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Rickson Gracie in crazy no-rules fight against GIANT in 1984

Rickson Gracie's legendary vale tudo beginnings.

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Rickson Gracie is an absolute martial arts legend. As a jiu-jitsu competitor, not only did he never lose, but he never failed to tap out his opponent. The last person to tap him in training was his older cousin Rolls, when he was a teenager. He never lost in MMA either, going a perfect 11-0.

And over a decade before modern MMA began, Rickson was doing Vale Tudo (Anything Goes) fights in Brazil, on the streets and beaches, in gyms, and in arenas. 

Rickson's first formal Vale Tudo fight was vs. the 215 pound Casemiro "Rei Zulu" Nascimento Martins, on April 25, 1980, in Brasília, Brazil. Rickson was barely over 160 at the time, and just 19 years old. It lasted through the first 10 minute round, and ended at 1:55 of Round 2. 

“It was by far the hardest fight of my life," said Rickson to Esporte Interativo as transcribed and translated by Gracie Mag. "In the locker room, which was shared by all fighters, I was sitting with my friends, stretching, with my back facing the door. 

Suddenly they were all gaping, looking behind me as if a ghost had come in. I didn’t look ... The guy was a giant. ... Super-endowed physically, truly like a horse. But even so, I complained to them for being intimidated by Zulu.

“As soon as the bell rang, he rushed me, with the intention of grabbing just one of my legs and throwing me overhead — a move he used to pull often. I defended myself and landed in the perfect position for a knee strike. I hit with all my might, but, even receiving the perfect knee strike in the middle of his face, which even caused him to lose a tooth, Zulu shook his head and charged again.

“When the round ended, I, covered in Zulu’s blood, got to the corner and told my dad I could not go on, that I was dead tired. He did not even hear what I said. He massaged me, and said the guy was more tired than me. I reiterated, said I felt bad, that I wouldn’t even be able to get up. Then my brother Rolls took a bucket of ice water and poured it on my head. 

"I drew a really deep breath from getting startled, and the bell rang, with them pushing me back into the ring. I went at it with the big dude again. I had the good fortune to grab him from the back and finish with a rear naked choke.

“It was a great experience. From then on, I’d always go in willing to die in my fights, but never to give up or think that I had already done enough. I will carry this until the end of my days. This made me what I am today."

Rickson Gracie in crazy no-rules fight against GIANT in 1980

Rickson Gracie in crazy no-rules fight vs Rei Zulu.

Rickson expanded on what he learned in an interview with Rickson Academy.

"I learned perhaps the greatest lesson of my life," he said. "I realized that our biggest opponent, the most powerful enemy of all of us, is inside our mind. If it were up to me, I would have stayed seated on that stool in the break. And, starting that day, I promised that I would never feed enemies in my own head, and that I would never give up when my head ordered me to. And that dying would be more acceptable than retreating."

"To beat a great challenge, and they occur daily in the life of any person, it is mandatory that you not be divided in two, that is, your heart ready to confront the problem and your mind in doubt, walking backwards. Daily, with daily practice of good old jiu-jitsu, adequate breathing, and good nutrition, you will see that your emotions and desires are in harmony, and you will be in control to make the best, and wisest, decision.”

The rematch took place on January 1, 1984, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Video of Rickson vs. Zulu 1 is apparently lost, and remains a holy grail for tape traders. However, the rematch can be watched below.

What do you think of the fight? What do you think of Rickson Gracie? Share your thoughts on Rickson vs. Zulu with The MMA UnderGround.