The Tragic Parallels Between The Murder Of Ricardo Dos Santos & 8x World Jiu Jitsu Champion Leandro Lo - Stab Mag
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The Tragic Parallels Between The Murder Of Ricardo Dos Santos & 8x World Jiu Jitsu Champion Leandro Lo

Two Brazilian sporting icons killed brazenly by off-duty police officers.

news // Aug 9, 2022
Words by Ethan Davis
Reading Time: 4 minutes

On Sunday evening, 8x Brazilian Jiu Jitsu world champion, Leandro Lo was killed by an off-duty police officer at Clube Sírio – a sports and social club in São Paulo.

According to a police report seen by local media, Lo was approached by off-duty military police officer Henrique Otávio Oliveira Velozo who grabbed a bottle from Lo’s table and made threatening gestures with it, prompting the two to have a physical altercation. After they were separated, Mr Velozo is alleged to have pulled out a gun and shot Lo in the forehead. The 33-year old died instantly.

For those who have never followed BJJ, Leandro Lo was one of the titans. He won five IBJJF World titles in five different weight classes — light, middle, medium-heavy, heavy and open weight, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest practitioners of all time. Thousands of tributes have been posted in the wake of his passing, many from the biggest names in the sport honoring his legacy on and off the mats. 

In similarly grizzly fashion, six years and a half years ago, on Tuesday morning of January 20, 2015, Brazilian surfer Ricardo dos Santos was murdered in front of his house by an off-duty military policeman. In a flash, the heavy wave standout and internationally respected Brazilian surfer became one of the more than 2,000 citizens killed by Brazilian police every year, and the investigation into his death left a terrible taste in Ricardo’s friends and family’s mouths. 

Ricardo was more than just a surfer who inspired John Florence and Kelly Slater to swing ambitiously at Teahupoo (In 2012 Ricardo reached the quarterfinals at the 2012 Billabong Pro event in Tahiti, rinsing Kelly as a wildcard and earned himself the Andy Irons award). He was more than the first Brazilian to truly put his stamp on The Banzai and win the Wave of the Winter. He was an embodiment of the Brazilian dream. And, even more than that, he was a friend, a lover, a nephew, and a son. 

A year after his passing, Stab sent Beren Hall to Brazil to uncover the truth behind his death, to shine a light on the dark space left empty by the death of one of the country’s rising stars, how such a brazen crime occurred with such shocking ease, and what Ricardo’s death meant to surfing, and to Brazil. All of that is covered in our ‘Remembering Ricardo’ documentary produced in 2016.

“When I think of Ricardo I think of someone who was always charging and pushing the limits. The wave he won Wave of the Winter on was insane, we all went to Jaws and he surfed Pipe on this doubling up swell and got the roll-in of all roll-ins at Pipe and just stood in this huge, perfect quintessential Pipe barrel. And that’s just the kind of guy he was. It’s super sad not to have him around pushing us at these big wave anymore.” – John Florence

At the time of publishing, one of Stab’s commenters, Trojan Horse wrote the following, “Incidents like this help explain why Brazilian surfers are so hard core into competition – it’s a place where things don’t come easy, and where you have to fight to survive. It’s not Byron, or Newport Beach, or even the North Shore. It’s why Gabs loves to win, and Simpo is happy to just be there. It’s why Brazilian kids scratch for years on the QS while their American and Australian counterparts just give up to be video guys.”

It was right on the money, and more than 288 people gave it the upvote.

In the surf world we so frequently unite over our shared passion for surfing, it can be easy to forget that the circumstances on land that motivate us to flock to the water differ significantly, and the nature of those circumstances and how it shapes our personality and motivations is non-trivial.

Many of surfing’s male world champions were steeled by financial deprivation. Slater, Sunny Garcia, John John Florence, Gabriel Medina, Adriano de Souza, Mick Fanning and Italo Ferreira all came from next to nothing.  

A hungry kid who would go on to make a mark. Photo: Peter Joli Wilson/Quiksilver

While many of today’s professional surfers grew up with some financial cushion, largely in part due to the forces of gentrification simply making the coast inaccessible to low-income earners, there is a clear connection between growing up with little and dominating as adults. Something Jed Smith covers in great detail here

The purpose of this piece is to (hopefully) remind ourselves of the many variegated threads that color the tapestry of surf culture and to honor two Brazilian sporting legends who suffered unjust and untimely deaths at the hands of crooked policemen. 

Being rich, happy, nice, well-adjusted people leading comfortable lives is great, but it won’t necessarily win you world titles. 

Only the maniacs do. 

Rest in peace Leandro Lo and Ricardo dos Santos.

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