Rickson Gracie and Casemiro ‘Rei Zulu’ Nascimento Martins fought in a pair of epic matches in the early 1980s that helped kickstart Rickson’s career and make him a popular figure all across Brazil. The first of these fights took place in 1980 when Rickson was just 21 years old, something that wasn’t all that unusual for members of the Gracie family, while Rei Zulu was significantly more experienced than the young BJJ black belt. Rei Zulu was allegedly undefeated in over 200 Vale Tudo fights by the time he met Rickson in the ring and although the majority of those fights cannot be verified, he was certainly well known across Brazil for being a talented and tough fighter.
He also outweighed Rickson rather significantly when they stepped in the ring in Brasilia, although the exact weights of either fighter were not recorded at the time. Regardless, Rickson managed to submit Rei Zulu in their first match and this propelled both him and Gracie Jiu Jitsu to an even higher level of recognition than they previously had. After a few years where Rickson travelled around to compete against talented grapplers of several different disciplines, both men agreed to meet in a rematch in the legendary Maracanazinho arena in Rio de Janeiro in front of a crowd of at least 20,000 fans.
This fight went on for longer than the first and there was plenty of controversy surrounding the event as both men fouled each other during the fight, with Rei Zulu attempting to gouge Rickson’s eyes and Rickson landing a low blow. There was also controversy outside of the ring, as Rei Zulu alleged that the Gracie family changed the rules for their second fight just one hour before it began and Rickson claimed that his opponent had oiled himself up with vaseline to make grappling more difficult.
The controversy both in and out of the ring was nothing unusual in the setting of Vale Tudo matches in the 1980s and earlier, but in the end it was Rickson who emerged victorious once again. He submitted Rei Zulu with a rear-naked choke in both fights and put an end to their rivalry once and for all. As time went on, Rickson then competed under some of the first BJJ rulesets against family members and proponents of other styles before retiring from competition altogether. Even in retirement, he is still heralded as one of the best grapplers and many elite competitors like Demian Maia have credited him with some of their success.
The footage of the classic fight between Rickson Gracie and Casemiro ‘Rei Zulu’ Nascimento Martins was uploaded to the official YouTube channel of Jiu Jitsu World:
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