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Vale Tudo – A Precursor To MMA Explained For Beginners

Mark Kerr(Top) at International Vale-Tudo Championships 3
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Despite how mainstream it’s become, mixed martial arts (MMA) is still relatively new. After all, the premier organization in the UFC only held its first event in 1993 which further highlights just how fast-growing the sport is. But while the UFC held its first event in 1993, that wasn’t the first time the world got to witness any form of MMA. Vale Tudo was there first before modern-day MMA was born.

Vale Tudo is a full-contact combat sport that is often referred to as No Holds Barred(NHB). It means “Anything Goes” because it’s a combat sport with very few rules, thereby it is considered far more violent than modern MMA. Vale Tudo is originated in Brazil and gained popularity during the 20th century.

As you see here, many decades prior, audiences watched Vale Tudo, which is essentially MMA but with next to no rules whatsoever. Regarded by many observers as the progenitor of MMA as we know it today, here’s everything you need to know about the hybrid combat sport.

What Is Vale Tudo?

Vale Tudo is a full-contact combat sport that first started gaining traction during the 1920s. Also known as “No Holds Barred,” it featured two fighters with similar or different styles facing each other in a ring or open space, and was usually a sideshow event at carnivals or festivals with spectators looking on. It is most notable for its lack of rules which is one of the reasons why it has become outlawed as a whole in recent years, at least with most major promotions.

History Of Vale Tudo

Vale Tudo literally translates to “anything goes” and first became popular during the 1920s in Brazilian circuses. It cannot be traced to a single match, but rather, developed organically into a sport that resembles MMA in the modern world. In addition to having virtually no rules, there were also no promotions, weight classes or championships in its early years.

From the 1960s in particular, it became mostly an underground subculture with fights taking place mostly in dojos or small gyms. It was primarily based in Rio de Janeiro, but many fights also occurred in the northern and southern regions of Brazil as well as the state of Bahia.

In the early 1990s, it gained traction again due to Rorion Gracie of the revered Gracie family, who emigrated to the United States and introduced it when Rorion helped found the UFC. Certain Vale Tudo promotions were even televised on Brazilian TV as well as pay-per-view. However, given the nature of the sport, it became outlawed and went underground again. Promotions such as Jungle Fight notably ditched the Vale Tudo ruleset (or lack of ruleset) in favor of the unified MMA rules we have today.

What Are Vale Tudo Rules?

As aforementioned, Vale Tudo means “anything goes” which is why there were no rules involved in the sport. This meant groin strikes, neck strikes, headbutts, eye-gouging and many other things that we wouldn’t normally see in combat sports today were very much legal. The only ways to win were by knocking your opponent out or submitting them.

As the sport became controversial, measures were taken not only to prevent any injuries, but also make the sport more safe and appealing to modern audiences. Groin strikes and eye-gouging were outlawed while fingerless gloves were introduced for example. With that said, it still lacks many rules and its underground nature as a whole is the reason why it is not a sanctioned sport today.

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How Did The Gracie Challenge Influence Vale Tudo?

Carlos Gracie of the famous Gracie family introduced “The Gracie Challenge” in a newspaper during the 1920s. It was an open challenge to anyone for a Vale Tudo style match with a Gracie with the winner earning a cash prize. From there, competitors from various combat sports backgrounds took part including boxers, Capoeira fighters, judokas and wrestlers as they looked to defeat the Gracie jiu-jitsu style practiced by the members of the esteemed family. These events were sometimes private while other times, they were public events.

Carlos, his brother Helio Gracie, as well as their sons all took part and were usually the smaller fighters. They defeated multiple fighters of various combat sports backgrounds while experiencing few losses. The goal of the Gracie Challenge was to prove the superiority of the Gracie jiu-jitsu system and in the process, Vale Tudo became increasingly popular.

Is Vale Tudo The Father Of MMA?

Vale Tudo is essentially a hybrid mixed martial arts sport. Many in Brazil still refer to MMA as Vale Tudo and it certainly played a big influence in the development of MMA as the sport that we now know given how it was a style-vs-style matchup that mixed various martial arts.

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What’s The Difference Between Vale Tudo And MMA?

Both Vale Tudo and MMA are similar in that they combine multiple martial arts and involve two fighters competing in a ring. The difference, however, is that Vale Tudo has far fewer rules than MMA. In fact, the early days of Vale Tudo had no rules. So while groin strikes and eye gouges are forbidden in mixed martial arts, it’s very much legal in the sport of Vale Tudo. While later iterations of Vale Tudo have adopted a more safer ruleset so that eye-gouging and groin strikes were illegal, it still pales in comparison to the unified rules of MMA as we know it today.

Does Vale Tudo Still Exist?

Vale Tudo still exists today with events mostly taking place in Brazil. However, any Vale Tudo events that are still held are mostly underground given the nature of the sport. As per Sherdog site, promotions such as Universal Vale Tudo Fighting, International Vale Tudo Championship and World Vale Tudo Championship have not held any recent events with their last ones being in 1997, 2016 and 2002 respectively. Vale Tudo Japan most recently held an event in 2021 with their last one prior to that taking place in 2016. However, Vale Tudo Japan fights are more or less considered MMA.

Famous Vale Tudo Fighters

There are quite a few famous Vale Tudo fighters. Among them include Marco Ruas who was one of the many pioneers of MMA given his proficiency in both striking and grappling. Because of this, he would go on to win many Vale Tudo fights before competing in the UFC. He would notably win the UFC 7 tournament which took place in 1995 and scored two submissions as well as a knockout that night.

Another was judoka Masahiko Kimura who famously broke Helio Gracie’s arm using the Gyaku ude-garami lock in a 1951 Vale Tudo match. Gracie notably refused to tap which led to the break, with Carlos later forfeiting on his behalf. The Gracies would then name the lock the “Kimura” in honor of his victory and it’s a move that is still commonly used and referred to by his last name even today.

Euclydes Hatem was a Brazilian catch wrestler who is most well-known for being the founder of Luta Livre, a Brazilian martial art. He dominated most of his Vale Tudo fights with strangles and wrestling and notably defeated George Gracie, the cousin of Carlos and Helio. He is said to have been undefeated in his Vale Tudo fights.