By Jayme Monsanto, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Mixed Martial Arts, also referred to as MMA, is one of the fastest growing combat sports in Brazil. The modality was created as a lighter version of Brazilian Vale Tudo – a full contact fighting sport with minimal rules (the Portuguese name translates to ‘Anything Goes’). Both Vale Tudo and MMA share the ideal of discovering the ultimate combination of fighting styles. In MMA, however, the rules are safer, protecting the physical integrity of the athletes more than Vale Tudo’s rough and ready matches.
The biggest Mixed Martial Arts competition is the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), based in the United States. UFC was created in 1993, and this year reached its 100th edition in a huge event in Las Vegas on July 11. MMA’s popularity has grown exponentially in the last few years. The competition is now broadcast live to 75 countries by pay-per-view, with an estimated worldwide audience of 300 Million people. This year, the television audience of UFC in Brazil has grown 73% compared to 2008, according to Combate, the cable network which broadcasts the fights.
Since the mid 90s many MMA fighters have started to practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ). The sport gained international popularity when Brazilian Royce Gracie won the first edition of UFC. Royce won three fights in the same night, defeating heavier opponents who were trained in Wrestling, Boxing, Karate and other styles. This showed the world the effectiveness of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and millions worldwide started to learn the sport.
BJJ, also known as Gracie Jiu Jitsu, was created by brothers Hélio and Carlos Gracie in the 20s. The Gracies adapted their knowledge of Japanese Jiu Jitsu to a more practical approach, intended for street fighting. Between them, Carlos and Hélio had thirty sons, all of whom dedicated their lives to the Gracie Jiu Jitsu legacy. Today, the Gracies have a martial arts empire, taught in 91 academies worldwide, most of them in Brazil and the United States.
Rio de Janeiro is home to the main academy of the Gracie empire. Located in Humaitá, the legendary Gracie Humaita Jiu Jitsu Academy was founded by Hélio Gracie, who died January 29th of this year (he was 95). The establishment is now run by two of his nine sons, Rolker and Royler, who also teach at the academy.
The next major MMA event will be the UFC 101, on August 8, at Philadelphia’s Wachovia Center. Highlights of the event include lightweight champion BJ Penn defending his crown against contender Kenny Florian and current middleweight champion Anderson “The Spider” Silva, from Brazil, testing the waters in the light-heavyweight category by challenging former champion Forrest Griffin, from the United States.
Correction: July 25th, 2009
This article was first published on July 21st with a photo credit incorrectly stated the Silva/Griffin UFC 101 fight was for a title.