Brandon Moreno’s cornerman and UFC fighter Marcelo Rojo sparked controversy two days before his friend’s title rematch with flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo at UFC 263 in Glendale, AZ, with a few posts on social media.
Rojo posted a series of pictures on his Instagram page with a filter that gave Figueiredo a monkey face. Calling Brazilians “monkeys” are a racist insult usually seen in the soccer world for decades in Rojo’s home country of Argentina, and it drew outrage from Figueiredo’s team. Wallid Ismail, manager for the champion, posted the images on his social media calling for “every racist” to be “banned from the sport.”
Rojo, who set his Instagram page private after the controversy began, opened it up again hours later with a statement in Portuguese in which he apologized “for offending people yesterday, which wasn’t the intention.”
Speaking with MMA Fighting on Saturday, Rojo said he wasn’t aware that those filters could have a racist implication in Brazil.
“I apologize to everybody, to people I don’t even know,” Rojo wrote in a text message. “Wallid is making this bigger than it is, I was just was putting filters on the [Instagram] live. I put a lot to all the fighters, I use the baby Yoda, the mustache filter, the monkey, on every fighter in the press conference, we were joking around… Then [Figueiredo] push Brandon and we start shouting, and someone screenshot the live and pass me the image. I upload it for fun, to make jokes to get [Figueiredo] more angry than he already is, but not to make this a racist thing.
“I do not know Brazil history, I’m from Argentina but I hate [soccer], I never watch an entire game, I did not know that was a real offense to the Brazilian people. I make a big mistake and regret it. I apologize to the people, I apologize to Wallid, I even apologize to master Rafael Cordeiro who I know him, who train me six months, and he explained it to me. Also, this is nothing to do with the Argentinian president, I am not living in Argentina since 2015. It was al a big mistake. In Mexico we joke around every time like this and it’s a big cultural gap that I missed. And I’m sorry again.”
Earlier this week, Argentina president Alberto Fernandez also started controversy between the countries by saying that “Mexicans emerged from Indigenous people, Brazilians emerged from the jungle but we Argentines arrived on boats.” Fernandes later apologized on Twitter, writing “I didn’t set out to offend, but in any case, if anyone felt offended or made invisible, I offer an apology.”
Rojo, who is 0-1 in the UFC and is currently slated to face Kevin Croom at a UFC Fight Night event in August, said he will be in Moreno’s corner tonight at UFC 263 and “it’s all clear.” He also criticized Ismail for his recent comments about UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya, telling Sherdog that Adesanya “has homosexual instincts and he should be studied by science” after apparently humping on Paulo Costa at UFC 253 in 2020.
“[I’m] telling you it was a big misunderstanding, I never know that was a historical offense in Brazil,” Rojo wrote. “A girl who works in the UFC later on told me a little bit of Brazilian history, what happened, and then told me about the soccer games and everything around. But Wallid is making this bigger.
“I know it was a weird situation ‘cause I’m from Argentina … And also in Argentina the stupid president was taking about that things. But that was not the intention. We just making fun joking around like we do all the time in I was putting filters on [Instagram]. Now I’m terrible. Sorry, I’m not a bad dude. I’m not a racist.”
The UFC has not released an official comment on the situation, but company president Dana White weighed in on the case during an interview with Combate after the UFC 263 ceremonial weigh-ins on Friday.
“I heard about it this morning,” White said. “I don’t know enough about it to speak on it. I know that something happened. I know that whoever did it apologized. And there was some horrible stuff being DM’d to Israel Adesanya, too, that I saw today. It’s just, like, you know… I don’t even know what to say. It’s disgusting. You know, I don’t even know what to say, but, listen, at the end of the day, this is the fight business. A lot of mean things happen here, a lot of bad things are said. Racist, disgusting stuff make me sick, but you know, what are you gonna do?”
As part of the UFC’s code of conduct policy, fighters can be punished for any behavior that’s deemed detrimental to the promotion, similar to rules in the NFL. Punishment, however, is at the sole discretion of the UFC.
“I feel so bad for that because I really am an ambassador of the love in the world and that’s happening in my team. Like, come on guys, come on,” Moreno said. “I was a little bit angry at first, but, I mean, everybody make a mistake. Everybody makes a mistake. And in this era with cancellation, you never give the opportunity to the people to learn, to make some progress. So it was a mistake and in the name of my team, I apologize. It is what it is. We try to learn to make some progress in this new era.”