Vale Tudo: Ultimate Guide to Rules, 7 Champions & History

Vale Tudo influenced modern fighting more than perhaps any other fighting style, But, nowadays many people don’t know exactly what Vale Tudo is anymore. Understanding the role and dominance of Vale Tudo is the history of fighting helps you understand which fighting styles are dominant today and why. So, in this post we explain what Vale Tudo is, how it developed, who were Vale Tudo champions and how Vale Tudo compared to other martial arts.

Contents of this article

Vale Tudo

What is Vale Tudo

Vale Tudo is a Portuguese mixed martial art that precedes modern MMA. The name ‘Vale Tudo’ is Portuguese and literally means ‘valid everything’ in English, which is often translated to ‘everything goes’. Vale Tudo includes grappling and striking techniques, both on the ground and in the standing position. But, it’s a form of unarmed combat.

Vale Tudo Rules

The rules of vale tudo are very basic. The match lasts until one person is knocked out, surrenders or can no longer continue to fight. There are no rounds, time limits or weight classes. The only rule is that there are no rules, which means that any type of attack is permitted. A competitor can only win by knockout, submission or referee stoppage.

Nevertheless, some Vale Tudo organizations put in basic rules, such as no eye gouging and groin strikes. These rules depend on the organization.

History of Vale Tudo

The origins of Vale Tudo date back to the beginning of the 20th century in Brazil. The early Vale Tudo matches were often held in places like carnivals or circuses. It was considered to be a form of “freestyle fighting” in the beginning. No rules were used in the matches. The participants in the match used wrestling, boxing, savate, Muay Thai, judo, jiu-jitsu, etc. to win the match.

Vale Tudo matches were often held between jiu-jitsu practitioners and judo practitioners. The matches were held to determine which style of fighting was superior. Vale Tudo was not considered to be a sport. The participants were often just local martial artists.

Famous Vale Tudo Fighters

Vale Tudo has produced many famous fighters and champions in the UFC. These fighters shaped the evolution of fighting by their character and techniques. Let me name some of the most influential Vale Tudo fighters in the UFC and in history.

Rickson Gracie

Rickson Gracie is one of the most famous fighters who practiced Vale Tudo. Rickson is the son of Helio Gracie, the founder of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Rickson won almost all of his fights through submission.

Helio Gracie

Helio Gracie is the founder of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He was the first Gracie to study Ju Jitsu under Otávio Mitsuyo Maeda, who is known as the father of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Helio Gracie is also the first Gracie to fight in Vale Tudo.

Royce Gracie

Royce Gracie is the youngest son of Helio Gracie. He is known for popularizing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in the USA. He became the first UFC champion at the age of 20 after defeating three opponents in one night.

Otávio Mitsuyo Maeda

Maeda was one of the students of Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo. He migrated to Brazil in 1915 and started teaching Judo to the Gracie family.

Maeda is known for having taught the Gracie family the art of applying leverage to defeat larger opponents through the use of joint locks, throws, and chokeholds.

Euclydes “Tatu” Hatem

Euclydes “Tatu” Hatem is a famous Vale Tudo fighter who fought several MMA legends in the 1930s and 40s. Among his opponents are George Gracie, a famous Gracie jiu jitsu fighter at the time.

Hatem fought in Vale Tudo matches but called his style ‘Luta Livre’, which translates to free wrestling. He also referred to his style as catch wrestling and submission wrestling.

Masahiko Kimura

Masahiko Kimura is a famous judoka who fought in many Vale Tudo fights. He was famous for his figure four arm lock, which he called the ‘Kimura lock’. He broke Helio Gracie’s arm with this lock in a legendary match.

Marco Ruas

Marco Ruas is another famous Vale Tudo fighter. He was the UFC Champion in 1993 and held the title for almost a year. 

Ruas was a big and strong fighter with great wrestling and ground and pound techniques. He was a complete fighter. His master was Hatem, the founder of the Luta Livre fighting style.

Vale Tudo highlight

Wanderlei Silva

Wanderlei Silva is also a Vale Tudo fighter. He now practices modern MMA, but started as a Vale Tudo fighter. Wanderlei is also a former PRIDE FC champion.

Silva’s career is one of the most exciting ones in the history of MMA. He has fought in PRIDE FC, K-1 and many other MMA leagues.

Vale tudo moves and techniques

Vale Tudo is a mixed martial art and thus includes techniques from sports like muay thai, wrestling, judo, BJJ and karate. In that sense, Vale Tudo doesn’t have any moves of itself, it only borrows from other arts. Nevertheless, some moves that are popular in Vale Tudo are:

  • Side kick to the knees: the perfect kick to keep your distance, popularized by Bruce Lee.
  • Vale Tudo guard: the closed guard position from BJJ, but while keeping the opponent close to prevent strikes.
  • Double leg takedown: the most basic takedown to get your opponent to the floor.
  • Double underhook clinch takedown: another basic takedown, that’s safer because you’re to close to get punched.
  • Ground and pound from mount: after taking the opponent down, the Vale Tudo fighter uses ground and pound to punish him and provoke submission opportunities.
  • Rear naked choke: after the opponent turns their back, the Vale Tudo fighter goes for the choke.
Vale tudo - Techniques

Vale tudo belt system

Vale Tudo is a form of free fighting, and doesn’t have one unified belt system. However, in the early days of Vale Tudo, many of its champions identified as Brazilian jiu jitsu practitioners. As such, they often held a black belt in BJJ.

There are many belt systems in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and most of them are coloured differently. The most common belt system is the white, blue, purple, brown and black. A white belt is a beginner and a black belt and expert.

Vale Tudo and other martial arts

To understand what Vale Tudo is, it’s useful to compare it to other martial arts. So I’l now compare Vale Tudo to some other popular martial arts.

Vale tudo vs MMA

MMA is a modern fighting style that resembles Vale Tudo, but it’s not Vale Tudo. The difference between MMA and Vale Tudo is that modern MMA has more rules and regulations, such as the use of gloves and weight categories. But, mixed martial arts fighters in the UFC have way more developed techniques than their earlier Vale Tudo counterparts.

Vale tudo vs karate

Karate is a Japanese martial art that focuses mainly on striking and kicking. Karate also has a grappling component, but it’s not as developed as in Vale Tudo. Also, in some forms of Karate not all types of strikes are allowed.

Vale tudo vs muay thai

Muay Thai is a martial art from Thailand that focuses mainly on kicking. In Muay Thai, the use of knees and elbows is allowed. But, the grappling aspect of Muay Thai is limited only to some trips and throws.

Vale tudo vs BJJ

BJJ is the Brazilian jiu jitsu martial art, which focuses on ground fighting and grappling. BJJ is a more modern and technical grappling martial art than Vale Tudo and has a lot more rules and regulations. But, Vale Tudo and BJJ share some similarities and origins.

Vale Tudo vs Boxing

Vale Tudo is a much more violent sport than boxing, as it allows techniques such as striking the groin of an opponent. It also allows grappling and kicking techniques. So Vale Tudo is much more allround than boxing.

Vale tudo vs krav maga

Krav maga is a modern martial art that was developed in the 20th century. It has techniques that are used in real life combat situations. Krav maga is effective for self-defense, but it doesn’t include some techniques that Vale Tudo fighters use, such as takedowns and ground fighting. It also doesn’t include full force sparring. But, it includes weapon defense, which Vale Tudo doesn’t.

Vale tudo vs jiu jitsu

Vale Tudo is the original form of the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Jiu Jitsu is a grappling martial art that focuses on submissions. Jiu Jitsu has a large emphasis on ground fighting, and it’s a much smaller art than Vale Tudo. Vale Tudo is closer to the original jiu jitsu from Japan, which included more strikes.

Vale tudo vs UFC

UFC fights are always in the Octagon. Vale Tudo fights can happen in back rooms of shady places and may or may not be in a ring. Vale Tudo fights also typically don’t involve weight classes. So the range of things that can happen in a valid judo fight or way bigger than in a UFC fight.

Vale Tudo vs Kung Fu

Vale Tudo is similar to Kung Fu in that both use striking and grappling techniques. But, Vale Tudo has a lot more striking techniques and doesn’t include weapons. Also, Vale Tudo is more of a sport, whereas Kung Fu is more about self-defense.

Vale Tudo vs Kickboxing

Vale Tudo and kickboxing are both striking martial arts, but they’re very different. Kickboxing is a sport and Vale Tudo is more of a free-for-all street fight. Kickboxing is more about punching and kicking, while Vale Tudo is about grappling and ground and pound techniques. Kickboxing is also a lot more organized than Vale Tudo.

Is Vale Tudo still a thing?

Vale Tudo is still actively practised in Brazil and it’s unlikely that it will ever completely disappear. Large organizations such as the UFC and Bellator institutionalise free fighting, which makes the demand for Vale Tudo fights by small and local organizations smaller. But, mankind has been fighting since the dawn of our species, and we’ll likely never stop.