By the time the first wave of Gracies traded Rio for Southern California, the Gracie Challenge had already been a decades-old tradition for the aristocratic family of grapplers. Here are the Cliff’s Notes of how a Gracie Challenge match usually went down: An over-enthusiastic kung fu master with something to prove squares off with Royce, Rickson, or another hallowed Gracie jiu-jitsu name. Said kung fu master flails and squeezes onto headlocks and gets really, really tired. Said kung fu master is then dragged to the ground and strangled or broken underneath folds of canvas. A good time is had by all.
In the years prior to starting the Ultimate Fighting Championship, family entrepreneur Rorion Gracie sold VHS tapes of the challenge footage by mail-order with the moniker Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in Action. The videos were proof that what the family was selling—a system of fighting where punches were an afterthought—actually worked. And last week, the Gracie Breakdown YouTube channel—home to video annotations of high-profile grappling techniques—added footage of 10 unseen Gracie Challenge matches fought in the early 1990s on the mats of the family’s academy in Torrance, California.
In this new batch of videos, all the jiu-jitsu fighters are students of the Gracies, not their blood relatives. And there is no dispassionate documentarian voiceover from Rorion. Still, these fights are similarly compelling in their quiet violence--historical artifacts from a time when clinching into a trip takedown signified certain doom, before everyone who wanted to fight knew they needed to know how to fight on the ground. The tracking lines might as well be sepia tones.
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