Vale Tudo

vale tudo

Vale tudo [val-ay / too-doe] (Portuguese: ‘anything goes’) are full-contact unarmed combat events, with a limited number of rules, that became popular in Brazil during the 20th century. While Vale Tudo uses techniques from many martial art styles, making it similar to modern mixed martial arts competitions, it is a distinct style in its own right. Fighting sideshows, termed ‘Vale Tudo,’ became popular in Brazilian circuses during the 1920s.

Examples of such bouts were described in the ‘Japanese-American Courier’ in 1928: ‘One report from São Paulo 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, and 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 subsequently broke the man’s arm. Consequently, this show was canceled and soon replaced by a professional wrestling show entitled, ‘Telecatch.’

From 1960 onwards, Vale Tudo would remain a mostly underground subculture, with most fights taking place in martial arts dojos or small gymnasiums. The Vale Tudo subculture was mainly based in Rio de Janeiro, but many fights also took place in the northern region, as well as 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, whereas fights in the other regions featured more diverse martial arts competing in the events.

During the 1970s, Rorion Gracie of the famous Gracie family would eventually emigrate to the United States and introduce Vale Tudo to a new market when he helped found the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in 1993. The enormous success of the UFC created a Vale Tudo explosion around the world, particularly in Japan, as well as a resurgence and newfound popularity back in Brazil. Some of the most noteworthy promotions of this time included, Desafio, Universal Vale Tudo Fighting (UVF), and Brazilian Vale Tudo Fighting (BVF) in Brazil and various Shooto sanctioned vale tudo events in Japan, the most important of which was Vale Tudo Japan. However, the premier organizations of the 1990s were 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. Both the WVC and IVC were based out of 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 fights from being a sanctioned sport, both promotions went into decline and have not promoted a show since 2002.

Beginning in the early 2000s, newer promotions such as Jungle Fight and Bitetti Combat have begun abandoning traditional Vale Tudo rules in favor of the safer mixed martial arts rules. However, some promotions continued the use of traditional rules most notably including Meca World Vale Tudo and Rio Heroes. Today, Vale Tudo events are still taking place in great numbers around Brazil. However, 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 much safer mixed martial arts rules that have developed and gained athletic sanctioning in countries such as the United States and Japan. Supporters of Vale Tudo counter that the sanctioned mixed martial arts style that developed in the United States 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.

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