The History And Origins Of Vale Tudo
July 31, 2021
Vale Tudo: History, Famous Fights, & Impact - The MMA Guru
Vale Tudo (Portuguese pronunciation: [ˈvali ˈtudu]; English: Everything Goes/Everything Allowed), also known No Holds Barred (NHB) in the United States, is an unarmed, full-contact combat sport with relatively few rules. It became popular in Brazil during the 20th century and would eventually evolve into modern Mixed martial arts (MMA). For years "Vale Tudo" was used as a synonym for MMA in Brazil, but the term fell into disuse due to the emergence of stricter rules and the influence of the media to have a more "civilized" name. It is now used to refer to an early, more rules-free stage of the modern sport.
Vale Tudo initially started as an informal ruleset for fighters from different martial arts to fight each other. The Gracie family was known to organize their famous "Gracie Challenge", where they would fight other martial artists in Vale Tudo bouts to prove the effiency and superiority of their own Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Many fighters eventually started to train specifically for Vale Tudo events, mixing striking and grappling, eventually advertising "Vale Tudo" as its own standalone style. For example, Marco Ruas referred to his hybrid style of Luta Livre submission grappling and Muay Thai striking simply as "Vale Tudo".
Fighting sideshows called vale tudo became popular in Brazilian circuses during the 1920s. Examples of such bouts were described in the Japanese-American Courier on October 4, 1928:
One report from Brasil declares that Jiu Jitsu is truly an art and that in an interesting exhibition in the side tent to the big circus a Bahian of monstrous dimensions met his waterloo at the hands of a diminutive Japanese wrestler. The man was an expert at Capoeira, an old South American style of fighting, but after putting the Japanese on his back and trying to kick his head ... the little oriental by the use of a Jiu Jitsu hold threw the Bahian and after a short struggle he was found sitting on the silent frame of the massive opponent.
However, this circus term did not enter popular use until 1959–1960, when it was used to describe the style-versus-style bouts featured in a Rio television show called Heróis do Ringue ("Heroes of the Ring"). The matchmakers and hosts of the show included members of the Gracie family, including Carlson Gracie and Carley Gracie. The participants were all legitimate practitioners of their styles.
One night during the show, João Alberto Barreto (later a referee for UFC 1) was competing against a man trained in Luta Livre. Barreto caught his opponent in an armbar and the man refused to submit. Barreto broke the man's arm. Consequently, the show was canceled and soon replaced by a professional wrestling show called Telecatch.
From 1960 onwards, Vale Tudo remained mostly an underground subculture, with most fights taking place in martial arts dojos or small gymnasiums. The Vale Tudo subculture was based in Rio de Janeiro, but many fights took place in the northern region, the southern region and the Bahia state, where Capoeira is prevalent. The scene in Rio de Janeiro focused mainly on the intense rivalry between Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Luta Livre. Fights in the other regions featured more diverse martial arts competing in the events.
The Gracie family devised the "Gracie Challenge", where they would invite or be challenged by opponents from other martial arts to a Vale Tudo match prove the effectiveness of their Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. The Gracies would hold their challenges behind closed doors at their gyms, but in some cases they realised public events too. In 1980 and 1984 Rickson Gracie fought two events against Casimiro de Nascimento Martins ("Rei Zulu"), father of Zuluzinho. In 1984 at the Maracanãzinho it was held the Noite das Artes Marciais ("Night of the Martial Arts") also known as Jiu-jitsu vs Artes Marciais ("Jiu-Jitsu vs Martial Arts"), fought by representatives of BJJ against representatives of Muay Thai, Kung Fu, Kickboxing and Luta Livre. Future UFC 7 champion Marco Ruas participated, with a draw against BJJ representative Fernando Pinduka. There was also a match between Rei Zulu versus Kickboxing world champion, and future promoter of the International Vale Tudo Championship and manager of multiple Brazilians in MMA and K-1, Sérgio Batarelli. And in 1991 the most famous event happened: Desafio - Jiu Jitsu vs Luta Livre between representatives of both martial arts. The event was organized after BJJ practitioners almost got into a brawl with Luta Livre fighters, after they invaded a BJJ tournament in order to fight Wallid Ismail, as he had issued an insult and a challenge at a local newspaper against Luta Livre. The Luta Livre fighters were convinced to stand down and instead fight in a public challenge. Rickson Gracie, organizer of the event, convinced TV Globo, Brazil's largest network, to broadcast the event live under the assumption it was a pure grappling event, the rules were later changed to Vale Tudo but Globo kept the program. The actual event would see 3 matches, all with victories by Jiu-Jitsu representatives.
In the 1970s, Rorion Gracie of the famous Gracie family emigrated to the United States and introduced Vale Tudo to a new market when he helped found the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in 1993. Inspired by the format of the UFC, many new promotions of Vale Tudo were created. Some of the noteworthy promotions of this time in Brazil include Universal Vale Tudo Fighting and Brazilian Vale Tudo Fighting. Besides the UFC, the United States also saw the introduction of Vale Tudo promotions similar to the UFC, such as the Battlecade Extreme Fighting and World Combat Championship in 1995. Vale Tudo would receive the name No Holds Barred (NHB) in the United States.
In Japan, former professional wrestler Satoru Sayama had created in 1985 a hybrid martial arts organization named Shooto, which featured striking with all limbs, takedowns, groundfighting and submissions. Impressed by the UFC, in 1994 he introduced Vale Tudo to Japan by organizing the Vale Tudo Japan tournament, which was more rules-free compared to previous Shooto rules. Rickson Gracie won the 1994 and 1995 editions of the tournament, making him famous in Japan. In 1997 PRIDE Fighting Championships was founded in order to match Rickson Gracie with popular Japanese shoot-style professional wrestler Nobuhiko Takada. The rules of PRIDE were modelled after the ones from Vale Tudo Japan with some modifications. The first event of the organization had an attendance of 47,000 fans and attracted the attention of Japanese mass media and soon PRIDE became one of the largest and most popular combat sports organization in the world, and it helped to popularize MMA.
However, in the United States there was a backlash against the violent nature of the nascent sport. In 1996, Senator John McCain saw a tape of the first UFC events and immediately found it abhorrent. McCain himself led a campaign to ban the UFC, calling it "human cockfighting", thirty-six states followed his campaign, and the event was blacklisted from television. In response, the UFC started to implement more restrictive rules, weight categories and judges, eventually evolving into the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts. The name "Mixed Martial Arts" was also devised at this time as they felt the term NHB was detrimental to the public image of the sport and better represented the new evolution of the sport after the introduction of the new rules.
In Brazil, Vale Tudo eventually met similar obstacles in the US. In 1997 there was the creation of a major event named "Pentagon Combat", with a pentagonal cage similar to the UFC's Octagon, counted with veterans Oleg Taktarov and Murilo Bustamante, and sponsored by Prince Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan, later known for his creation of the ADCC and investment in BJJ. The main event continued the Luta Livre-Jiu-Jitsu rivalry by matching LL representative Eugenio Tadeu and BJJ representative Renzo Gracie, both who also had a very personal rivalry. The fight went a back-and-forth between both contestants until members of the audience approached the cage and started to shout insults and interfere in the bout by attacking the contestants, Gracie fought back one of his attackers and soon the confusion soon escalated into a full riot, as people threw chairs into the ring, supporters of both fighters brawled, warning shots were allegedly fired by security and the lights were turned off by the promoters to control the fight. The event was broadcast live on national television by Rede Globo's SporTV. The confusion resulted in the state of Rio de Janeiro banning Vale Tudo events for almost 10 years. Footage of the brawl was used by CNN in a special report order to condone the sport in the United States.
As the UFC and similar promotions started to receive more rules. The premier organizations of the late 1990s became the World Vale Tudo Championship (WVC) and the International Vale Tudo Championship (IVC), which featured prominently throughout the 1990s as they were also televised on Brazilian TV and pay-per-view. The WVC and IVC were based in the Brazilian financial capital of São Paulo and launched the careers of many of today's MMA stars. However, after the state of São Paulo prohibited Vale Tudo from being a sanctioned sport, both promotions went into decline and have not staged an event since 2002.
Beginning in the early 2000s, newer promotions such as Jungle Fight and Bitetti Combat abandoned traditional Vale Tudo rules in favor of the safer mixed martial arts "Unified" rules. However, some promotions continued the use of traditional rules for a time, most notably Meca World Vale Tudo and Rio Heroes.
"Vale Tudo" was still used as a synonym for MMA in Brazil throughout the 2000s, the term started to be dropped as the sport grew and Brazilian media started to cover MMA events, first with RedeTV! covering UFC events in 2009, and in 2011 it was picked by Brazil's largest network Rede Globo.
Today, all major events use MMA rules, according to former IVC and WVC promoter Sérgio Batarelli in an interview to Brazilian online news G1 he affirmed: "But fighting with the rules from before is impossible. It's over. [...] It's the beginnings. There's no way back. Even because there are very few fighters who would venture into something like this."
Vale Tudo events are still taking place in small numbers around Brazil. Due to the violent and bloody nature of the sport, these underground events sometimes cause controversy in the media. Critics of the sport argue that Vale Tudo shows should all adopt the MMA "Unified" ruleset created in the United States by Athletic Commissions, and used by various other countries such as Canada and England. On the other hand, supporters of Vale Tudo criticize the Unified Rules, pointing out that there is no medical proof that the Unified Rules are safer, no contestant has ever been killed or permanently disabled while fighting under traditional rules, the Unified Rules were created not for safety, but to ban techniques that commissioners saw as "uncivilised" (such as the soccer kick and headbutt), that the Unified Rules set is not used in Japanese, Russian, Singaporean and Thai promotions, and so on. Proponents also counter that the style of mixed martial arts fighting created by the Unified Rules is now so different from traditional Vale Tudo that it should be treated as an entirely different sport, just as kickboxing is considered different from Muay Thai.
As Vale Tudo became more popular and common, some fighters started training especifically for Vale Tudo contests rather then fighting with purely one style, taking the most effective techniques from both striking and grappling martial arts and synthesized them for the ruleset of Vale Tudo, eventually billing "Vale Tudo" as its own standalone fighting style.
Marco Ruas is recognized to be one of the first to do so, he was a Muay Thai striker and equally skilled in Luta Livre submission grappling, even before the first UFC event he was a public proponent cross-training in multiple martial arts and training especialized for Vale Tudo. Eventually he developed "Ruas Vale Tudo", which he advertised as a martial art. He and other fighters he coached—such as Pedro Rizzo and Renato Sobral—were billed as "Ruas Vale Tudo" fighters.
The Chute Boxe Academy in Curitiba started as a Muay Thai gym expanded their program with BJJ and grappling training in 1991, and eventually branded themselves as a "Vale Tudo" gym.