clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Master Francisco "Indio" with his sons, Danillo and Yuri Villefort.
Photo by Anthony Abuan

Filed under:

Villefort brothers out to honor vale tudo legend — and father — at PFL

Many fighters have signed with the Professional Fighters League aiming to become a millionaire by the end of the year. Winning such a prize could be a life-changing opportunity for athletes, but that’s not what drives Brazilian brothers Danillo Villefort and Yuri Villefort.

Decades before they were even born, their father Francisco Pereira da Silva, also known as “Indio,” was already competing in vale tudo rings in Brazil. “Indio,” a jiu-jitsu black belt under Pedro Hemeterio, has also trained under the tutelage of legendary Carlson Gracie in Rio de Janeiro. Even though he had no money to pay the gym fee, “Indio” would work in the gym to be able to train and spar with the Gracies.

“Indio” fought in almost 300 vale tudo bouts until he retired in his 30s, when he started working as security guard for former presidents of Brazil. At 74 years old, the vale tudo legend is currently dealing with Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia. His sons, who have competed around the world for the UFC, WEC and Strikeforce, among other promotions, are set to return at Thursday’s PFL 3 in Washington, D.C., and honoring their father is the No. 1 goal.

“It would crown the legacy that my father left for us,” Danillo said of the importance of winning the PFL season. “The old man fought a lot. The fight world doesn’t know him much because he stopped early. He started working as a security guard for five presidents, so he kind of left the fight scene, but he was a key piece in the vale tudo world and his blood still runs in the cages through us.”

Danillo, who also carries the “Indio” nickname as a tribute to his father, faces Abusupiyan Magomedov less than a year after opening his own gym in Pittsburgh and naming it after Francisco. His younger brother Yuri later joined him at Indio Dojo as he prepared for his PFL 3 bout with Rick Story.

“Indio” can’t travel to the United States to watch his kids watch live because of his health issues, but being thousands of miles away won’t change a thing for the PFL athletes.

“My father is going through a tough moment,” Yuri said, “he can barely get out of bed, but a win will — our biggest goal is that the moment we become champions it’s not our names up there, but putting my father’s name out to the whole world. Everything he’s done in life as a champion and as a father helped us get here now. My father has done so many things for us and for others.”

“But my father is tough, man,” he continued. “He’s my biggest inspiration. Whenever I feel tired, whenever I wanna slack, I think about all the stories he has told me, everything he has been through, and this unique energy comes from inside of us.”

“Indio” is “a monster” and will watch them fight live online, Yuri said. In fact, the younger son expects some criticism even if he’s victorious over Story on Thursday night.

“People say ‘I am my biggest critic,’ but my father is my biggest critic,” Yuri said. “One of his biggest virtues is speaking his mind. If it’s good, bad or sh*tty, he’ll say it. Watching his sons fighting might be his biggest pride. He never told us to become fighters because he knows how hard it is, but he gives us support. He one said one thing: ‘my son, it’s not easy to get this cute face that mommy kissed beaten up. It won’t be nice. But if that’s what you want, I support you.’ Money is just consequence, I’m fighting for my family.”

Francisco "Indio" training and fighting in Brazil. On the right, a picture with soccer legend Pele.
Photos courtesy of Danillo Villefort

New life, new gym, no managers

The first Villefort to enter the cage on Thursday will be Danillo, and it will mark his return to action after two years away from the game. He kept texting PFL president Ray Sefo and asking for a spot in the season even before it was officially announced, and didn’t hesitate when Sefo wrote back.

“I was training one day and my wife, who was at the front desk, came to the mat and said that Ray texted me, ‘Are you ready for the tournament in July?’ I told her to reply ‘f*ck yeah,’” Villefort said. “I had no structure at all, I didn’t know anyone in the city. I took it because I love competing, I love fighting. I only realized I was fighting for a million dollars when I went to bed with my wife at night and she said, ‘Do you realize it’s you and another 11 guys? It’s a big chance.’ But I’m not in it for the money, I’m in it because I love fighting.”

Danillo Villefort and his father Francisco "Indio".
Photo courtesy of Danillo Villefort

Villefort was teaching private classes and jiu-jitsu for kids to make money after Blackzilians “kind of lost power after some things happened” and he moved to Pittsburgh. He continued training, but it wasn’t nowhere near the type of preparation he would do if he had a fight coming up.

The 34-year-old middleweight hired boxing and wrestling coaches from Pennsylvania to prepare for PFL 3, and believes that his experience after 13 years as a professional fighter will make the different against Magomedov, who built his 19-3 record mostly in his native Germany.

“It’s not rocket science,” Villefort said. “I have the abilities I’ve learned. I have to pull the trigger and executive the gameplan. I focused on my cardio. I’m doing well. I’m at my best. I’m gonna turn 35 and I didn’t expect to be this hungry and with this shape at this age.

“He’s tough. His striking and wrestling look good, his jiu-jitsu seems decent, but I’m not too worried about who I’m fighting. I’ve watched his fights and his weak spots, what I have to worry about, but I’m going there to execute my game. I know he will make some mistakes and I will capitalize on them. He hasn’t fought anyone. He has skills, but he hasn’t faced anyone with my caliber before.”

One of the main things that has changed prior to his return is that Villefort manages his own career now. He’s also helping his brother Yuri, and doesn’t rule out the idea of becoming a MMA manager in the future. For now, his focus is on going 5-0 before the end of the year.

“I have a lot of friends asking me to manage them, but I’m focused on this tournament and then see who I’ll help,” Villefort said. “Thank God I don’t have managers anymore, those sons of b*****s. A big team is good because you have a good structure, but at the same time there’s this internal competition. A good energy, but also a bad energy. I train in my own gym now, with my students. It’s f**king good, man. I couldn’t ask for anything else.”

”I can’t depend on these sons of b*****s,” he added. “These guys are worthless. I’d rather do my own thing instead of keep calling someone and asking for things. I’ll go there and do it. If it doesn’t work, at least I did it my way and I know what’s going on.”

‘The biggest fight of my life’

Three or four hours after Danillo is done fighting, his younger brother will walk to the cage to face fellow UFC veteran Rick Story. Yuri Villefort is riding a five-fight winning streak that includes winning and defending the Victory FC welterweight title in 2017, while Story will come back from a long layoff almost two years after he parted ways with the UFC.

In fact, Villefort was very close to Story when he fought in the UFC for the last time, a knockout loss to Donald Cerrone at UFC 202.

“He did his camp for the Cerrone fight at Blackzilians, so I met him there,” Villefort said. “I was happy to have someone of his caliber in my team, but I had just undergone knee surgery so I couldn’t train. It was bad, but it was good also because I could spend a long time watching him from the outside, seeing things. We always have an idea of what our opponents will do, but it’s never perfect. But when you’re in the gym, seeing him train every day, you have a better idea of who he is. It was a great experience for me.”

Villefort and Story are going through different moments in their careers, but the Brazilian welterweight knows how it feels to be down. Villefort signed with Strikeforce after winning six straight, but lost a split decision to Quinn Mulhern in his debut. He still got a chance to fight in the UFC despite the defeat, but went 0-2 against Nah-Shon Burrell and Sean Spencer. Villefort was on a five-fight skid after suffering a pair of setbacks following his UFC release, and needed a change.

“I had a tough moment in my career, didn’t know what to do,” Villefort said. “There was so much pressure, I was switching teams, but I’ve been growing a lot over the past two years. I finished three of my five opponents, won and defended my first belt. Brother, everything happens at the right time. I was too young when I joined the UFC, but I’m mature enough as a human being now. We know fighting is never easy, but I’m ready for every challenge that comes. Rick Story will be the first, and God willing I’ll have four others this year.”

“I’m ready for the biggest fight of my life,” he continued. “I’m fighting a guy that has fought at the highest level for many years, was the first man to beat many tough fighters like Gunnar Nelson. He has headlined events and fought everyone, and this is my first time in a fight like this. When I tell people I’m fighting Rick Story everybody knows who that is. That’s why it’s the biggest fight of my life. I want the win so I can go after that million dollars.

“Many people fear his wrestling, but I’m here to prove that Brazilians know wrestling too. That’s something I’ve worked hard over in my career. Whoever controls where the fight takes place usually wins the fight, and wrestling does that.”

Rick Story and Yuri Villefort will battle for a chance in the welterweight playoff later this year.
Photo by PFL

Morning Report: Israel Adesanya likes idea of ‘big fight’ with Khamzat Chimaev but has ‘bigger fish to fry’


Anthony Smith explains why he looks forward to Amanda Nunes’ retirement

The Ultimate Fighter 31: Conor McGregor vs. Michael Chandler Episode 2 results

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the MMA Fighting Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your fighting news from MMA Fighting