Gladiators

Documentary photographer, Adrián Domínguez explores the world of Vale Tudo – the full-contact combat sport with relatively few rules

Words by Adrián Domínguez

Originating in Brazil, Vale Tudo is a mode of combat that permits any technique of martial arts or contact sports. Formerly fighters didn't wear mitts and the only rules were to not bite or put fingers into the eyes of your opponent. Now, in Europe, different kinds of sport-entertainment are lead by MMA (Mixed Martial Arts), who organize official and regulated events.

In 1928 an article in Time Magazine reported on a wrestling match held in Sao Paulo, in which a ‘giant, black Bahian’ and ‘small Japanese dwarf’ fought. The fight proved how size is not necessarily determinative. This kind of fight won by TKO or abandonment remains popular across the world. These shows, especially popular in circus attractions until 1960, when Joao Alberto Barreto broke the arm of his opponent who refused to surrender, happened during the televised show, ‘Heroes Of The Ring’, the bloody spectacle caused the immediate cancellation of the program and Vale Tudo was relegated to a subculture, with fighting in small gyms or public places, always on the verge of illegality.

In 1993 an American company organized the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) under the slogan ‘anything goes’. The boxing ring was changed to an octagonal cage with an open roof, which has been become popularized as a symbol of the organization.

Currently MMA has major leagues around the world, and includes a more extensive regulation, in order to prevent serious or permanent injuries to the fighters. It allows the use of punches, kicks, holds and techniques from a variety of disciplines, including Karate, Boxing, Taekwondo, Muay thai, Judo, Greco-Roman Wrestling, Jiu Jitsu or Capoeira, amongst others. The roots of modern mixed martial arts come from the ancient Olympics, where one of the oldest documented systems of combat was the pankration. Its origin as such is diffuse, based on various competitions held in Europe, Japan and the United States during the early twentieth century. In Europe it’s popular in England, Netherlands, France or Spain.

“I've been following Brazilian fighters who have come to Europe as ambassadors of this extreme sport. I traveled with them to various cities attending official events and parties. This tense and euphoric atmosphere breathes great respect, typical of those who will fight without truce or mercy. The cage is closed, the bell rings and two men will fight to the end for victory”.

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