What is Vale Tudo? The History Explained

Those that may be new fans of the sport of MMA probably don’t know how the sport was created. Long before the UFC was created, martial artists in Brazil would participate in fights called “Vale Tudo.”

Some of you may have heard the name, but don’t know exactly, what is Vale Tudo?

This article is a quick history lesson of the brutal no hold barred fights that laid the groundwork for modern MMA.

What is Vale Tudo?

Vale Tudo fights were no holds barred fighting contests that were held within Brazil during the 1900s. Martial artists from different backgrounds would battle it out to see which fighting system was superior.

What does Vale Tudo mean?

Vale Tudo in English translates to “anything goes.” An accurate name given to these brutal no holds barred fights.

Looking For A New BJJ GI?

Sanabul is one of the fastest-growing MMA equipment brands. They are committed to making high-quality and affordable BJJ GI’s. The Sanabul Essentials GI is one of our favorite BJJ GI’s available on the market!

BJJ GI Image

The history of Vale Tudo

The history of Vale Tudo goes back to the early 19th century. Some of the first Vale Tudo matches can even be traced back to the late 1910s or 1920s.

Originally Vale Tudo fights were a sideshow attraction that circus promoters would put on at their shows. At first, it was sort of similar to how pro wrestling started in the US and UK.

Usually, a fighter billed as the world’s best fighter would compete against a challenger in either a real or fixed fight. Sometimes fighters even took on challenges from members of the audience who thought they could beat them.

At this time, Brazil was a melting pot of different martial arts and practitioners who each wanted to test their skills. Rivalries between martial arts were created and many practitioners would challenge each other to fighters. Either to challenge a rival at their gym, which was called “dojo storming” or even just fight on the street.

Circus and fight promoters began seeing the potential to make money off of these fights and began organizing Vale Tudo fights. These fights would be held in arenas that held thousands of spectators, who wanted to see which fighter was superior.

Until the late 1990s, there were thousands of Vale Tudo fights that took place within Brazil. These Vale Tudo fights began to fade away in the late 1990s as MMA began taking form as a legitimate sport.

Martial arts used within Vale Tudo

vale tudo martial arts

Numerous forms of martial arts participated in Vale Tudo fights during the 1900s. Some of the more known martial arts include:

Vale Tudo Ruleset

Here is the rulesets or lack thereof that was commonly used within Vale Tudo fights.

  • Ways to Win: There were no decisions, so the only way to win was by KO, submission, or make your opponent quit.
  • Fighting Area: Early on, fighters would just fight in an open area, but would later fight on mats or boxing rings. Later Vale Tudo matches were held in cages after the Ultimate Fighting Championship began using them during the 1990s.
  • Time Frames: Time frames of Vale Tudo fights would be anywhere from 5-15 mins to no time limit. In no time limit matches, the fights could last anywhere from 5 mins to hours.
  • Gloves: No gloves were used in early Vale Tudo fights. Just bare fists.

The Gracie Challenge

We’re going to go deep into the Gracie Challenge in its own article. But to tell the full story of Vale Tudo, you have to mention the Gracie family and their challenge.

Basically, when Carlos and Helio Gracie began developing BJJ, they wanted to prove the effectiveness of their martial art. They began challenging different martial arts practitioners to prove that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was the best.

This challenge became known as the Gracie Challenge. These challenges would be held under Vale Tudo rulesets for over 60 years.

The Gracie Challenge was actually the reason that Rorion Gracie created the Ultimate Fighting Championship. He wanted to show his family’s challenge to an international audience on PPV and prove BJJ was the best martial art.

Vale Tudo and the Jiu Jitsu vs Luta Livre rivalry

training vale tudo

During the time of Vale Tudo fights, there was a rivalry between Jiu-Jitsu and Luta Livre. Practitioners of these two martial arts would go to war with one another between the 1980s and 1990s.

Beginnings of the rivalry

Early on, the rivalry between Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Luta Livre was a friendly one.

Luta Livre creator Euclydes Hatem was challenged by George Gracie to a match in 1942. Hatem would submit Gracie in the second round with a rear-naked choke.

Other members of the Gracie family would challenge Hatem, but nothing came from this talk. The two sides would stay on good terms for the next 40 years.

The rivalry gets violent

The rivalry between Luta Livre and BJJ took a violent turn in 1982. During a Carnaval party, a group of Muay Thai fighters beat up a few of the younger Gracie family members. One of them being a young Royce Gracie.

Rolles Gracie was livid by what happened to his younger brother. He gathered a group of the academy’s best fighters and stormed the Muay Thai academy.

The Muay Thai academy’s lead instructor was easily beaten by Rolles Gracie and the Muay Thai fighters wanted revenge. But instead of this rivalry turning into gang warfare, a series of Vale Tudo fights would take place.

The Vale Tudo fights between BJJ and Lutre Livre

The first event between BJJ and Luta Livre took place in 1984 and included MMA legend Marco Ruas. This event would end in a draw, but BJJ looked weak and it hurt their reputation.

This rivalry would start up again after Rickson Gracie beat up Luta Livre fighter Hugo Duarte at a beach in Copacabana. Rickson was in talks to fight Duarte in a Vale Tudo fight, but Duarte was allegedly going to back out.

So Rickson confronted Duarte on the beach and instigated a fight after slapping him. After the fight on the beach, Luta Livre fighters stormed the Gracie academy with guns and knives. Thankfully Helio Gracie played peacemaker to keep people from losing their lives.

The rivalry would start up again after BJJ practitioner Walid Ismail made disparaging remarks about Luta Livre. This second series of Vale Tudo fights between BJJ and Luta Livre would take place in 1991.

Team BJJ would sweep the series of fights to win the second meeting between the two sides.

Then in 1997, the last series of bouts between BJJ and Luta Livre took place at Pentagon Combat. In the main event, Renzo Gracie would face Eugenio Tadeu.

During the match, the spectators would crowd around the cage and Renzo was hit by one of them. A riot ensued and numerous people were injured and the arena was destroyed.

The Brazilian government would step in and demand a truce between the two sides. Thus ending the rivalry.

Vale Tudo also began to fade away as MMA began to take its place.

Famous Vale Tudo fighters

fighters vault

In Vale Tudo’s near 70 year history, numerous great fighters competed in those fights. Here are short bios on some of the most famous fighters who fought in Vale Tudo fights.

Helio Gracie

The co-creator of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was the first in the Gracie family to compete in Vale Tudo. He did so to prove the effectiveness of his family’s martial art.

Helio Gracie’s fighting career spanned 4 decades from 1932 to 1967. In that time competing in approximately 20 different bouts.

During that time, Helio fought an array of different martial arts practitioners. From Judokas and wrestlers to capoeiristas and boxers.

Euclydes Hatem

Euclydes Hatem was a catch wrestler and creator of the martial art Luta Livre. He was nicknamed “Tatu” or armadillo for being stocky and muscular.

During his era, Hatem was one of the greatest fighters in the world. His fighting career started in 1935 and he competed in various wrestling competitions and also Vale Tudo.

Similar to the Gracie’s, Hatem was a submission specialist and defeated numerous opponents using chokes and armlocks. Tatu would most notably defeat George Gracie and Waldemar Santana both by submission.

After retiring, Hatem began teaching his martial art of Luta Livre, which is still taught today.

Carlson Gracie

Carlson Gracie was the best fighter within the Gracie family during his prime. He would fight for 3 decades from the 1950s to the 1970s.

In that time, Carlson would only lose one fight to Euclides Pereira. His longest fight ever was a rematch against Capoeirista Passarito Oliveira that lasted 3 and a half hours, which he won.

What he is most known for is avenging his father by beating Waldemar Santana. Carlson then had a series of matches against Santana throughout the years.

After retiring, Carlson created his own team, which consisted of the best Brazilian fighters in the world. The Carlson Gracie Team Included Mario Sperry, Murilo Bustamante, André Pederneiras, Ricardo Liborio, Walid Ismail, and Vitor Belfort.

Rickson Gracie

In the history of Vale Tudo and fighting, Rickson Gracie may be the greatest ever. He has allegedly never lost in over 300 fights within Jiu-Jitsu and Vale Tudo.

His first Vale Tudo fight took place when he was just 19 against the 150-0 Rei Zulu. Rickson would overcome the odds to beat Zulu and beat him again in a rematch.

What he is most known for is fighting in the first and second Vale Tudo Japan tournament. The second tournament of course was documented within the documentary Choke.

Thanks to Rickson’s success in the Vale Tudo Japan tournaments, the promotion Pride FC was able to be created. Not only was Rickson an all-time great fighter, but he also helped inspire the creation of MMA.

Masahiko Kimura

Masahiko Kimura is considered by many in Judo as the greatest Judoka of all time. In his Judo career, Kimura would only lose 4 matches and win several championships.

What he is most known for is his Vale Tudo match with BJJ creator Helio Gracie. When he was visiting Brazil in 1949, Gracie challenged him to a grappling match.

Kimura dominated Gracie and would break Gracie’s arm using the gyaku ude-garami. Out of respect, BJJ practitioners began calling the submission the kimura and the name has stuck ever since.

Masahiko would also fight in a series of matches with Waldemar Santana. Winning the first match and drawing in the second.

Marco Ruas

Marco Ruas is a MMA legend who started fighting within Vale Tudo. Making his fighting debut in 1984 in the first Jiu-Jitsu vs Luta Livre shows fighting for team Luta Livre.

More than half of his fighting career took place under Vale Tudo rules bouts, where he wore no gloves. Ruas went on to have a successful MMA career, including winning the UFC 7 tournament and reaching the finals of the UFC Ultimate Ultimate tournament in 1995.

Ruas would end his career in 2007 going 9-4-2. Today Ruas lives in California and runs his own academy teaching Luta Livre, Muay Thai, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Rei Zulu

Casimiro de Nascimento Martins or Rei Zulu as he was known is a famous figure within Vale Tudo. Zulu specialized in a Brazilian martial art called Tarraca and was also well versed in wrestling.

His impressive fighting career lasted nearly 50 years, where he went decades without losing. Although his actual record can’t be verified, Rei Zulu had around 200-300 Vale Tudo fights in his career. Retiring in 2009 at the age of 62.

Waldemar Santana

Waldemar Santana was another pioneer of MMA and a legend within Vale Tudo. Santana was a practitioner of several martial arts forms.

Practicing everything from Capoeira, Boxing, Jiu-Jitsu, and Luta Livre. His fighting career would last from the 1950s to the early 1970s.

During this time, Santana fought the very best fighters in the world. Including beating Helio Gracie, as well as fighting a series of matches against Carlson Gracie and Masahiko Kimura.

Early Vale Tudo training

vale tudo mma

Early Vale Tudo training was rather primitive, to say the least. Since those early fights were designed to prove which style was better, the fighters would train in their own style.

They would go through their usual training routines and thought that was enough to win their fights. Gradually as time went on, many fighters realized that this wasn’t enough to win their fights.

Towards the end of the Vale Tudo era, the training started to look like an early form of MMA training. Fighters would start learning to defend against other styles moves or even start cross-training in other disciplines.

How Vale Tudo influenced MMA

If Vale Tudo did not exist, you can argue that the sport of MMA would not exist. Through those violent no holds barred fights evolved the sport of MMA.

After the UFC began holding events, fight promoters realized that they couldn’t keep doing Vale Tudo style fights. In order to grow and reach mainstream audiences, rules and regulations had to be established.

This was how the sport of mixed martial arts began to form. Today it is a multi-billion dollar sport and it would not exist without Vale Tudo.

Vale Tudo Summary

Through Vale Tudo, numerous martial arts in Brazil were able to grow including Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Luta Livre. Not only BJJ, but the sport of MMA was able to evolve out of those no holds barred Vale Tudo fights.

We as martial artists realized that you can’t just train one discipline to be a complete martial artist. Thanks to Vale Tudo, martial arts were able to rapidly grow. Vale Tudo also gave birth to the sport of MMA.

If you enjoyed our article on Vale Tudo, share it by hitting the button below.

Photo of author

Gareth Davies

I'm a martial arts competitor and enthusiast. Over the last 15 years, I have trained and competed in several martial arts. I live in Manchester U.K working as a strength & conditioning coach when I'm not travelling and exploring martial arts around the world.
FS Banner