By Lauren H. Dowdle
Photos by Keith McCoy, Cody Muzio & Josh McLaughlin
From the streets of Brazil to center stage at the World Games, Elioenai “Raio” Campos continues to prove anything is possible for those who refuse to tap out on their dreams.
Raio was one of five jiu-jitsu fighters who represented the United States in July at The World Games in Birmingham. The honor is even more impressive considering how far he’s come in life to reach this point.
Growing up in a dangerous area of Brazil, Raio says his parents wanted him to be involved with sports to keep him away from negative influences. When he was 10 years old, they introduced him to jiu-jitsu—which focuses on grappling and ground fighting to control an opponent using different techniques in an attempt to submit them.
“Jiu-jitsu has so many benefits for kids,” he says. “This sport challenges you every day. You have to put into practice what you’ve learned to overcome the adversary during a match.”
His passion for this martial art has only grown since moving to the States a decade ago—where he’s not only improved his athletic abilities but also the skills of others. Since 2017, Raio has owned Ground Strike Grappling, a jiu-jitsu and fitness gym in Columbiana, where he teaches all levels and ages.
“It’s for everyone, whether someone is an athlete or they just want to get in shape,” he says. “We just want to encourage you and offer the sport in a family-friendly environment. The hard part is taking that first step and walking through the door.”
In addition to teaching his students important techniques, he also tries to instill the values and mindset needed to be successful—both inside the gym and beyond. While training for the physical aspect of jiu-jitsu is important, maintaining the mental determination to reach his goals is what sets Campos apart and allows him to compete at the highest level.
This past March, Campos traveled to Washington, D.C., to participate in tryouts for The World Games. While he had worked hard to prepare for that moment, making the U.S. jiu-jitsu team still made him emotional.
“It felt amazing,” he says. “I was in tears.”
Leading up to The World Games, he trained in both the United States and Brazil with high-level athletes in his sport—something he’s done his entire career. He wanted to be at the top of his game and the most complete fighter he could.
Raio joined 3,600 of the top athletes from more than 100 countries to compete at The World Games in Birmingham July 7-17. He says he was both excited and surprised by the overwhelming support from his family, friends and community throughout the games.
“Even people I didn’t know were supporting me and sending me prayers and messages,” he says.
While he didn’t medal in The World Games, Raio still impressed everyone with his never-quit mentality. During one match with a Polish fighter, Raio found himself in a submission attempt—but he refused to give up. Instead of tapping out, he kept fighting up until he went unconscious.
“We’re fighters, and we’ll die trying. It’s part of the job,” says Raio, who competed in the men’s 85-kilogram weight class. “You put every little bit of effort into it, and sometimes the body doesn’t respect your heart and mind and gives up on you.”
But maybe his most memorable moment came before The World Games kicked off when he was invited to represent the athletes. Each World Games, the host country selects one athlete to serve as the ambassador for the whole country. That person is responsible for walking the athletes in during the opening ceremonies and reciting the athletes’ oath on behalf of all those participating.
Raio couldn’t help but reflect on how far he’d come, from learning jiu-jitsu as a young boy in Brazil to coming to the States—and accepting this momentous opportunity.
“I could barely speak English when I made my way out here, and so many people doubted me,” he recalls. “God put me in this spot to represent the whole United States to give the athlete’s oath. That responsibility was such an honor to represent our country and military. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
It’s also a moment that should have been impossible because the jiu-jitsu athletes weren’t scheduled to arrive in Birmingham until a week after the opening ceremonies. Being local allowed him to be there—but that isn’t the only reason Raio was bestowed the honor.
When Raio asked those in charge of the program why he was chosen, he was told he encompassed what the sport was about: He loved his sport and the country he represented.
“That was an amazing opportunity and responsibility that was gifted to me,” he says. “I was really surprised.”
Looking ahead, Raio says he would like to compete in the next World Games in 2025 if he stays in good health and is ranked. Until then, he will continue competing as much as possible.
While fighting is an important part of his life, it’s not his only passion. Raio joined the Alabama National Guard and currently serves as an infantryman in the 1-167th Infantry Battalion. In his role, Raio must ensure he stays mentally and physically ready for the job—something he’s accustomed to in his jiu-jitsu training, as well.
“I need to be prepared, brave and ready to fight,” he says. “I pray every day that God gives me the health to continue to be both an infantryman and fighter. Those are my favorite two jobs.”
But some in his life didn’t believe he’d ever have a job in the military. After failing the test to get in, Raio remembers people telling him the military wasn’t for him—that he should try something else.
But like how he didn’t submit during his World Games’ fight, he also refused to give up on this dream. He kept studying until he passed and reached his goal.
“Whether it’s competing at The World Games to represent this country or anything else I’ve done, I’ve always had people doubt me during the process of reaching my goals,” he says. “But if you’re still alive and breathing, there’s no reason to quit.”
He encourages others to adapt that same type of mentality when they want to achieve something difficult in life—no matter what others might say.
“Give it everything you’ve got, push hard and never stop until you get where you want to be,” he says.
Anyone interested in taking a class with Raio at Ground Strike Grappling can visit Groundstrikegrappling.com to learn more.
Goals outside of the ring
Fighting at the highest level demands not only physical strength, but it also requires determination to stay at the top of the sport. Those are values Raio says he hopes others see in him and can incorporate in their own lives—whether it’s a child who needs a positive influence or an adult being told they can’t achieve their dream.
“It’s my wish to impact somebody’s life,” he says.
From learning a new language and earning his GED to passing the qualifications for the National Guard and competing in The World Games, Raio is a role model for how to be a champion in all aspects of life.
While Raio strives to be a complete jiu-jitsu fighter in all aspects of the sport, he does have a favorite move: the arm bar. It’s the most-used joint-lock submission in the sport. The arm bar can be done by one opponent placing his legs across the other’s chest, keeping one of his arms between their thighs and the elbow joint.
If the opponent doesn’t escape or tap out when placed in an arm bar, they risk torn ligaments, tendons and possibly a broken bone. It’s a highly effective move to end the fight when executed correctly.