What Is Vale Tudo? The Beginner’s Guide To Vale Tudo Q&A

Original Vale Tudo match

Vale Tudo is an old style of combat event, known for its brutal fights. While it’s relatively unknown to most Mixed Martial Arts(MMA) fans, It helped inspire the rise of MMA. But what is this type of fighting? 

Vale Tudo is an underground fighting match that started in Brazil way before modern MMA even existed, which was known for having no rules and no holds barred. Vale Tudo match attracted fighters with different martial art backgrounds to compete against one another until someone gets knocked out or taps out with no time constraint.

In essence, Vale Tudo is an older form of Mixed Martial Art match and it has an influential role in what modern MMA has become. Keep reading to learn more about this form of combat match and how it began. 

What Is Vale Tudo?

Vale Tudo is a form of combat match that rose to popularity in Brazil during the late 20th Century. It would later evolve into MMA. Vale Tudo first mixed a range of fighting styles together, with a focus on winning the match by whatever means necessary. In some cases, this has led to very serious injuries when opponents didn’t tap. 

At first, the Vale Tudo matches occurred in circuses, which traveled around the country. Later, there grew underground clubs, with a more structured style. As the style evolved, organizations tried to bring Vale Tudo into the mainstream. 

Quick History of Vale Tudo

What Does Vale Tudo Mean?

Vale Tudo is a Brazilian term. In English, it translates into “anything goes” or “no rules”. This is a phrase that applies well to the sport, as there aren’t a lot of limits to what the fighters can do to each other. We’ll discuss the rules in a little more detail later. 

How did Vale Tudo Begin? 

Vale Tudo has an interesting history. It was originally used as part of a circus-style show. These would tour around the country, during the late 1920s. It is a way of putting masters of their martial arts style up against each other. 

This would eventually turn into a television show, put on by the legendary Gracie family. This was called “Heroes of the Ring” and was the predecessor to shows like UFC. While it was canceled, it did help build the popularity of the sport. This was further enhanced later by the Gracie Challenge, which we’ll discuss a little later. 

What Are The Vale Tudo Rules?

Part of what makes Vale Tudo so interesting is the lack of rules. This has helped create a more exciting atmosphere, more closely replicating a street fight environment. Also, traditionally, there isn’t a time limit. The fight ends when an opponent is either knocked out or taps out. There are a few rules that fighters will be expected to follow. These include: 

  • Wearing gloves, like those seen in the UFC
  • No strikes to the throat or groin
  • No headbutting

In recent years, there have been calls for these rules to be extended even further. There is a push to make the rules similar to those seen in the world of MMA. Though, Vale Tudo has been able to resist this push, sticking close to its traditional roots. 

The Gracie Challenge Against Vale Tudo

One of the most important moments in the history of Vale Tudo was the Gracie challenge. This was established by legendary Ju-Jitsu practitioners Helio Gracie and Carlos Gracie. They wanted to prove that their style of fighting was superior to other forms of martial arts, and they wanted to use Vale Tudo match to prove it. In this challenge, the Gracie family would accept any challenge to fight them. While the Gracies won the overwhelming majority of their fights, Helio was defeated by both Kimura and Valdemar Santana in early Vale Tudo bouts.

In later years, Rorion Gracie, who is the mastermind of the family, would help pioneer the Gracie Challenge in the U.S as well. When Rorion Gracie and his younger siblings moved to Southern California and founded the Gracie Academy in Torrance, California, they continued the Gracie Challenge legacy. They would take on local students of other fighting styles. Gracie opponents agreed to be filmed in exchange for a cash prize if they won the challenge. Rorion recorded the Gracie challenge matches for the Gracie in Action videotapes, which were advertised and sold in Martial Arts periodicals at the time.

The Gracie Challenge is what would spread the word about Vale Tudo style match in the U.S. which is a full-contact combat sport with relatively few rules. 

Gracie challenge didn’t just allow the Gracie family to demonstrate the dominance of their form of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, it also won them a lot of fans. This included the legendary Chuck Norris, who helped the Gracies get accepted by the martial arts community. Many of the students who got defeated would join the Gracie school, helping to grow their influence. 

It was this format of competition that would later inspire the approach taken by the early UFC, laying the foundations for Mixed Martial Arts(MMA) competition. It was Rorion Gracie who would have a key part in creating UFC 1

This event would prove to be a hit. Part of this was due to the brutal nature of the event, with a fighter losing a tooth in the first fight. It was unlike anything that had been on television before. From there, the UFC would grow more popular, into the juggernaut the organization has become today.

What’s the Difference Between Vale Tudo and MMA?

While the Vale Tudo movement may have helped form the MMA. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some substantial differences between the two combat styles. Some of the biggest differences include:

  • Level of regulation. MMA has put multiple regulations in place to protect its fighters. While Vale Tudo has some basic rules in place, there is still a lot of freedom afforded to the fighters. 
  • Size of the fanbase. Another important element to consider is the size of the fanbase. Through the UFC, MMA has become a worldwide sport. On the other hand, Vale Tudo is only known within Brazil, failing to catch on around the world. 
  • Amount of star power. As the UFC has grown, it has been able to attract the greatest fighters in the world, offering lucrative contracts. This can’t be matched by the smaller Vale Tudo companies. 

Does Vale Tudo Still Exist?

In the 1960s, the Vale Tudo used to be an underground organization. The lack of rules led to some brutal fights, which often caused some controversy with the media. Today, though, Vale Tudo is still practiced. 

There are some basic rules, helping to protect fighter safety. Some organizations help represent the fighters and put the matches together. Though the brutal nature of the competitions has stopped many of them from attracting mainstream attention. 

Famous Vale Tudo Fighters

Masahiko Kimura is considered one of the greatest Judoka legends of all time. He is also best known for his Vale Tudo match against Helio Gracie in 1951. After getting Gracie into a submission position, the Brazilian refused to tap. As a result, Kimura broke his arm, winning the match. 

There have been a few fighters that have helped shape the history of Vale Tudo. One of the most famous is Rickson Gracie. He was one of the best fighters in the Gracie family. Though much of the fights were underground, it is believed that he has competed in over 500 fights. 

Another influential fighter was Mark Kerr. He participated in World Vale Tudo Championship fights in 1997. This helped grow the profile of the sport. Kerr would go on to become a very popular UFC fighter, and also competed in the now-defunct Pride Fighting Championship in Japan where he enjoyed great success.

Mark Kerr in Vale Tudo fight

Final Thoughts

Vale Tudo plays an important role in early MMA history. It was popular within Brazil, starting in the 1920s. The most important aspect of its history, though, was the Gracie Challenge. The influence of this family was also critical for the foundation of the UFC, which would become the largest combat sports organization in the world. This is what would bring MMA into the mainstream.

Jeff J.

Jeff J is a retired Gunnery Sgt. with the United States Marine Corps and a former Federal Police officer. He was involved with extensive training with weapons systems, and hand to hand combat, mentored and trained hundreds of Marines in high-level fitness programs.

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