“The First Ultimate Fighter” — Helio Gracie’s Fighting Career, Part Three

(If you haven’t already, please check out “The First Ultimate Fighter” — Helio Gracie’s Fighting Career, Parts One and Two.)

We’re picking up in the summer of 1936, where in four years on the Brazilian fight circuit, Helio Gracie has earned a total record of three wins and four draws.

Most of his competitions have been grappling-only, somewhat to my surprise. But there have been a few vale tudo matches as well — most notably, a TKO victory over luta livre fighter Orlando Americo da Silva, aka Dudu.

At this point, he is undefeated, but not exactly dominant.

Do things pick up from here, though? Read on…

Helio Gracie vs. Takeo Yano

Like Helio’s previous opponent Yassuito Ono, sources agree that Yano is a black belt from the Kodokan who became a regular of the Brazilian fight sports scene. He’s also active as a jiu-jitsu instructor. The previous year, Yano had a jiu-jitsu match with Helio’s brother George, which ended in a draw.

Per Pedreira’s account, Yano weighed in at 69.3 kg (152 lbs.), and Helio at 65.7 (131 lbs.). This meeting, which was also a jiu-jitsu match, was held at Estadio Brasil on June 13, 1936.

Media accounts agree on the match being monotonous, and Yano dominating the standup exchanges. One account has Gracie attempting chokes late in the match unsuccessfully. But another blames Yano for the bout’s slow pace, noting: “his fighting spirit left much to be desired.” (Pedreira 332)

Reila Gracie describes Yano “spent most of it refusing to engage with Helio, and the Estadio Brasil crowd booed him mercilessly.” (Gracie 150)

Helio Gracie vs. Massagoichi

On September 12, 1936, Helio Gracie returned to competition to face a man known only as “Massagoichi” in another jiu-jitsu match.

We know little of Massagoichi, but in Brazilian media accounts which Pedreira provides, he’s described as an undefeated jiu-jitsu and sumo practitioner from Japan. Pedreira notes that the match took place at Estadio Brasil and was scheduled for three 20 minute rounds; Helio weighed in a 66 kg (145 lbs.) to Massagoichi’s 86 (189 lbs.). (Pedreira 341-343).

Helio won by armlock at the 12 minute mark in what is described as “a comedy and a fraud” in one media account. Massagoichi was suspended by the Brazilian Federation of Pugilism for 90 days for “not doing what he should have” (Pedreira 343) — which seems to imply he just didn’t do much.

Helio Gracie vs. Yassuiti Ono 2

Helio met Yassuiti Ono for the second time on October 3, 1936 at Stadium Brasil.

In their first encounter, Helio struggled with the standup exchanges with the Kodokan black belt Ono — finding himself thrown, over and over again, to the mat. But it ended in a draw when neither man could score a submission as the action moved to the ground.

Ono is recalled as weighing in at 64.6 kg (142 lbs.) to Helio’s 68.3 (150 lbs.) (Pedreira 345).

Reila Gracie recalls that this second meeting, which was also a jiu-jitsu match, was similar. “The result wasn’t very different this time around. They drew again, to the general disappointment of the audience, which had hoped for a different outcome this time around.” (Gracie, 153)

One media account described the draw as a “fair outcome” and infers Gracie did better this time against Ono. (Pedreira 346)

But Pedreira also offers an account of the bout from Frank Wright of Diario de Noticias, which paints a different picture:

“Ono constantly had Gracie in difficulty and Gracie can thank his lucky stars for the draw. Gracie did not score one single effective hold and was content to remain on the defensive. Points for this fight were not counted, for if they had been, victory would have gone to Ono.” (Pedreira 346)

Helio Gracie vs. Dudu 2

Orlando Americo da Silva, aka Dudu, and Helio had met before in a vale tudo, where Helio scored a TKO victory over the luta livre champion. The victory appears to be Helio’s most significant win — stopping a larger opponent (Dudu had about a 20 kg, or 44 lb, weight advantage) who is a regular on the Brazilian circuit.

Their rematch, a grappling-only affair, took place January 13, 1937 in Bello Horizonte. Pedreira offers the only account of this match, dubbed Campeonato de Luta Livre:

“It was a straight grappling contest, and per the regulations of sport luta livre, striking techniques were not allowed. Helio applied a prohibited technique, as a result of which, the referee awarded the bout to Dudu.” (Pedreira 350)

Helio Gracie vs. Ervin Klausner

Helio had his last match of the decade on Sept 26, 1937, in Bello Horizonte against Ervin Klausner.

Klausner was a heavyweight boxer who had earned a 20-7-3 professional record from 1926-1935 per his profile on BoxRec. Pedreira describes him as having luta livre experience as well: “At one point, he was considered to be one of the best luta livre fighters in Sao Paulo.”(Pedreira 362)

It certainly sounds like an interesting opponent for a vale tudo bout against Helio. Unfortunately, Pedreira describes, they met in a jiu-jitsu match, complete with kimonos.

“As usual with reports outside of Rio,” Pedreira writes, “details are sketchy, other than the fact that Helio won by armlock in the second round.” (Pedreira, 361-362)

Helio would stop competing and focus on instruction, before finally returning to the ring in the 1950’s.

My Takeaway: Helio Gracie ends the 1930’s with five wins, six draws, and one loss (by disqualification). Personally, I had expected a bit more vale tudo, and a few more wins by submission. But, it’s nothing to scoff at. The Gracie brothers are a force on the Brazilian scene, and Helio is a big part of that.

But as results go, it seems more of the same this week as in our previous installments. Helio has developed a defensive jiu-jitsu style, potent enough to earn submission wins against locals lacking submission knowledge. So far, it’s generally not enough to beat the best of his day — for example, his encounters with verified Kodokan black belts in jiu-jitsu matches which all end in draws. But it’s enough to survive with them.

At decade’s end, it seems the TKO win over Dudu remains his biggest accomplishment as a competitor.

In the 1950’s, Helio would return to competition for his most famous matches — jiu-jitsu matches against Masahiko Kimura and Yukio Kato, and a vale tudo against Waldemar Santana.

Works Cited:

Gracie, Reila. Carlos Gracie, Creator of a Fighting Dynasty. RG Art Publishing, 2013.

Pedreira, Roberto. Choque: The Untold Story of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil Volume 1 1856-1949. GTR Publications, 2013.