“The First Ultimate Fighter” — Helio Gracie’s Fighting Career (Part Two)

As we went over last week, Helio Gracie began his competition career in 1932 with one win in a mixed-rules fight. He then recorded two draws in grappling matches.

He didn’t compete again in 1933 — in fact, he sustained a leg injury that year (Pedreira 261). His brother Oswaldo Gracie did too, when he and luta livre fighter Dudu were helping George Gracie prepare for his fight against Fred Ebert. It’s interesting to see that fighters of different styles, including the Gracies, were training together at this time. (Pedreira 247)

Helio had also been in legal trouble as well for his part in a street altercation with a luta livre man, Manoel Rufino — but he was eventually pardoned.

Helio Gracie vs. Miyaki

It was June 23, 1934 when Helio finally re-entered the ring for a jiu-jitsu match, against a man called only Miyaki.

Roberto Pedreira notes that the match took place at the same event as five boxing matches, that Helio weighed in at 65.2 kg. and Miyaki at 64.2 kg. Miyaki, while a black belt (it’s unclear which style), wasn’t seen as a serious opponent (Pedreira, 286-7). It seems Miyaki had only one previous match, which he had lost.

Reila Gracie describes Miyaki as “considered a legitimate instructor, and was thus the favorite.” (R. Gracie, 129)

In her recollection of the event, it was scheduled for two 30 minute rounds:

“Miyaki took the offensive most of the time, while Helio saved his energy… twenty two minutes into the fight, Helio surprised the Kodokan black belt with a sweep and, four minutes later, with a stranglehold that put him to sleep.”

Pedreira offers a description of the finish from Brazilian newspaper O Paiz: “Helio spent most of the round under Miyaki, but maintained a kidney-scissors position… after twenty minutes, Helio managed to get out from under Miyaki and dominated him by sitting on him… Helio managed to grab Miyaki’s kimono and strangled him with it. Miyaki didn’t tap, but passed out instead.” (Pedreira, 288-289)

My takeaway: It seems little is known about Miyaki, who disappeared after this match. But the descriptions of the bout are certainly consistent, and imply that Helio’s defensive jiu-jitsu style is developing.

Helio Gracie vs. Wladek Zbyszko 

In July 28, Helio to face pro wrestler Wladek Zbyszko in another grappling match.

Pedreira recalls it was another case of David vs. Goliath, with Zbyszko weighing in at 106 kg to Helio’s 65.3, and the match was billed as “a two 20 minute round luta livre match, specifically catch-as-catch-can vs. jiu-jitsu, with kimono, fought strictly within jiu-jitsu rules.” (Pedreira, 290)

But, he recalls, quoting a Diario de Noticias report on the bout, it was a disappointment: “Helio and Zbyszko held on to each other on the ground and did nothing” — with the wrestler unable to “break through Helio Gracie’s impenetrable guard.” It was described as disappointing, but something of a moral victory for Gracie, by A Noite. (Pedreira, 291)

The match is described in detail. Helio jumps to guard in the first round, and taken down in the second; but throughout, neither man sustains much of an attack.

The match taught, per a writer for Correio da Manha, that “Zbyszko knew nothing of jiu-jitsu, that Helio could defend himself well, and that the public does not enjoy fights in which jiu-jitsu is used.” (Pedreira, 291)

Helio was quoted as being “satisfied with the result, because he once again avoided defeat.” Zbyszko praised Helio’s courage and strength. (Pedreira, 292)

Reila recalls that the match was “uneventful and didn’t please the audience, but Helio showed great competence avoiding all of Waldek’s attacks and proved that he couldn’t be easily defeated.”

My Takeaway: The accounts aren’t too far off here either either — a giant pro wrestler does a jiu-jitsu match with Helio, and they stalemate in Helio’s guard. He’s a big name in pro wrestling, but it’s unclear what legitimate fighting credentials Zbyszko may have had. But later that year, Zbyszko would also face George Gracie, who was the most active vale tudo fighter from the Gracie family in this era — and score a submission victory in a no-gi match. Maybe it’s fair to call this draw a “moral victory” then.

Helio Gracie vs. Dudu

Next, Helio fought the luta livre fighter, Orlando Americo da Silva, aka Dudu, in a vale tudo.

Pedreira notes that Dudu had a draw with his old training partner George Gracie earlier in the year, which, Pedreira recalls, “most observers thought Dudu had really won by virtue of having dominated George.” (Pedreira, 308)

Relia’s account of the George Gracie vs. Dudu “match” is very different — in fact, she says it never happened. She describes George refusing a last minute switch from a grappling to vale tudo, and walking out. Later, George and the Gracie Academy parted ways, and Carlos challenged Dudu on behalf of Helio. (R. Gracie, 139)

At any rate, sources agree that Helio and Dudu eventually fought a vale tudo match on Feb 2 1935.

Reila recalls the bout as five 20 minute rounds with only “eye poking and strikes to the genitals” disallowed. (R. Gracie, 141) Pedreira doesn’t specify the rules, but agrees on the time allotted.

Reila recalls the two as 88 kg and 68 kg respectively (R. Gracie, 141). Pedreira recalls it at 85 and 66. (Pedreira, 310)

In Reila’s account, the two combatants exchange punches, with Dudu eventually moving to Helio’s closed guard — where Helio lands a few short punches.  The luta livre man bloodies Helio with headbutts in return. Back up, Helio takes over, landing a pair of damaging kicks, after which Dude verbally submits.

Reila also quotes a report from O Cruzeiro, which describe Dudu “bruised all over, and his face looked like a slab of raw meat.” (R. Gracie, 141)

Pedreira quotes several accounts of the bout but they’re mostly consistent with Reila’s, with the finish coming about twelve minutes into round one. He infers the bloody nature of the match bothered onlookers, who would call for a ban on vale tudo. (Pedreira, 311-312).

My Takeaway: Whatever the case in the earlier George Gracie match, Dudu seems a respected fighter of the day — and stopping him here is probably Helio’s most impressive performance.

Helio Gracie vs. Yassuiti Ono

Next was another jiu-jitsu match, against Yassuiti Ono, Dec 5, 1935.

Unlike Miyaki, Ono is no mystery. As Pedreira verifies, he’s a fifth dan Kodokan black belt — and becomes a regular on the Brazilian circuit. (Pedreira 321)

The match is five 20 minute rounds.

Pedreira quotes several media outlets which describe Ono dominating Helio — landing 32 of 35 throws in total — but failing to land a submission. He comes close with a first round arm lock. Helio is on the defensive for virtually the entire match, which ends in an official draw.

Ono is quoted after the match — saying that, of the two brothers, he finds George Gracie “the better fighter [than Helio], even if he sometimes lost, because he attacked and that is what fighters are supposed to do.” (Pedreira, 323)

Reila’s account of the match is a bit different. She describes Ono scoring 32 of 53 throws; and Helio “was defensive while Ono wore himself out attacking.” She describes close call with the arm lock in round one, but that Helio came back to “narrowly miss ending the fight” with a fourth round choke. (R.Gracie, 141)

My Takeaway: Helio’s defensive style manages another draw, his fourth in seven total appearances. But media accounts, rather than family accounts, reveal him to be more or less just surviving here.

In the documentary The Gracies & The Birth of Vale Tudo, Helio is interviewed as an old man describing his early fighting career:

“Everybody that came, I put to sleep,” Helio boasts, “until that Japanese newspaper, Nippak-Shimbun, starting recruiting fighters to beat me. Then came Kimura and Kato. When Kimura saw me, he said I won’t fight you because you are too light. Kato will fight in my place, and will do the same thing I would.”

Those famous matches took place in Helio’s return to the competition ring in 1951 after “retiring” in 1937.

But so far, he has seen more than half of his seven matches end in draws. In his wins, Helio indeed put one opponent to sleep, submitted another with an armlock, and defeated another by TKO.

He hasn’t lost though. You might draw a parallel to the more aggressive style of George Gracie, which Ono regards superior (despite suffering a loss here and there), to that of Carlson Gracie. But, that comes later.

I’ll look to wrap this up next week — as Helio suffers his only loss of the era.

Click here for Part Three of “The First Ultimate Fighter” — Helio Gracie’s Fighting Career

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.

Gracies & The Birth of Vale Tudo. A 2013 film directed by Victor Cesar Sota presented by Vale Tudo, LLC.