Helio Gracie Dead

By Brian Knapp Jan 29, 2009
Helio Gracie, the father of Gracie jiu-jitsu, is dead at the age of 95. Gracie passed in his sleep early Thursday in Itaipaiva, Rio de Janeiro, after he had been admitted to a local hospital a few days prior for stomach problems.

“He passed the way he always wanted to –- quick and fast,” said an immediate relative, who asked not to be identified. The relative said Gracie’s body would be buried on Thursday.

The youngest of Cesalina and Gastao Gracie’s eight children, he learned traditional jiu-jitsu by watching his brother, Carlos, teach it, but his small frame made it difficult for him to execute the moves. As a result, he adapted techniques to fit his limited physical ability and gave rise to modern-day Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Gracie was involved in two legendary fights. He lost to Masahiko Kimura -- a man who outweighed him by some 40 pounds -- in 1951 when Carlos threw in the towel after Kimura broke Gracie’s arm with the shoulder lock that now bears his name. Four years later, Gracie fought former student Valdemar Santana for nearly four hours before losing.

His impact on the sport of mixed martial arts was profound. His son, Rorion, was credited with developing the concept that became the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and another of his sons, Royce, won the first two UFC tournaments in 1993 and 1994. Two other sons, Rickson and Royler, also competed in MMA.

Gracie is survived by his wife Vera; his sons Rickson, Royler, Rolker, Royce, Relson, Robin and Rorion; his daughters Rerika and Ricci, as well as numerous siblings, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren.

TJ DeSantis contributed to this report.

Editor’s Note: This story originally stated that Helio Gracie defeated Valdemar Santana. Gracie, in fact, lost to Santana. The correction was made at 1:23 p.m. ET.
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