Vale Tudo – Anything Goes – A Complete Guide

Believe it or not, the beginning of MMA didn’t start with the Ultimate Fighting Championship event. Ages before the UFC event, there was a form of MMA going on in Brazil – this was taking place decades before the UFC was formed. 

The type of contest was referred to as Vale Tudo. These were violent no holds barred fights that paved the way to what we know today as MMA. Looking at the history of Vale Tudo, it’s quite interesting. This article will go over the famous Vale Tudo fighters, how these types of fights started, and some more stuff regarding Vale Tudo. 

Precisely What is Vale Tudo? 

Vale Tudo matches were held in Brazil between the 1920s and the late 1990s. Vale Tudo can be translated into “anything goes.” With this type of meaning, we can assume that these types of fights got pretty violent. In these fights, competitors that had trained in different fighting styles were paired to fight someone that had trained in a whole other discipline. For example, someone who trained in BJJ would fight someone that paired in Luta Livre, while someone that trained in Judo was fighting someone that trained in boxing, and so on. In these fights, no time limits and no rules were given; it was an “anything goes” type of competition. The only way an individual can win in Vale Tudo is by knocking their opponent unconscious or hurting them so much to the point that it causes them to quit. 

Where did Vale Tudo Originate? 

Where Vale Tudo originated is impressive – they first started the tradition as a sideshow at Brazilian carnivals. During this time, a skilled fighter would fight against another fighter in a match that was agreed on, or they take on open challengers from the event. This was similar to how professional wrestlers would do open challenges at events during the early days in America.  

In Brazil, there were different forms of fighting as well as martial arts that people would practice. These fighters set out to prove that their fighting style was the superior style, so these types of challenges were expected. “Dojo storming” was a common act that took place in Brazil – this is something that we see in Kung Fu movies. This is where martial artists went to a rival school to challenge people to see who had the best style. During this time, circus promoters caught word of these fights going on between martial arts schools and just had to find a way to profit from it, and that’s what they did. The fighters fought in front of a paid audience to prove who was the best. 

What Does Vale Tudo Stand for?

As we said earlier, the phrase “Vale Tudo” can be translated into “Anything Goes,” and that right there gives you an idea of the type of sport Vale Tudo is going to be. People of all walks of life took part in Vale Tudo, and it’s the roots of modern mixed martial arts.

The History of Vale Tudo

Vale Tudo dates back to 1920 when it became part of the circus. In 1928, a Japanese-American Courier documented Vale Tudo – they described a giant circus tent in Brazil where a “Bahian of monstrous dimensions” would go to meet his matchup against a “diminutive Japanese Wrestler.” 

Between the years 1920 and 1950, this type of fight became popular as it started to grow – more carnivals and circuses were introducing it to gain a large crowd. The media would describe this sport as being barbaric. They also described injuries such as spinal, organ, and eye injuries, along with concussions being a regular occurrence with this sport – this was mostly because these were an “anything goes” type of fight. We all know what happens when there is a lack of rules.

In 1960, Vale Tudo popped up on a television show called Heroes de Ringue, which is translated into “Heroes of the Ring.” The matchmakers included Carlson and Carley (Gracie family members), and all of the fighters were martial art practitioners. Later, Joao Alberto Barreto became a referee in UFC 1 and went up against a Luta Livre trained opponent. Joao Barreto caught the other man in an armbar and the man, for some reason, refused to tap out, causing his arm to be broken, and this is why the show was canceled and replaced with Telecatch, which was a professional wrestling show.

The Gracie Challenges

After Vale Tudo aired on television, it went back underground and moved away from its circus and carnival roots. The matches were organized in gymnasiums and martial arts dojos in Rio de Janeiro and the southern and northern regions of Brazil.

It was then that the Gracie family used their organized bouts to prove that their style of martial art was the superior one. Members of the Gracie family posted their challenges in the local newspaper, calling for other practitioners to compete in a Vale Tudo style match at their dojo. 

The ads in the local paper went something like this: “If you don’t mind getting your face smashed, then come to the Gracie Academy and speak to Carlos.”

In order to make people want to do these matchups, Carlos Gracie offered a large monetary prize for those who proved they were better than a Gracie family member in a fight.

Most Famous Vale Tudo Fighters

1) Rickson Gracie

By far, Rickson Gracie is one of the most popular fighters in this sport. Allegedly, he has won over 500 matches without ever losing one fight. If you speak with anyone that had the opportunity to train with Master Rickson, we’re pretty sure they will tell you he is one of the best.

Master Rickson has many fight stories that he has shared. Some of his most popular include his beach fight, where he went up against Hugo Duarte, and the one where he beat the Japanese professional wrestler Yoji Ano at his academy. 

2) Masahiko Kimura

Many practitioners have considered Masahiko Kimura as being the best – he was a revered Judoka. During his fighting career, he has won many titles in Judo and wrestling. He is well known for going up against Helio Gracie in 1951 – this was a BJJ vs. Judo Vale Tudo match. During the fight, he broke Helio Gracie’s arm. As a tribute to Kimura, Jiu-Jitsu practitioners referred to this technique as being a “Kimura.” Believe it or not, Kimura is still one of the most popular styles in Jiu-Jitsu

3) Marco Ruas

Marco Ruas started his career in Vale Tudo fights before he moved on to win the UFC 7 tournament in the USA. Ruas represented Luta Livre in one of the first BJJ vs. Livre Vale Tudo matches. Today, Ruas is a highly respected martial artist.

Vale Tudo Made Rickson Gracie the Legend He is Today

Thanks to his reign at Vale Tudo, Rickson Gracie became the legend he is today. When Vale Tudo was at its peak of popularity, Rickson Gracie was one of the most popular fighters in the sport. When the sport began to peak out of the underground, Rickson was at the forefront of it.

Rickson was the third son of Grandmaster Helio Gracie, and after his fight against Rel Zulu, he cemented his name in Vale Tudo history forever. Rel Zulu was a beast and a master of martial arts – he claimed to have fought and won against 100 men before meeting with Rickson.

During the first round of the fight, Rickson was off to a bad start, and it wasn’t looking good for him. Rel dominated him with his skill and strength. Broken, Rickson thought about admitting defeat to the beast. However, his father, Helio, didn’t like this idea. Before the second round of the match took place, Rickson’s brother, Rolls, woke him up by tossing a bucket of ice-cold water on him.

The effects of the ice against his skin did something for Rickson as he jumped up, and it was then that he defeated Rel Zulu. 

Once again, three years later, they went up against each other again, only for Gracie to dominate Zulu again by choking him out in front of 15,000 people.

The Rules of Vale Tudo

The rules of Vale Tudo are relatively easy to understand and follow because there were no rules. We’re talking about a sport that translates to “Anything Goes,” so you can assume there were no rules. However, in the modern world, there are some iterations that have been done to prevent terrible injuries, but they still try to keep it as close to the “Anything Goes” roots as they can. 

In the modern world, fighters use fingerless gloves to protect their hands. Moves such as groin strikes, eye gouges, and fish hooking are no longer allowed.

You’re still able to find Vale Tudo being contested throughout parts of Brazil. However, because of this sport’s violent nature, as one can assume, the media has given it a bad reputation. Many have encouraged safer rules, but the underground nature of this sport prevents any sanctioning. People who take part in Vale Tudo believe that it has similarities to MMA and say that it should be recognized as a different entity, like Muay Thai and K1 Kickboxing.

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