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As Jungle Fight reaches 100th card, founder Wallid Ismail celebrates history

Gallery Photo: Jungle Fight 59 photos
Larissa Pacheco, who meets Kayla Harrison for the PFL belt next week, is a former JF champion.
Guilherme Cruz, MMA Fighting

As Jungle Fight will reach an important milestone Saturday, bringing the 100th fight card of its history to Manaus, company founder and president Wallid Ismail is eager for more.

In September 2003, Ismail partnered with Japanese martial arts legend Antonio Inoki to promote the first edition of Jungle Fight in the middle of the Amazon rainforest in Manaus, Brazil. The show featured a mix of veterans, from Jorge Patino “Macaco” and Ebenezer Braga to up-and-comers that would grow up to become legends of the sport like Lyoto Machida, Fabricio Werdum, Stephan Bonnar and Ronaldo Souza.

It’s been almost 14 years since Ismail has held a show in Manaus, and the wait is finally over.

“I’m really happy to bring Jungle Fight back to its roots for our 100th event,” Ismail told MMA Fighting. “It’s going to be huge. My job is to show the world once again that this is one of the best places on earth to find talents. For that to happen, we need opportunity from impartial promoters.”

The original plan for Jungle Fight was to take place in Ilha Bela, Sao Paulo, on Dec. 14, but they then switched it to Rio de Janeiro. According to the promoter, the decision to have it in Manaus was brought in earlier this month.

“It was all set for Rio de Janeiro, but then I came to Manaus and spoke with mayor Arthur Virgilio Neto, a jiu-jitsu red belt under master Carlson Gracie, and decided to have it here,” Ismail said. “Our 100th show is historic. We’re the first MMA promotion in Brazil to reach that milestone, and I wanted it to be in Manaus.”

Jungle Fight was the perfect platform for dozens of Brazilian MMA fighters to launch their careers and earn a spot in major International promotions for decades. Jose Aldo, Renan Barao, Paulo Costa, Gabriel Gonzaga, Alessio Sakara, Renato Sobral, Vladimir Matyushenko, Rani Yahya, Erick Silva, Charles Oliveira, Francisco Trinaldo, John Lineker, Bethe Correia, Larissa Pacheco and Thales Leites are a few of names to compete for the company at one point of their careers before joining the UFC.

Rejuvenated by its recent broadcast deal with DAZN in Brazil, which Ismail points as one of the three key moments of its 16-year history, the ex-fighter looks back at two important shows as turning points in his career as a promoter.

“The first card, in an arena built literally over the river back in 2013, was the most important moment for us,” Ismail said. “Inoki and I did that event to bring the attention of the world for the preservation of the Amazon rainforest. It’s something cool to do now, but it wasn’t back then. We did that show and it did so well, we had great ratings on TV, that I never stopped since [laughs].

“Another special moment was the eighth show in 2008, the first Jungle Fight card in Rio de Janeiro years after MMA was banned in the city due to the riot during Renzo Gracie vs. Eugenio Tadeu at Pentagon. I spoke with politicians and we helped bring MMA back to Rio de Janeiro. It was incredible. That was one of the greatest moments of the sport, not only Jungle Fight.”

Saturday night’s card goes down at the Amadeu Teixeira Arena and features three championship bouts. Klinger Pinheiro battles Jose Antonio Serrano for a vacant bantamweight crown, while Wilker Lemos puts his welterweight title on the line against Alessandro Junior. Flyweight queen Natalia Silva defends her throne versus Joice Mara in the antepenultimate bout.