Long before mixed martial arts became a thing, Brazilians had Vale Tudo. These are no-holds-barred fighting contests that were popular in Brazil during the 20th century. It allowed martial artists from different backgrounds to compete against each other and paved the way for mixed martial arts. Modern MMA is a Vale Tudo variant with rules, weight classes, and round limits to protect fighters.
How It Started
The word Vale Tudo translates to “anything goes” in English. That’s an accurate name for these brutal contests where participants pretty much had no rules to follow. Eye gouging, biting, and low blows were all legal techniques.
The earliest Vale Tudo matches can be traced as far back as the early 1910s. The practice started as a sideshow circus promoters would add to their events to bring people to their events. It shares that similarity with pro wrestling in western nations.
Some of the earlier Vale Tudo fights were fixed events, with the winner determined before the fight. Others featured real fights with a champion going against a challenger. Brazil is a melting pot with diverse people, some of whom brought their martial art styles with them. Many of these martial artists started using Vale Tudo events as opportunities to test themselves against fighters trained in different styles. Some of these fights took place at gyms, while others were fought on the streets of Brazil.
Fight and circus promoters quickly realized they had a cash cow on their hands and started organizing real events that featured some of the best fighters in the area. These fights were held in large arenas with thousands of spectators cheering on. The rules were simple: you had to knock out, submit, or make your opponent quit to win. Time limits were optional depending on the promoter holding the event. Some Vale Tudo matches had time limits while others didn’t, leading to fights that lasted as long as a few hours. Fighters didn’t wear any gloves for the event. Everyone fought bare knuckle.
Vale Tudo would continue to enjoy lots of popularity in Brazil until mixed martial arts started taking over in the late 20th century. Mixed martial arts was more palatable for the masses and sanctioning bodies, relegating Vale Tudo to a niche sport.
Four Best Fights In Vale Tudo History
The royal family of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the Gracies, were a big part of the popularity Vale Tudo events enjoyed in Brazil. Helio and Carlos trained in Judo under Mitsuyo Maeda and started developing their own fighting system, now known as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. To prove the effectiveness of their fighting system, they started challenging martial artists who trained in different styles.
These challenges were called the “Gracie Challenge,” with many family members proving themselves in Vale Tudo matches. These challenges lasted over 60 years, with multiple generations of Gracies participating. Rorion Gracie eventually founded the Ultimate Fighting Championship to bring his family’s Vale Tudo fights to an international audience to prove the effectiveness of BJJ.
The Vale Tudo battlegrounds were the testing ground for BJJ, and it’s probably why members of the Gracie family had so much success during the early days of mixed martial arts. For example, Royce Gracie won three of the first four UFC tournaments thanks to his ability to take people down and submit them. However, it’s worth noting that he had more experience competing in no-hold-barred style fights than most of his opponents, thanks to his experience in Vale Tudo.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the 4 best Vale Tudo fights:
1) Masahiko Kimura Vs. Helio Gracie
Kimura was one of the most respected Judokas that ever lived, and he had already had a successful fighting career by the time he collided with Helio Gracie in 1951. The fight didn’t go the way Helio had planned as a win would have legitimized BJJ.
However, Kimura was the one who ended up securing a submission, breaking Helio’s arm with a gyakuude-garami as he refused to tap to win the contest. As a tribute to kimura, BJJ practitioners renamed the gyakuude-garami the Kimura, and most people these days don’t even know the technique’s real name.
2) George Gracie Vs. Euclydes Hatem
BJJ and Luta Livre had a massive rivalry as fighters from both styles thought their style was superior. That led to this infamous match that ended in defeat for George Gracie in 1942 after he challenged Hatem, who founded Luta Livre, to a fight. Hatem submitted George via rear naked choke, leading to an embarrassing moment for the Gracies. Other family members challenged Hatem to a match, but the fights never materialized.
3) Rickson Gracie Vs. Hugo Duarte
Rickson is one of the most accomplished fighters in the Gracie family, who claims he won over 500 Vale Tudo fights. He’s one of the best BJJ fighters ever to live and fought anyone who dared to challenge him anywhere he was.
While Gracie had countless Vale Tudo matches, he’s most known for fights at his gym, like beating up famous Japanese wrestler Yoji Ano and his infamous beach fight with Hugo Duarte. That fight created a bad-blood rivalry between BJJ fighters and Luta Livre fighters.
Rickson and Duarte were meant to have a Vale Tudo fight, but Duarte allegedly backed out. Gracie confronted Duarte at the beach to call him out and slapped him. That led to Rickson’s infamous beach fight where he beat Duarte, who didn’t look like he ever really had a chance. Fans ended up getting an unscheduled Vale Tudo match at the beach, and, given how good Rickson looked, he might really have won over 500 Vale Tudo matches.
4) Renzo Gracie Vs. Eugenio Tadeu
The brawl between Rickson and Duarte led to a bitter rivalry that ended with Renzo and Eugenio colliding at a Vale Tudo event. The fight was so heated spectators gathered around the cage and started hitting Renzo. A bloody riot ensued, leaving many seriously wounded and the arena destroyed.
The riot was worrying enough to get the Brazilian government to step in and force both camps to agree to a truce, bringing the BJJ vs. Luta Livre rivalry to an end.
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