There’s a chance you’ve heard of Vale Tudo (if you’ve watched MMA long enough you’ve probably heard it referenced somewhere). You might know that MMA developed from Vale Tudo, but do you know much about the Brazilian fighting style itself?
Vale Tudo is a young sport, rising to popularity in the 1920’s, and is a sub-type of Luta Livre compeition. Luta Livre itself was developed from catch wrestling. Euclydes ‘Tatu’ Hatem was a catch wrestler who adapted that style with his own techniques as he taught his students. The style he developed involved fighting no-gi with a focus on submission wrestling and was divided into two categories. ‘Esportiva’ which only involved grappling techniques and ‘Vale Tudo’ (meaning ‘anything goes’) where competitors could also use punches and kicks.
The sports rise in popularity can be attributed to its feature as a side show at circuses. These sideshows pitted fighters of different disciplines against each other to see who came out on top. There’s a report from 1928 of a Japanese Jiu Jitsu fighter beating a Brazilian capoeirista despite a big size difference. Popularity rose further when Vale Tudo got featured as the basis of the 1959-1960 television show ‘Heroes of the Ring’. Hosted by members of the Gracie family, who also served as matchmakers, the show had legitimate practitioners of different styles match up and fight to see which style was superior. The show was cancelled when João Alberto Barreto, who later refereed UFC 1, broke his opponents arm.
This pushed Vale Tudo out of the public eye and began the generation of an underground subculture. Most took places behind closed doors in gyms and dojos. The center of the subculture was in Rio De Janerio, where Luta Livre and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighters regularly completed. This included the ‘Gracie Challenge’, an open invite for anyone who thought they could beat a Gracie to put their skills to the test. Outside of Rio there was much more variation in styles featured in Vale Tudo matches.
When Rorion Gracie emigrated to the US and founded the UFC Vale Tudo found a new market, morphing into modern MMA. This has left Vale Tudo is sitting in an chalenging area. Purists argue that the rules and restrictions put in place have made MMA a totally different sport, while critics say that the modern rules make the sport safer. While there’s still a Vale Tudo culture and fans, promotions have struggled to maintain popularity. Ultimately, it seems like the sport is destined to be overshadowed by the juggernaut that it generated in MMA.
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