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In the second of three features JOE looks at back at UFC 17.5 in Brazil and why the triumphant return took so long With Brazil’s rich fighting history it seems strange that after staging an event there in 1998 coupled with so many successful Brazilian fighters in the promotion the Ultimate Fighting Championship would wait 13 years to return. Especially when you consider the UFC was founded by Rorion Gracie from Brazil’s first family of fighting. While the ramshackle event staged by the previous UFC owner, Semaphore Entertainment Group can be partly blamed, an unfortunate event staged in 1997 can take most of the blame. As Brazilian Jiu Jitsu continued to grow in popularity in Brazil a rival sport was founded to take on the Gracie’s martial art head to head. BJJ was seen as a sport for the middle and upper classes as the uniform or gi was quite expensive and the classes at the academies had to be paid for. Luta Livre (Portuguese for free fighting) is a form of no-gi submission grappling that was created in Brazil in the 1940’s an adopted by the working class looking to learn how to fight. The founder of the sport Euclydes "Tatu" Hatem fought and defeated George Gracie in a Vale Tudo match in the late 1940’s and the rivalry was born. Through the decades important BJJ v Luta Livre Vale Tudo fights occurred featuring the kings in each sport. Usually whole events were staged to showcase BJJ versus Luta Livre fights. Some of the more noteworthy fights didn’t even occur at legitimate shows. Rickson Gracie, considered the Gracie family’s finest fighter beat Hugo Duarte, protege of Vale Tudo legend Marco Ruas, twice in significant fights - once on the beach and then in the street behind a Gracie Academy in Huimata. Royler Gracie fought a 50 minute draw with Eugenio Tadeau behind closed doors in a gym. All of which contributed to the rivalry reaching a peak in a tennis club in 1997. Pentagon Combat was established with the hope of becoming Brazil’s and then the world’s premier mixed martial arts promotion. The promotion was being bankrolled by a wealthy Sheik from the United Arab Emirates who would go on to set up the Abu Dabai Combat Club, which is the world cup of submission grappling. The promotions debut event was held in September 1997 in the Tijuca Tennis Club, Rio de Janeiro the card boasted some of the biggest names of the day like future UFC middleweight champ Murilo Bustamante, Lions Den standout Jerry Bohlander, UFC 6 tournament winner Oleg Taktarov and a main event featuring Renzo Gracie fighting Eugenio Tadeu. You can see from the footage, Gracie, having dominated the early parts of the bout but was gasing out when the crowd, already pressed up against the cage walls, began to riot. The fight was ruled a No Contest but the repercussions would be lasting. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v62zZoaHotY&feature=player_embedded Not only did the Pentagon Combat promotion fold, the mayor of Rio banned Vale Tudo from the city, which led to Brazil’s leading television station, Globo TV to ban it also. Earlier in 1997 Senator John McCain had labelled UFC bouts “human cockfighting” and MMA found itself banned in 36 states shortly after. A combination of the Pentagon Combat riot and a ground swell of negative popular opinion saw Vale Tudo/MMA loose popularity in Brazil and a year later the UFC limped in Sao Paulo. The show nearly never happened only for the intervention of current UFC referee Mario Yamasaki, himself a BJJ black belt, who mobilised his network of contacts in the fight community. The slapdash nature of the UFC in those days is highlighted by the fact that the Brazilian flag is wrong on the promotional poster. Despite the organisational chaos the card featured some of the finest fighting talent MMA had to offer. Middleweight bout: Ebenezer Fontes Braga vs. Jeremy Horn. Braga defeated Horn via submission (guillotine choke) at 3:28. Heavyweight bout: Tsuyoshi Kosaka vs. Pete Williams Kosaka defeated Williams via decision at 15:00. Lightweight Championship bout: Pat Miletich vs. Mikey Burnett Miletich defeated Burnett via decision at 21:00 to become the inaugural UFC Lightweight Champion, now known as the UFC Welterweight Championship. Heavyweight bout: Pedro Rizzo vs. Tank Abbott Rizzo defeated Abbott via KO (punch) at 8:07. Middleweight bout: Vitor Belfort vs. Wanderlei Silva Belfort defeated Silva via TKO (punches) at 0:44. Middleweight Championship bout: Frank Shamrock (c) vs. John Lober Shamrock defeated Lober via submission (punches) at 7:41 to retain the UFC Middleweight Championship.
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