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Remembering Helio Gracie

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Helio Gracie, the godfather of jiu-jitsu, would have turned 100 years old Tuesday if he was alive, and many still don’t know about the battles he fought inside the ring.

Helio Gracie learned jiu-jitsu with his brother Carlos Gracie, and was one of those responsible for what we have today in MMA. He always accepted the challenges presented in Vale-Tudo – the way MMA was called in Brazil in the past – and we remember his 17 fights below.


Helio Gracie’s first fight took place in Colyseu Intenacional in 1932 against national boxing champion Antonio Portugal. Gracie quickly took him down and finished the bout with arm-lock in 40 seconds. He returned to the ring months later against judo specialist Takashi Namiki, but the fight was declared a draw after 10 10-minute rounds. Gracie asked for another bout, but Namiki declined.

In November of 1932, Gracie fought again against Fred Ebert, a 205-pound wrestler, at Sao Cristovao Atletico Clube in Rio de Janeiro. Gracie weighted 138 pounds at that time and fought Ebert for one hour and 40 minutes, but the boxing commission called the police to end the event because "it was too violent".

Two years later, the Brazilian fought Japanese grappler Taro Mysaki for 22 minutes, choking him out from the mount. Gracie fought 260-pounder Wladek Zbyszko on 1934, but the fight was declared a draw after two rounds.

Gracie returned to the ring on 1935 for the bloodiest fight of his career. Orlando Americo da Silva was 48 pounds heavier than him, but Gracie still managed to knock him out with soccer kick after 19 minutes of combat. "It was my most violent fight," Helio told Reila Gracie on her book about Carlos Gracie, "but I won."

Gracie fought again later that year against Yassuiti Ono. The Japanese fighter entered the arena saying he could defeat five members of the Gracie family in one night, and he almost submitted Helio in the first round with an arm-lock. Ono took Gracie down repeatedly, but neither one could finish the bout. After 100 minutes, the contest was declared a draw.

n 1937, Gracie entered the ring twice, fighting Takeo Yano to a draw – Yano ran away from the Brazilian for most of the fight – and submitting Massagouchi with an arm-lock. He took two more fights before focusing only in teaching jiu-jitsu, and submitted Erwin Klausner and "Espingarda".

Gracie missed fighting, so he decided to return 13 years later. He easily defeated Landulfo Caribé and Azevedo Maia by submission, but Japanese star Masahiko Kimura wanted revenge for the previous losses of his countrymen. Kimura traveled to Brazil and offered Kato as an opponent for the Gracie, which he accepted.

"When I defeat Helio they would say it was because of my weight," Kimura told the media at the time. "I’m sure Kato will also win, so that’s better that way."

Kimura stated he would fight Gracie if he defeated Karo, although he didn’t believe that would be possible. Gracie and Kato fought to a draw after 30 minutes at Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, and fought again 24 days later in Sao Paulo. This time, Helio needed only one round to choke him out.

Following the Kato bout, Kimura entered the ring and challenged Helio Gracie, and they fought one month later at Maracana. In front of 20,000 fans, including the president of Brazil Getulio Vargas, Kimura, who was 77 pounds heavier, ended up finishing the Gracie with an ude-garami, an arm-lock known today as the kimura.

At 1955, a 43-year-old Helio Gracie returned from retirement to fight his former student Waldemar Santana in Lapa, Rio de Janeiro. According to the rules, Gracie and Santana would fight until someone finished the contest. Santana, 26 years old at the time, became the first man to knock Helio Gracie out in the longest fight in the history, after 3 hours and 43 minutes.

"I prefer to get beaten like a man than win like a coward," Helio Gracie once said, "so I always tell my students that there is no shame in losing."

Father of seven, including Rickson, Rorion, Royler and Royce, Helio Gracie passed away Jan. 29, 2009 in Itaipava, Rio de Janeiro, due to pneumonia. At the time of his death, he lived with his wife.

Watch below Helio Gracie's last interview, given to MMA reporters Ana Hissa and Mario Filho: