The rivalry in Brazil between Luta Livre and BJJ was one that spanned decades, with the two styles of fighting meeting head-to-head in combat constantly, vying for supremacy in the martial arts world. One of the most well-known fights in Vale Tudo history in the country was the battle between Renzo Gracie and Eugenio Tadeu, bet few realize how history this particular fight had.
As told in Marcelo Alonso and Susumu Nagao’s book, “From Vale Tudo to MMA“, towards the end of the 1980’s, Marco Ruas was one of the top Luta Livre fighters, training some of the best soldiers in his martial arts army that he could gather. With rumors flying around that Rickson Gracie would be transplanting himself and his family to move closer to Rorion in the US to continue to spread BJJ, tension between the two camps grew, with one hoping to maintain their status, and the other looking to dethrone the champs.
Helio Gracie, already in his 80’s, stormed the Boqueirao do Passeio club where many Luta-Livre fighters trained, throwing down a challenge on the spot to their top students. Although no brawls ensued on that day, the spark was lit, as one of Ruas’ proteges, Hugo Duarte, decided to strike back by storming the Gracie Academy a few months later. Less than a week after RIckson had fought and defeated him under auspicious terms (Duarte maintains that when Rickson challenged to fight him on a beach, many Gracie BJJ guys surrounded him during the match, kicking him and throwing sand in his eyes), Duarte and a few of his teammates rolled into the school with 50 of his own fighters and demanded a fight then and now.
RIckson promptly defeated Duarte, but the ensuing scuffle and noise forced neighbors to call the police. The authorities came just as Royler Gracie had begn to fight one of Duarte’s top students, Eugenio Tadeu, but that did little to settle their feud. Days after the police raided their fights, Rickson challenged Tadeu to a match and the pair fought to a 50-minute draw.
Rickson soon left Brazil to go to the US, but the feud continued without his participation. In 1991, Ruas, Duarte, Tadeu, and a few other men made a challenge during the Nastra Cup to Wallid Ismail and his group of fighters, which would include Fabio Gurge, Amaury Bitetti and Murilo Bustamante. The event, “Desafio – Jiu-Jitsu VS Luta Livre”, went down in August in Rio de Janeiro, and drew much attention in the country, but of course, it did little to end this feud.
Renzo Gracie was new to the world of fighting when this event happened, but by the late ’90’s was making a big name for himself and continuing to bring his family’s style of BJJ around the early no-holds-barred fight world. Much like the sport had been evolving, the coverage of it had also grown and improved. More Brazilian promotions were bringing international talent like Dan Henderson and Kevin Randleman to fight under their banners, such as the IVC and Universal Vale Tudo Fighting company. A group of Middle-Eastern investors, including Sheik Tahnoon Bin Zayed, decided to put on their own event in the hopes of closing a chapter on the feud between BJJ and Luta Livre. That event was Pentagon Combat.
Scheduled for September 27, 1997, the event featured some big name talent, with matches like Murilo Bustamante, Jerry Bohlanders, Oleg Taktarov, and Ricardo Morais. After a huge knockout win over Taktarov a year earlier, Renzo would be featured in the main event, where he would risk his undefeated streak against Tadeu. There was bad blood between the two fighters with their respective camps engaging in constant warfare, so it made sense to lock these two inside a cage.
“We fought one of the best fights ever,” Renzo said in the documentary about him, “Renzo Gracie: Legacy “. “It was one of the best because I beat the crap out of him through the whole fight but i couldn’t finish him. [Tadeu] had oil all over his body, he was slippery more than a fish and the floor was made of vinyl, so whenever my back touched, i could not find the ground there again… It looked like those jell-o fights you see women do on TV.”
The fight is something to behold, with the two men going to war as expected when there is so much emotion behind it. However, the part that everyone remembers most is the audience, that was so heated up for this match could not contain themselves. As the fight unfolds, the audience slowly creeps closer and closer to the cage, eventually jumping onto the apron and pushing and shoving their way until they were grasping onto the fence. Renzo remembers the tension well, as well as what set off an arena full of fans into a horrific scene:
“Suddeny, I start getting hit by people outside the cage, they start kicking me and every time I had my head against the fence, they would kick me in the head and punch me. But, there was a couple of guys that kept insulting me all the time, they were right against the fence, and one of the moments that the fight broke and the ref pulled us apart and told us to stand up, I see this guy sticking his head right inside the cage over the fence, cursing me, so I pretend I was looking to my opponent and I land a straight shot right between his nose. the moment he fell down from the fence, my brother got him and the whole riot broke from there. It was like 400 people fighting at the same time. It was an unbelievable experience.”
The clip of the riot was broadcast on national TV, adding fuel to the fire in America to ban the sport (which was currently blacklisted in the US on TV’s). Renzo’s fight against Tadeu would be his final bare-knuckle fight, and a day later he was off to Japan for two weeks to make his debut in Pride FC on their debut show, where he fought Akira Shoji to a draw. Tadeu would make his American debut about seven months later at UFC 17, where Mikey Burnett would defeat him by TKO. The feud between Luta Livre and BJJ essentially fizzled away at this point in MMA history, with the industry changing at the same time as the fighters were evolving their skills. However, the battles that these two camps waged against each other helped to push MMA into the limelight in Brazil and introduced the sport to thousands of Brazilians, changing a nation with the martial arts.
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