The clash between Masahiko Kimura and Hélio Gracie is etched in the annals of martial arts history. This historic confrontation took place on October 23, 1951, at the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Notably, this contest was not for any championship titles but rather a special challenge that garnered immense attention.
In 1949, Masahiko Kimura and his professional wrestling troupe journeyed to Brazil after an invitation from Ryo Mizuno of the São Paulo Shimbun newspaper. The catalyst behind this visit was the longstanding rivalry between Takeo Yano, a local judoka, and the Gracie brothers, Carlos and Hélio. Kimura’s troupe was expected to draw the Gracies’ interest for a challenge match.
Upon arriving in São Paulo, the Brazilian press crowned Kimura as the “world’s jiu-jitsu champion.” Simultaneously, they portrayed the Gracie brothers as fake black belts in jiu-jitsu. As anticipated, Hélio Gracie challenged Kimura, but he requested that Kimura’s apprentice, Pedro Hemeterio, face him first to validate Kimura’s credentials. The troupe, in response, insisted that Hélio compete against Yukio Kato, the least experienced member of their group.
The contest took place under the jiu-jitsu rule, featuring judogi and allowing various grappling moves, with the victor determined by submission or TKO. At the start of the first round, Hélio and Kimura immediately engaged in a clinch. Kimura executed a series of throws, displaying his judo prowess. Gracie exhibited remarkable defense and endurance, with the round ending without a clear winner.
As the second round commenced, Kimura secured a takedown, and a ground struggle ensued. Kimura then executed a gyaku-ude-garami, ultimately breaking Hélio’s arm. Gracie refused to submit, forcing Kimura to break the arm a second time before the conclusion. Hélio’s brother, Carlos Gracie, threw in the towel, signifying Kimura’s victory.
The match drew significant media attention, with varying interpretations of the outcome. While Kimura was celebrated for his victory, some considered it a moral triumph for Hélio. Kimura offered a rematch, but it received no response.
This historic bout left a lasting legacy, with the submission hold Kimura used being renamed “Kimura.” It remains a cornerstone of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and mixed martial arts.
In 2002, a special “judo vs. Brazilian jiu-jitsu” bout was held as a tribute to the Kimura vs. Gracie match. This encounter featured judoka Hidehiko Yoshida and Royce Gracie, leading to a controversial finish.