In the early 1990s, an invitation from Reylson Gracie prompted Moreira to sell all of his possessions in Brazil and travel to the United States to be a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructor.”He promised me everything,” Moreira remembers, “but when I got there, it was pretty different.” Because of some financial disagreements, he decided to go it alone and forge his own path.
After two difficult months in the United States – and despite not speaking a word of English – Moreira teamed up with entrepreneur Cab Garrett to build his own gym, “Joe Moreira Jiu-Jitsu de Brazil”, in Irvine, California. During his eight-year partnership with Garrett, Moreira opened 30 branches of the school across the country. To date, Joe Moreira affiliate schools are in over 26 countries throughout he world. Some notable names of Moreira lineage include; Roy Harris, Rick Lucero, UFC veterans Marco Ruas and Kimo Leopoldo, Michael Jen, Roy Dean, Mark Staniszewski and MMA superstar Jan Blachowicz.
Moreira also founded the United States Federation of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and played a major role in the dissemination of the art in America. As president of the federation, he created the first international Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament, the Joe Moreira Cup, and organized the first edition of the Pan-American Jiu-Jitsu tournament with Carlos Gracie, Jr., president of the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Confederation. Those events launched the first top representatives of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in America – names like BJ Penn, Garth Taylor, Egan Inoue, Mark Kompayneyets, Chris Brennan, Eddie Bravo, Javier Vazquez, Ricco Rodriguez, and many others that later transformed the United States into the second Jiu-Jitsu power of the world.
Mixed Martial Arts
Even while being involved with his U.S. Jiu-Jitsu organization, Moreira kept on competing. Following his long string of Jiu-Jitsu and Judo victories, he decided to test his skills in mixed martial arts via the Ultimate Fighting Championship. On February 16, 1996, Moreira fought the six-foot-eight-inch, 360-pound Paul Varelans in the UFC 8 and lost by a narrow decision.
Vale Tudo Training
Following the appearance in the UFC, Moreira encountered his first controversy with the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world. At a time when there was an unwritten rule that black belts were prohibited from teaching Jiu-Jitsu techniques to non-Brazilian Vale Tudo fighters, Moreira started to teach his good friend, Kimo Leopoldo. The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu community was shocked by his breach of protocol and labeled Moreira a traitor. Eighteen months later, following his first MMA victory over Uri Vaulin at the UFC 14, Moreira shocked the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu community again by revealing that he trained with Marco Ruas to fight the Russian boxer – without the help of the Gracie family or anyone else from the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu community. Seeing the good ground technique presented by Ruas, who trained in Jiu-Jitsu for 15 years, Moreira gave him a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and caused a commotion among his fellow Brazilians. These two important decisions helped pave the way for his cross training to take its now-prominent role in fight training.