Considered the realest vale tudo event of the modern era, the International Vale Tudo Championship (IVC) promoted by Sergio Batarelli was known for its trademark eight-man tournaments, bringing together the very best Brazilian and American fighters, representing muay Thai, wrestling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu or luta livre.
Among the 13 editions of IVC promoted by Batarelli, none had a bracket as balanced and bloody as the middleweight tournament at IVC 5, who took place on April 26, 1998 in the auditorium of the luxurious Melia Hotel Sao Paulo. Among the participants were Brazilians Jorge Pereira (BJJ), Jose Landi-Jons (muay Thai/Chute Boxe), Johil de Oliveira (luta livre/Budokan), Milton Bahia (kickboxing), Eric Tavares (boxing) and Carlos Danilo (luta livre/Budokan). To represent American wrestling, the promoter brought Darrell Gholar, Brian Rainey and Gerald Taylor.
The history of vale tudo in Brazil is marked by the dominance of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and the Gracie family. Helio and George Gracie in the 40s and 50s; Carlson in the 60s and 70s. From the 80s on it was time for a generation of Gracie students including Wallid Ismail, Fabio Gurgel and Murilo Bustamante to take the responsibility defeating luta-livre at the historic Desafio 1991, broadcast live on Globo TV nationwide.
In the late 90s, however, a new power started to show up. After Jose Landi-Jons, representing Curitiba’s Chute Boxe, picked up two wins over Jorge Patino, the most renowned name in jiu-jitsu in Sao Paulo, the Rio de Janeiro jiu-jitsu community began to realize that this team could be a new threat to their supremacy.
IVC 5 was seen as a real test for the new power from Curitiba. The fact is that even though he was a good vale tudo fighter, “Macaco” Patino was still a BJJ brown belt, not considered by Rio de Janeiro jiu-jitsu community as a descendent of the Gracie lineage. When the veteran Pereira, a Rickson Gracie black belt, decided to enter the tournament jiu-jitsu community was anxious to see him face the new talent from Curitiba. Aware of that, Batarelli put Pereira and “Pele” on the same side of the bracket. If they both won their first fight, their anticipated second round matchup would decide the finalist.
Landi-Jons vs. Pereira: Chute Boxe and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in the Semifinal
Neither man had an easy task, facing off against American wrestlers in their quarterfinals. “Pele” opened the tournament, beating Gerald Taylor in very impressive fashion. Before getting the knockout, however, the Brazilian was taken down twice. After neutralizing Taylor’s ground-and-pound, Landi-Jons stood up again and imposed his game, making Batarelli stop the fight at 13 minutes, 34 seconds. Pereira was also easily thrown to the canvas by wrestler Brian Rainey, but the Brazilian black belt used his excellent guard game to avoid the American’s ground strikes and, after making him tired with sweeps and leg lock attempts, took his back and submitted with a rear-naked choke at 11 minutes, 51 seconds.
De Oliveira vs. Gholar: The Best Fight of the Night
The most highly-credentialed wrestler in the tournament was definitely Gholar, who was on the other side of the bracket facing luta-livre ace de Oliveira, from Budokan school. Even at age 36, Gholar had a great debut in vale tudo. A two-time Pan-American Games silver medalist with wins over Randy Couture and Dan Henderson, Gholar started giving de Oliveira a very hard time, joining impressive throws with his ground-and-pound game.
Supported by the crowd, de Oliveira resisted and after the first six minutes, was able to force a standup fight where he used his greater experience to make the fight balanced again. But while de Oliveira used low kicks to bring trouble to the wrestler, the explosive Gholar was also able to knock down the Brazilian twice with his impressive punching power.
After 30 minutes of nonstop action that drove the audience into a frenzy, de Oliveira was declared winner via decision, which caused Gholar to erupt. “That was not fair. Look at his face. He is broken. I want a new fight. I could keep that fight going if he accepts. I accept to face any Brazilian, but I want Johil first,” Gholar told me right after the fight.
De Oliveira recognized his opponent’s excellent, but supported the decision. “I clearly won first 20 minutes and he won the last 10. That was a fair decision. But for sure he is the strongest man I’ve ever faced. With my technique and his power I’m able to beat anyone in the world,” he said. De Oliveira was forbidden by the ringside doctors to continue in the tournament, so alternate Carlos Danilo, his teammate from Budokan, took his place against Milton Bahia in the semifinal.
Gholar and the Brazilian Wrestling Revolution
In 2002, Four years after his debut at IVC 5, Gholar started to give wrestling classes in Los Angeles at a gym called Beverly Hills Jiu-Jitsu Club, where he was introduced by owner Marcus Vinicius de Lucia to Vitor Belfort. “The Phenom” was very impressed by Gholar’s wrestling instruction and invited him to come to Rio de Janeiro to train him to face Tito Ortiz.
In that period Gholar also began to train Murilo Bustamante, Mario Sperry, Vitor Ribeiro and many other BJJ black belts. Enchanted by the city and its life style and treasured by his students, Gholar began to give regular classes at Brazilian Top Team and Nova Uniao, and was directly responsible for a big improvement in Brazilian wrestling that could be seen in the UFC, Pride and Shooto in the following year. After the end of Pride era, however, a big crisis impacted Brazilian MMA world and Gholar had to return to California. But even today he is still remembered and praised by the entire Brazilian MMA community as “The Man” who brought Brazilian MMA wrestling to another level.
“The Warrior Doesn’t Bleed, He Drips Honor.”
The jiu-jitsu community packed Melia Hotel Auditorium expecting the semifinal between “Pele” and Pereira. The Rickson Gracie black belt, who had defeated Ebenezer Braga in a light heavyweight vale tudo tournament, was considered the favorite against the man who twice knocked out the biggest jiu-jitsu hero in Sao Paulo, Jorge “Macaco,” declaring himself “the jiu-jitsu terror.”
When the fight started, Pereira immediately looked for the clinch but ended up being taken down by Landi-Jons, who jumped over his guard trying to stomp his face. From that point on, “Pele” started to clown, blowing kisses and throwing his opponent off mentally by offering him a hand to stand up and fight.
Pereira accepted and stood back up. In the first clinch attempt, however, Pereira was surprised by a knee strike that opened a big cut on his eyelid. The impressive blood flow obliged the doctor to stop the combat at 8 minutes, 15 seconds. Knowing that there was so much on the line in the fight, Pereira tried to convince the doctor, even doing push-ups, but there was no way. “I was in perfect condition. A warrior doesn’t bleed, he drips honor. I´ll have great pleasure in finishing that fight with ‘Pele’ at IVC 6 or, if he wants, behind closed doors,” the black belt told me backstage.
Ismail Beats a Wrestler and Challenges ‘Pele’
Before the great final, Batarelli produced a superfight between Carlson Gracie black belt Wallid Ismail and 220-pound American wrestler Gary Myers. Four months before IVC 5, Ismail had defeated de Oliveira in another superfight.
The fight between Ismail and Myers was really boring with both clinched most of the 30 minutes in the corner exchanging punches and knees. With three minutes left, Ismail finally was able to take Myers down and, when he was passing to mount, the bell rang and Ismail was declared winner via unanimous decision. Also known for his ability to produce headlines, Ismail used the microphone to attack “Pele,” who had just defeated his jiu-jitsu rival Pereira and would step in the ring next to win the tournament. “I always treat my opponents in the same manner: I let their wings grow, to cut them later. The next on the list will be ‘Pele,’ who is talking too much. It’s past time to cut his wings.”
Unfortunately, the fight between two of the best Brazilian trash talkers of all time never happened. A few years later, the veteran Ismail retired and, as promoter of Jungle Fight, resolved the rivalry with “Pele,” bringing him to headline many editions of his show: Jungle Fight 3, 4, 5 and 6.
‘Pele’ Wins, Announces ‘Chute Boxe Era’
After defeating Eric Tavares with head butts at 12:52 in his first fight, aggressive kickboxer Milton Bahia had no problem beating the alternate Carlos Danilo and advancing to the final against Landi-Jons.
In the all-striker final, the better ground game of “Pele” was the difference. Having trained jiu-jitsu for the past two years with Helio “Soneca” Moreira, a disciple of Carlos Gracie and Machado brothers, “Pele” took Bahia down easily and decided the fight with punches from the guard at 3:48. With three wins via TKO in the most dfficult middleweight tournament ever produced in Brazil, Landi-Jons asked for the microphone to declare the beginning of a new era in front of a silent jiu-jitsu crowd.“What you saw here today is the beginning of an era. From now on Chute Boxe team will dominate the world. I´m just one soldier, but master Rudimar has representatives in every division,” he declared prophetically. In the coming years, Wanderlei Silva, Rafael Cordeiro, Anderson Silva, Murilo Rua, Mauricio Rua and Cris Cyborg would prove “Pele” right. Even today, no other team in MMA and vale tudo history has produced so many champions in different organizations as Chute Boxe.