Quick. Who was the greatest fighter of the Television Era (1950-1979)?
Waldemar Santana? Ivan Gomes? Carlson Gracie? All excellent choices and there is supporting evidence for each case. Waldemar beat Helio, but maybe you put Carlson ahead of Waldemar as his record was 2W-0L-4D against Santana? Gomes was undefeated throughout his (shoot, i.e. legitimate fight) career, defeated Santana and drew with Carlson, but he was significantly heavier than both of them. So, maybe you give the edge out of those three to Carlson?
One name that is often missed in the debate is Euclides Pereira. Not only was Pereira undefeated throughout his career, he went 3W-0L-2D against Waldemar, had five draws against the much larger Gomes, defeated future Rickson Gracie rival, Rei Zulu and one other thing. He handed Carlson Gracie the sole defeat of his career.
I don’t want to over-emphasize the importance of a fighter remaining undefeated throughout his career when considering legacy and historical ranking. We have seen throughout the history of Jiu-Jitsu, Vale Tudo and MMA, that some undefeated fighters remained undefeated in somewhat dubious ways. Some fighters:
Nevertheless, Euclides Pereira’s undefeated record, combined with the quantity and quality of his opponents, his avoidance of works and his focus on winning fights decisively should put him at the top of anyone’s list.
Euclides was born on his grandparent’s farm in Currais Novos in the northeastern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Norte on May 7, 1941. At ten years old, his family moved to the state capital of Natal. There, Pereira attended the Collegio Salesian for two years and then attended another school in Fortaleza to become a priest. Euclides had no interest in pursuing a life in the church, but did so to satisfy his mother. Euclides ended up quitting the school and moving to the city of Recife located in the northeastern state of Pernambuco. There he re-enrolled in the local branch of Collegio Salesian studying woodworking. While attending the school, Pereira took a part time job at the local hotel, the Boa Viagem.
Next to the building where Euclides lived in Recife, was Jurandir Moura’s academy. Moura was a student of Takeo Yano and Nilo Veloso (who was a former George Gracie student) and had opened his own academy in 1951. Moura’s brothers lived in Euclides’ apartment building an invited him to come train at the academy. Euclides accepted and began learning the Judo/Jiu-Jitsu curriculum of 1950’s Brazil. He would have been around 15 years old at the time.
Note: Nilo Veloso is a name that also came up in the story of Ivan Gomes. Veloso trained José Maria Freire who would go on to be one of the trainers of Ivan Gomes. Another instructor at Moura’s academy and trainer of Euclides was Diniz Camara. Reader’s will remember that I suggested Takeo Yano Black Belt Camara may have been the first person ever awarded a Black Belt in BJJ. I am probably not right, but it is a working theory.
Shortly after beginning his training with Moura, Euclides began competing professionally. First in No-Gi Submission Grappling matches, where he is said to have 55 straight victories, and then moving onto Vale Tudo when he was just 17 years old. At 5’9” and weighing between 145 pounds (1950’s into early 1960’s) and 170 pounds (mid-1960’s onward), Euclides’ size and frame could be considered fairly average for the time, but slightly under-sized compared to the other Television era stars.
Moura, was an early proponent of cross training and felt a successful Vale Tudo fighter required training in Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, Boxing, Capoeira and Karate. As such, Euclides also trained at other Recife academies specializing in striking.
The teenager quickly amassed a string of victories across northeastern Brazil. During this time period, professional Vale Tudo fighters like Euclides could travel city to city and fight almost weekly. Many of Euclides’ matches were televised.
Versus the Santana Family
After defeating Aparecido Silva in his first Vale Tudo fight, Euclides was propelled to national fame, in his second fight, by defeating Waldemar Santana’s brother, Waldo, in 1958 when he was just 17 years old. Waldo was an experienced and well-respected fighter, but succumbed to Euclides’ dangerous striking game. Perieira would continue to work his way through the Santana family, breaking cousin Aurino Santana’s arm in a bout. Euclides would then face Waldemar’s nephew, nicknamed Maneca, two times defeating him in both bouts. Pereira also defeated Waldemar’s student, Dedy Balbino by armlock.
This ultimately led to several matches with Waldemar Santana who was one of the most famous fighters in Brazil throughout the Television Era. Euclides would go on to fight Waldemar Santana six times. Their first encounter was a draw in 1963 which Euclides blamed on having to fight the giant pro-wrestler “King Kong” a few weeks before their bout and not having ample time to recover. Pereira would go on to fight Waldemar three times in 1967, defeating him by judges’ decision on each occasion. After Euclides’ victory over Carlson in 1968 (discussed below), Waldemar challenged him again and he was once against defeated. This time Euclides won by retirement when Waldemar refused to re-enter the ring during the fight. The two would fight one more time in 1974. Once again Euclides would win by decision, making his record career record against the man that defeated Helio Gracie, 5W (4 decisions and 1 stoppage) 0L and 1D.
The first major television show airing Vale Tudo fights was Heróis do Ringue. This show began in 1959 airing on the TV-Continental channel (channel 9) and was supported by the Gracies. As such, Gracies and their students would often appear as commentators and fighters. The show was popular and helped elevate the Gracie’s national visibility, but came to a halt abruptly in 1960. Gracie Academy star, João Alberto Barreto at 163 pounds was fighting Soares Vinagre at 185 pounds. Barreto caught Vinagre in an Americana and broke his arm. The violence on camera shocked Brazilian audiences and the show was quickly cancelled.
TV-Ring Torre started up on Channel 2 shortly thereafter. The production was based out of Recife and named after local textile manufacturer Torre and aired on Channel 2. The show ran weekly on Monday evenings from 1960 – 1966. It was on this show that Euclides fought week after week and became one of its biggest stars. It is often mentioned that Euclides had between 350 and 380 professional matches without a loss. While not every match can be documented, the number is usually extrapolated by assuming that he fought every week, every year for those seven years. Did he fight that often on the show? I cannot confirm that. It is impossible to state exactly how many professional matches Euclides had and if the 300+ number quoted includes his professional No-Gi Submission Grappling matches from his teenage days. I can easily verify that he fought the top dozen fighters of his era normally three to six time each. That is forty Vale Tudo fights right there against the toughest competition of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Newspaper clippings and archived television footage confirms dozens more, but I cannot arrive at an exact number.
Euclides’ fame continued to rise. Not only was he invited by promoters all over Brazil to come fight local talent, he was also recruited by politicians. More specifically, politicians running for election. Officials running for office needed to attract large crowds to their rallies. They knew that hosting a Vale Tudo fight with a local fighter versus fighting superstar, “O Diabo Louro” (the Blonde Devil), as Euclides was known, would draw large crowds. Euclides would be offered bribes to work fights and lose on purpose to the local champions, but he always refused. Later in his career, Euclides would have opportunities to participate in pro-wrestling promotions, but never accepted as he always wanted to have legitimate fights.
Versus Ivan Gomes
Euclides national fame would set him on a collision course with another great, undefeated champion from the northeast, Ivan Gomes. Ivan outweighed Euclides by about forty pounds, but that did not stop the two from fighting five times. The two fought in 1964, twice in 1967, 1972 and 1974. All fights were ruled draws, except one of their 1967 bouts. The match went on for one hour and fifty-five minutes before being stopped by the local officials due to darkness. The fight went so late into the night, the audience and the officials could no longer see the fighters. As the bout was prematurely halted, some don’t consider it a draw, but rather a no contest or suspended fight.
Versus Carlson Gracie
Euclides first challenged megastar Carlson Gracie in 1963. Pereira was 22 years old knew that a match with Carlson, then 30, would bring major publicity and prize money. While Euclides both publicly and privately asked for the match, the Gracie Academy, headed by Carlos and Helio was not interested. Why the Gracies avoided the fight for the next five years is unknown. Perhaps Carlos and Helio considered the young fighter from the northeast to not be a serious contender and not worth their time?
Maybe, but I don’t think that was the case.
Even at just 22 years old, Euclides had already made quite a name for himself. In his short time on the scene, he had supposedly won 55 No-Gi Submission Grappling matches and 80 Vale Tudo fights, with most bouts being televised. By the time Euclides challenged Carlson, he had a draw with Waldemar and knockout victories over Waldo and King Kong. They were all fighters that the Gracies new well.
My assumption is the risk-reward ratio was not there. Carlson was a great fighter and legitimate champion, but a loss would badly damage the Gracie’s marketing machine.
The Gracies saw in late 1963, that Carlson could lose. Ivan Gomes had pushed Carlson to the limit and some thought that Gomes had even won the fight. As I discussed in my Ivan Gomes article, to protect their brand, the Gracies hired Ivan to be on their team to avoid the threat of a rematch.
I believe in this case, the Gracies recognized the threat Euclides’ posed and also realized it would be tougher to dismiss a loss to Euclides than Ivan. Ivan, after all, outweighed Carlson by thirty pounds. Euclides was the same size as Carlson.
In 1964, there was talk that Euclides would need to fight Gracie student João Alberto Barreto in a test of sufficiency in order to earn the right to fight Carlson. The qualifying matched never occurred and Euclides continued to dominate his competition.
By 1968, Euclides had fought all comers and still not been defeated. All that remained was Carlson Gracie. Euclides wanted the fight badly and knew he would need to travel from Recife to Rio de Janeiro in order to negotiate terms with Carlos and Helio Gracie directly. At the time, that kind of travel was expensive, but Euclides’ commitment to get the fight signed was so strong that he sold real estate investments to get the money to pay for his trip to Rio.
The Gracies finally agreed and the fight was scheduled to occur on Sep 6, 1968 in Salvador, Bahia. The Vale Tudo match would be scheduled for six rounds of 5 minutes each and have a judges’ decision if the match went the full thirty minutes.
Euclides knew that he had to be cautious about going to the ground against Carlson and did his best to keep the fight on the feet and win via striking. For most of the fight, Euclides was able to execute his strategy, but during the second round, Carlson was able to score a takedown, take Euclides’ back and sink in a rear naked choke (note: some accounts state it was a guillotine). To avoid losing, Euclides escaped out of the ring and the match was restarted from the feet.
Euclides continued to pepper Carlson with standing strikes, bloodying his face, breaking his nose and damaging his eye. Supposedly, in the fifth round (note: some accounts state the fourth) Euclides came close to knocking out Carlson.
The fight ended up going the distance and due to the damage sustained to Carlson, Euclides was awarded the judges’ decision. Some people criticized Euclides’ escape out of the ring to avoid the choke. He countered stating it was a common and accepted technique that many fighters used.
The victory over Carlson propelled Euclides’ notoriety across northern Brazil. Interestingly, the Rio de Janeiro media did not cover the fight nor the results. As far as the media in Carlson’s hometown was concerned, the fight never happened. This led to many people in southern Brazil (including Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo) never learning about the Carlson loss.
I can’t say for certain why the press outside of the north omitted the fight from their reporting. There was not a shortage of Rio-based fight media and there was significant interest from the populace. Fight results from other states did make the Rio papers. My guess is that Carlos and Helio utilized their connections with the Rio media and elite to squash the story. They would have likely wanted to avoid the damage the loss would have done to their brand and the reputation of Carlson as the Brazilian Champion. To this day, not many people know about Carlson’s loss to Euclides.
Versus Rei Zulu
Euclides continued to fight Vale Tudo matches all over Brazil, year after year. He had battles with other tough fighters from the era including: Renato “Escorpião” Sebastião, Geraldo, Hilario Silva, Djalma “Fidelão”Fidelis, Niltão Nascimento, Hércules Lenineand Cicero. Other than continuing to fight Waldemar and Ivan, there were not many other superstar names for him to fight. Euclides did offer Carlson several opportunities for a rematch, but he never accepted.
By 1979, Euclides was 38 years old and winding down his fighting career. He wanted to have one more challenge. At that time, there was an up and coming fighter from the northeastern state of Maranhão. He was tearing up the competition in Vale Tudo matches. He was 32 years old, 6’4” and 220 pounds. His name was Casimiro de Nascimento Martins and his nickname was Rei Zulu (King Zulu). Zulu was known for his incredible athletic attributes and his ring antics. He would often make faces to the audience and clown around the ring. Zulu did this to catch his opponents off guard and attack. Rickson Gracie would fight Zulu the next year (1980) and then again in 1984. Rickson’s two victories over Zulu would catapult him to fame across Brazil.
But this was still 1979 and no one had defeated Zulu yet. Even though Euclides was aging and outweighed by 50 pounds, he took the fight. Zulu respected the danger that Euclides’ posed and abandoned his usual antics and fought seriously. The match was close and Euclides nearly got caught in a guillotine at one point, but he was able to escape and finish Zulu with a guillotine of his own. It would be the last fight of Euclides’ career.
Was Euclides Really Undefeated?
Most accounts will claim that Euclides had between 300 and 380 matches without a defeat. Is that possible? Was he really undefeated? I don’t know. But I think so. The simple answer is that if Euclides did lose, we would have probably heard about it. Most of his fights were televised. They were well attended and covered by print and radio journalists. When Carlson, Waldemar, Zulu or other high-profile fighters lost, it was big news. There are multiple pieces of corroborating evidence.
I could not find anything substantial against Euclides. In my research, I found a few references to possible losses. There was an online reference that someone had heard from someone that over the course of his several matches with Renato “Escorpião” Sebastião and Hilario Silva, that Euclides lost one match to one or both of them. While entirely possible, I found no article, no interview, no picture or any other direct reference. My guess is that it is a story told by some to make the other fighter look better or just a possible error in storytelling as it passed from person to person and across languages.
In the photo gallery below, I include a controversial picture. It shows Euclides and Ivan Gomes in the ring post-fight, with Ivan’s hand raised. Some claim this is evidence of a Euclides loss to Ivan. I am not convinced as I could not find any articles, references or interviews where anyone mentioned the loss. I never saw evidence of Ivan mentioning it either. Once again, it could have happened. It is possible they had more than the five fights I referenced. I just think there would have been more supporting evidence.
What do I think the photo depicts? Something we have seen in the UFC and other combat sports a hundred times. Two athletes are called back to the center of the ring after the match. As the judges’ decision is about to be read aloud, the referee grabs both fighters’ wrists. One fighter believing he will be declared the winner prematurely raises his arms in victory prior to the official announcement (in this case a draw). A still photo from that moment would appear as if the referee declared a winner. In the absence of additional supporting evidence of a loss, I believe this is what we are seeing in the photo.
Later Years and Legacy
After retiring from the ring, Euclides continued to teach Jiu-Jitsu, Luta Livre and Vale Tudo. He moved to the Taguatina neighborhood of Brasilia and taught at the Academia Banni into his 70’s. Euclides continues to live there to this day.
While the Gracies continued their rise to fame from the Television Era (1950 – 1979) into the Modern Era (1993 +), fighters like Euclides were pushed to the sidelines. He did not have the marketing machine or platform to have his story told. Similar to everyone from Geo Omori to Ivan Gomes, we have seen the Gracies omit valid competition from their version of fighting history. This approach, streamlined the story but also diminished the notion that others outside the Gracie family contributed, represented or developed Jiu-Jitsu. It is a real shame his story is not more well known and he is not often mentioned in discussions of Vale Tudo history or great fighters.
Gladly, in January of 2020, at 78 years old, Euclides did get some much overdue recognition. After approximately 65 years in Jiu-Jitsu, he was awarded his ninth degree Red Belt by the Federação Brasiliense de Jiu-Jitsu Desportivo and took his place amongst the recognized Grandmasters of our art.
Undefeated Vale Tudo fighter of the Television Era, Euclides Pereira
T-Shirt available in the SimonBJJ Shop depicting Ivan Gomes and Euclides Pereira from their 1964 fight.
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