In Brazil, the term vale tudo was first associated with booth fighting done in Brazilian circuses during the 1920s. Examples of such bouts were described in the Japanese-Am erican Courier on October 4, 1928:

One report from São Paulo declares that Jiu Jitsu is truly an art and that in an interesting exhibition in the side tent to the big circus a Bahian negro of monstrous dimensions met his waterloo at the hands of a diminutive Japanese wrestler. The negro was an expert at Capoeira, an old South American style of fighting, but after putting the Japanese on his back and trying to kick his head...

the little oriental by the use of a Jiu Jitsu hold threw the Bahian and after a short struggle he was found sitting on the silent frame of the massive opponent.

However, this circus term did not enter popular use until 1959-1960, when it was used to describe the style-versus-style bouts featured in a Rio television show called Heróis do Ringue (Ring-Heroes). The matchmakers and hosts of the show included members of the Gracie family, and the participants were all legitimate practitioners of their styles. One night, João Alberto Barreto (later a referee for UFC 1) was competing against a man trained in Luta Livre. Barreto caught his opponent in an armbar. The man refused to tap out. Barreto applied more pressure, and the opponent's arm broke, audibly, leaving an exposed fracture. Television audiences were shocked. Consequently, this show was soon replaced by another show, Telecatch, that featured more theatrical contests. Heroes of Telecatch included the Argentinan Ted Boy Marino. [4]

From 1960 onwards, vale tudo would remain an underground sub-culture, with most of the fights taking place in martial arts dojos or small gymnasiums. The vale tudo sub-culture was mainly based in Rio de Janeiro, but many fights also took place in the northern region, as well as the southern region and the Bahia state, where Capoeira is prevalent. The scene in Rio de Janeiro focused mainly on the intense rivalry between Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Luta Livre, whereas fights in the other regions featured more diverse martial arts competing in the events.

Rorion Gracie of the famous Gracie family would eventually emigrate to the United States and introduced vale tudo to a new market when he helped to found the UFC in 1993. The enormous success of the UFC created a vale tudo explosion around the world, specifically in Japan, as well as a resurgence and newfound popularity back in Brazil. This would result in the creation of two vale tudo promotions, the WVC and the IVC, which featured prominently in the 1990's and were also televised on Brazilian TV and Pay-Per-View.

Both promotions were based out of the Brazilian financial capital of Sao Paulo and launched the careers of many of today's MMA stars. But after the state of Sao Paulo prohibited vale tudo fights from being a sanctioned sport, both promotions went into decline and have not promoted a show since 2002. With the newer promotions abandoning vale tudo rules in favor of the safer mixed martial arts rules that have gained athletic sanctioning in the United States, vale tudo effectively went back to its underground roots. Vale tudo events are still taking place in great number around Brazil. Due to the violent and bloody nature of vale tudo fights, these underground events sometimes cause controversy in the media.

Critics argue that vale tudo shows should all adopt the much safer mixed martial arts rules that have developed and gained athletic sanctioning in America. Supporters of vale tudo counter that the sanctioned mixed martial arts style that developed in America is now so vastly different from true vale tudo, that it should be treated as an entirely different sport, just as Muay Thai is considered different from the safer rules kickboxing that is sanctioned in America, for example.