a new spot in American wrestling, or a spot in another country where the art is appreciated, like Japan or Mexico. Although his time in Brazil seems finished, the story of this pioneer is not closed. A man as skilled as him has a lot to contribute to this craft.

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