MMA History XIV: Boom and Bust in Brazil

When I started this series I promised to focus on what happened INSIDE the cage/ring and not all the political and business bullshit on…

By: Nate Wilcox | 16 years ago
MMA History XIV: Boom and Bust in Brazil
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When I started this series I promised to focus on what happened INSIDE the cage/ring and not all the political and business bullshit on the outside. But I’ve come to a point in the story where it’s just plain hard to do that. For one thing, in the very early days of 1993-1995 you could count the number of key events on two hands. By 1996-1997, there were dozens of major events featuring hundreds of serious fighters taking place primarily in three countries: the US, Brazil and Japan (with Russia, Holland and even Israel putting on some major shows too).

We’ll talk about events in Japan next time, this chapter is about Brazil and the era when Brazil didn’t just export talented fighters to the rest of the world, instead Brazil played host to top international talent at major events. With the UFC on the run in the states, and every attempt to compete with the UFC on PPV having failed, there just wasn’t an outlet for the sudden explosion of American MMA fighters. Between the “stars” produced by the early UFC’s and the discovery of MMA by top American wrestlers, there was a surplus of fighting talent in the states.

Unlike the early events like Desafio, Circuito de Lutas and Brazilian Vale Tudo Fighting which featured only Brazilian fighters. Promotions like the World Vale Tudo Championship, the International Vale Tudo Championship, and Universal Vale Tudo Fighting sprang up and put on many shows featuring top Brazilians and American fighters including UFC vets Dan Severn, Oleg Taktarov, Gary Goodridge, Steve Jennum and Pat Smith as well as top wrestlers (and future UFC and PRIDE fighters) like Dan Henderson, Kevin Randleman, Tom Erikson, and Mike Van Arsdale. (Watch these matches between Marco Ruas and fellow UFC vets Pat Smith and Steve Jennum).

Brazilian stars more than held their own. Whether it was jiu jitsu exponents like Renzo Gracie, Murilo Bustamante, Carlos Barreto, Wallid Ismail and Fabio Gurgel or Luta Livre champs like Hugo Duarte, Johil de Olivera, Ebenezer Fontes Braga, Pedro Otavio and Eugenio Tadeu or muy thai-based fighters like Marco Ruas, Pedro Rizzo, Wanderlei Silva and “Pele” Landi-Jons.

This golden age of Brazilian MMA reached a climax in 1997 with the ill-fated Pentagon Combat event. Funded by an Arabian sheik, it brought tops stars from around the world, and brought the old jiu jitsu vs luta livre feud to a crescendo.

Gracie Magazine has a write up

On September 27 of 1997, a major MMA event unfolds in the Tijuca Tennis Club, in the city of Rio de Janeiro. On the program are stars like Murilo Bustamante, Jerry Bohlander, Renzo Gracie, Eugenio Tadeu and Oleg Taktarov. Everything runs smoothly till the final fight, between Renzo and Eugenio. The two fight a frantic battle, and the first round ends without a hitch.

But, in the second, when the fighters are pressed up against the fence (it takes place in a pentagon, hence the name Pentagon Combat), some spectators start to slip past the security and kick the fence. This is not a normal event. Soon, rival spectators are outraged by this and enter the mix. Soon there are dozens, hundreds. Suddenly, the lights in the gymnasium go out, plastic chairs sail through the air.

There are reasons to spare for the rivalry between Jiu-Jitsu and luta livre. But how did such a grand event as Pentagon Combat come about, and why did it exploit this rivalry? For those of you that thought it improbable to find the name of Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed, founder of the ADCC, here’ a surprise. Jiu-Jitsu master Nelson Monteiro, at the time, was in the United Arab Emirates with the extremely wealthy martial arts lover, and came up with the idea of putting on a large scale event. “It wasn’t even to exploit the rivalry,” relates Nelson, now owner of two gyms in California. “Those were the days of Jerry Bohlander, UFC champion, and we started matching fights – Bohlander versus Murilo Bustamante, Oleg Taktarov versus Sean Alvarez, who was a student of mine; but the main one would be Renzo versus Eugenio. The idea was to do a big event in Brazil and, if it worked, to go on doing events sponsored by the sheikh. But, as everything went wrong, he gave up on the idea. On the other hand, for not having gone well, the Abu Dhabi submission grappling tournament idea came about – or in other words, one door closed but another opened.”

Was it worth it? Well, if we take into consideration MMA’s image – a sport that, even keeping to itself, tends to suffer prejudice – and, mainly, the fact the fight was the uncontestable cause of Tahnoon bin Zayed pulling out his financial backing of MMA, the consequences were no less than catastrophic. Could it be that beyond the Sheikh’s dollars, other masses of money wouldn’t have entered into Brazilian MMA? How big would the ADCC of MMA be? In the end, it’s all just speculation…

While for my dollar, the fight where Carlson Gracie star Murilo Bustamante KO’d the Lion’s Den’s Jerry Bohlander (pictured) was the key match [full video of the fight in the extended entry], Renzo Gracie’s legendary match with Eugenio Tadeu headlined the show for a reason. Too bad it ended in an ugly draw due to rioting. It’s also too bad that Brazilian MMA never quite recovered from the PR disaster.

Tons of fight videos in the extended entry.

I also wanted to show Johil de Oliveira’s controversial win over Jose Landi-Jons from WVC 4. If you’ve got video of that fights, please upload it and let me know!

Here’s Murilo Bustamante vs Jerry Bohlander, Pentagon Combat 1997

Here’s the infamous Pentagon Combat match between Renzo Gracie vs Eugenio Tadeu Part 1 (The rest are here: Part 2, 3, 4).

Here’s Carlos Barreto vs Kevin Randleman match from UVF 6 in March 1997. That match, which Barreto won by triangle choke, fueled the fires of BJJ fans like myself who said wrestlers were only winning against BJJ because of their size advantages.

Part 1:

Barreto vs Randleman, Part 2:

Barreto vs Randleman, Part 3:

This match from WVC 2 in November 1996 pitted Marco Ruas protege Pedro Rizzo against Lion’s Den’er Vernon White in the semis of an 8 man tourny.

And here’s a legendary early match of the “Axe Murderer”. It’s not often that the loser of a fight goes on to great things and the winner is never heard from again. Luta Livre’s Artur Mariano vs Wanderlei Silva from IVC 2 September 1997. Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Previous installments of MMA History:

XXII: Catch Wrestling and Kazushi Sakuraba’s Early PRIDE Run
XXI: The Amazing UFC Championship Run of Frank Shamrock

XX: Kazushi Sakuraba and Frank Shamrock Emerge at Ultimate Japan
XIX: The Humbled PRIDE of Nobuhiko Takada
XVIII: The Losses of Luta Livre
XVII: The Lion’s Den Roars
XVI: Rico Chiapparelli and the RAW Team
XV: Pancrase, RINGS, and Shooto 1996
XIV: Boom and Bust in Brazil
XIII: Coleman Gets His Kicks
XII: End of the UFC Glory Days
XI: Carlson Gracie’s Mighty Camp
X: The Reign of the Wrestlers
IX: Strikers Attack
VIII: From Russia With Leglocks
VII: A New Phase in the UFC
VI: A Dutch Detour
V: The Reign of Royce
IV: Rickson Brings Jiu Jitsu Back to Japan
III: Proto MMA Evolves Out of Worked Pro Wrestling in Japan
II: The Ur-Brazilian MMA Feud: BJJ vs Luta Livre and the Style They Never Saw Coming
I: UFC 1 Pancrase meets BJJ

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About the author
Nate Wilcox
Nate Wilcox

Nate Wilcox is the founding editor of As such he has hired every editor and writer to work for the site. Wilcox’s writing for BE is known for its emphasis on MMA history, the evolution of fighting techniques and strong opinions. Wilcox developed the SBN MMA consensus rankings which were featured in USA Today from 2009 to 2011. Before founding BE, Wilcox was a political operative working for such figures as Senators John Kerry and Mark Warner and an early political blogger. He is the co-author of Netroots Rising, a history of the political blogosphere from 2003 to 2007. Wilcox also hosts the Let It Roll podcast on music history for the Pantheon Podcast Network.

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