The Importance of BJJ in MMA

The Importance of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in MMA

The first steps of MMA were given in the 1920’s Brazil and this events were called “Vale Tudo” (anything goes). They were unsanctioned bouts with no rules (eye gouging and strikes to the groin were allowed) no gloves, no weight categories and most of the times they did not have a time limit either. It was in these bouts that the Gracie’s made their mark and created a name for themselves throughout the nation. As the sport progressed, a few tweaks were made to these Vale Tudo matches, but nowhere near what the sport is today.

3rd Degree BJJ Black Belt Professor Rodrigo Teixeira Teaching No Gi BJJ at BJJ India
In the early days, when these matches started occurring, Jiu Jitsu’s greatest opponent was Luta Livre, a style of submission grappling used in Brazil. As the popularity of Vale Tudo grew, so did the rivalry between these two opposing styles, so much that many street fights between students of both martial arts and even Dojo storming were common practice.

Arun Sharma Training Under His Master, Professor Rodrigo Teixeira

In the 1984 an attempt to settle the affair was made with the “Jiu Jitsu vs Martial Arts” event being held where several important figures of Jiu Jitsu were put up against fighters of other trades (but mainly Luta Livre). The result was inconclusive and the unfriendly Banta continued, until 1991, one of the most important events in the history of Vale Tudo/MMA was held to decide once and for all which was the best martial art in Brazil, the name of the event was “Desafio – Jiu-Jitsu vs. Luta Livre” (BJJ vs Luta Livre Challenge). 3 fighters were chosen from each style to compete against each other in a Vale-Tudo match with no time limits, the fighters from BJJ were Wallid Ismail, Murilo Bustamante and Fabio Gurgel against Eugenio Tadeu, Marcelo Mendes and Denilson Maia from Luta Livre. Jiu Jitsu won all three fights, a major feather on the cap of BJJ’s community who became broadly considered the stronger style.

While the Brazilian Vale Tudo panorama was roaring, the same was not happening in the United States. It was again through the Gracie family’s efforts that the sport was put in its place. The Gracie’s had seen a market for their Jiu Jitsu style in America, and they established an academy in California. In trying to prove that their style was the best martial art available, the Gracie’s developed a No Holds Barred event, the concept being designed by Rorion Gracie, this event was named Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), and it had the same principle as the Vale Tudo events back in Brazil. The first champion to emerge from this event was Royce Gracie, who later became a UFC Hall of Fame. The brand name and the event itself would suffer severe changes to the rule set, such as the inclusion of gloves, the Kimono (Gi) being stripped, the time frame and striking limitations added and so on and so forth. With time the fighters became more well rounded learning all facets of the game. Today, though less relevant than it was in the past, Jiu Jitsu is still one of the most important disciplines in the sport.

If the sport started in the US in the early 1990’s, the same seemed to happen in Japan around the same time. Considered the birth nation of Martial Arts, Japan would seem to have a head start when it came to No Holds Barred; the Japanese were serious about striking martial arts and ground fighting with their Karate and Kosen Judo schools. Still, when MMA (Vale Tudo) emerged in Japan, another Gracie name rose above all others, the name of Rickson Gracie. Considered by many the greatest BJJ competitor of all time, Rickson remained undefeated throughout his career, and once again cemented the Gracie name and the Jiu Jitsu style in that country.