A Look Back: Wallid Ismail, The Man Who Beat Three Gracie’s!

On December 17th, 1998 at the famed Copacabana Arena one of the most important BJJ matches of a generation took place.  It was to be a no time limit match pitting two rival teams: Wallid Ismail (Carlson Gracie Sr.) and Royce Gracie, son of Hélio Gracie in a BJJ submission only match.  The ending to this match would shock the BJJ world!  

WALLID SHOCKS THE WORLD!
WALLID SHOCKS THE WORLD!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To really understand the importance of this match, be sure to read the full Eddie Goldman article from 1998.  (below)

 

 

Here’s the full, original Eddie Goldman story, 1998.

WALLID FARID ISMAIL: THE MAN WHO BEAT THREE GRACIE’S by Eddie Goldman

As we close out the 1990’s and prepare for the dawn of a new millennium, without a doubt the most influential name in the world of grappling is Gracie. In events in every corner of the globe, the members of this charismatic Brazilian family of Jiu-Jitsu fighters have piled up victory upon victory like no other group of fighters, much less any other family. They have achieved their victories not by awarding themselves titles or even inventing credentials, practices all too common in the martial arts. Neither were these titles and these tournaments the product of the imagination of some movie screenwriters, occurring only in the celluloid world that proclaimed Rocky Balboa the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. No, the Gracies have earned them in real life, right before the eyes of the public in event after event.

Royce is probably the best known, bursting onto the international martial arts scene in 1993 with a still-unprecedented string of three UFC tournament victories. Rickson won tournaments in the first two Vale Tudo Japan shows, in 1994 and 1995, and followed up with wins in Japan’s Pride organization in 1997 and 1998. Royler also is undefeated in Pride and Vale Tudo Japan. Renzo was the champion of the sole World Combat Championship, and has victories in Pride (along with a time-limit draw) and MARS. Ralph is undefeated in events including Extreme Fighting and USWF.

This list of victories is simply extraordinary. While some of these wins have been over opponents of questionable talents, the fact of the matter remains that the Gracies have EARNED their status as the first family of grappling. Their techniques, both by proving their effectiveness in real contests and their savvy marketing of them, have revolutionized the martial arts world. It was that skinny Brazilian in a gi, Royce Gracie, who slew the Goliaths of the striking arts in the early UFC’s, that started both the modern grappling revolution and the explosion of NHB events around the world. Now everyone, it seems, wants to learn grappling.

But such unparalleled success has also brought forth opposition. Just about every fighter trying to make a mark has answered the long-standing Gracie Challenge to fight any time, anywhere. The Gracies have become legends, and, thus, the favorite targets of those who want to become legends themselves. Fair enough.

Legends, however, by their very nature tend to become exaggerated. One becomes two, two becomes four, and all of a sudden actual, verifiable accomplishments have been blown way out of proportion. While the Gracies have long proven themselves to be masters on the mat, they still are, alas, mere mortals like the rest of us. They are fallible, imperfect — and beatable.

From the legends built around them, one would expect that the only fighter capable of defeating a Gracie in any type of competition would have to hail from the planet Krypton, fly around faster than a speeding bullet in a suit with a cape and a big red “S” on the front, and have a secret identity as a mild-mannered reporter for a no-holds-barred magazine, or however that tale goes.
What is known in some Jiu-Jitsu circles in Brazil, however, and is now becoming known to more of the world, is that there indeed is such a man who has defeated a Gracie. He doesn’t hail from outer space, but a place almost as exotic — the town of Manaus in Brazil’s lush and tropical Amazon region. He didn’t come to earth in a spaceship, but did move to Rio de Janeiro about 15 years ago. He may not be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but this 30-year old fighter, who stands 5′ 7 1/2″ and weighs about 181 pounds, has done something that no other mere mortal has come close to achieving — he has defeated THREE, count ’em, THREE Gracies in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

That man is none other than Wallid Farid Ismail.

 

THE MAN FROM THE AMAZON COMES TO RIO

Wallid began training in the martial arts as a kid, about 20 years ago, with local instructors in Manaus. When he was just 15, he moved to one of Brazil’s two largest cities, Rio de Janeiro, and decided it was time to hook up with a master of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The man who became his trainer and mentor was, ironically, himself a member of the Gracie family, Carlson Gracie.

And the two quickly hit it off. “It’s great to work with him,” Wallid said, “because he’s like a father to me.” Nor did Carlson limit Wallid’s training just to Jiu-Jitsu, as many of these fighters go on to no-holds-barred events and need a well-rounded base in all aspects of both striking and grappling. Wallid said he trains “boxing with Al Stankie and some wrestling too.”

The man from the Amazon soon began to gain recognition as one of the best technical Jiu-Jitsu fighters around. His style was described as methodical and precise, as he continuously improved his position to dominate his opponents.

And although he was trained by Carlson Gracie, Wallid began to become well- known in Brazil as a nemesis of fighters with the Gracie name. Back in 1991, Wallid was paired against Ralph Gracie in a 10-minute BJJ match in Brazil. Wallid won this encounter on points.

There were some who said, well, Wallid only won on points, and look, it was in such a short match. While Wallid fights like a lion on the mat, he can be as accommodating as a lamb off it. OK, my friend, he said. You want a longer time limit? You got it.

In 1995, Wallid obliged the doubters, and faced Renzo Gracie. This was another BJJ match, but this time the time limit was one hour. And still Wallid won, also on points. Two Gracies fought, two Gracies defeated.

NHB SETBACKS

Still, Wallid’s exploits were largely unknown outside the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu community. Wallid also began to fight internationally in NHB competition, but did not fare as well as those with that now-magical Gracie name whom he had beaten.

Perhaps Wallid was best-known outside of Brazil for his one and only UFC performance. At UFC XII, on February 7, 1997, in Dothan, Alabama, Wallid lost a unanimous decision to Pancrase fighter Yoshiki Takahashi. In this fight, Wallid seemed to get very tired. Doubts about his conditioning began to surface.

Wallid’s next high profile NHB fight was at Pride 4, on October 11, 1998, in Tokyo, Japan. Here he faced Akira Shoji, who had held Renzo Gracie to a drawback in Pride 1. Wallid dominated much of the first ten-minute round with his mat work, but also began to seem gassed by the beginning of the second round. Shoji mounted a standing attack, staggering Wallid, and the bout was stopped by TKO at just 1:26 of the second round. Wallid did complain, with some justification, that this fight had been stopped too quickly to protect the Japanese fighter in Japan because, as he said later, “the referee was Japanese.” Still, Wallid looked visibly exhausted, as acknowledged at the time by Carlson Gracie, who said after the fight that Wallid couldn’t continue.

Yet Wallid began to notice something odd about his apparent lack of conditioning in these fights. He didn’t seem to have the same problem back home in Brazil. For example, his good conditioning was evident when he fought and won a 30-minute fight with the tough American wrestler Gary Myers at IVC V on April 26, 1998, in Sao Paulo, about a five hour drive from his home in Rio. There Wallid won a clear-cut unanimous decision, and showed no conditioning problems.

So Wallid went to his doctor and asked him to find out the problem. They began by analyzing just what had happened. Both of the NHB fights he lost took place far from his native Brazil. Wallid had only arrived at the location of both of these fights about two days prior to the events.

The UFC travel was also complicated by the political turmoil surrounding that event. Everyone was originally flown into the Niagara Falls, New York, region. A day before the show, UFC lost a court case on the rules for the event, and told everyone to pack up and board a charter plane that night for Dothan, Alabama, about 1000 miles away. That plane left around midnight, with everyone arriving at the Alabama destination about 4 AM the morning of the show.

It turns out that Wallid has been informed by his physician that he has trouble “adapting” to such long flights, and needs to arrive about 10 days prior to an event to adjust. This condition is better known as jet lag. Wallid vowed “never to arrive two days before the fight” overseas again. “All the times I arrived 10 days before the fight, I never lost.”
But not everyone knew this, and Wallid’s conditioning was held as suspect by many.

Now enters Royce Gracie.

ROYCE GRACIE’S COMEBACK

After a few years layoff from UFC, Royce had been making noises for awhile about returning to active competition. He even said in late 1997 that he had accepted a fight in Pride with the undefeated Mark Kerr. A press conference was held, with the fight expected in early 1998. But before this was to take place, Royce suffered a back injury and had to undergo surgery. These plans were put on hold for most of 1998, as Royce recovered.

Royce still wanted to fight Kerr, but not just yet. The next step, according to Royce’s plan, would be a tuneup match. He wanted not a NHB or Vale Tudo fight for his return, but a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu match with no striking. Royce and his brother and manager Rorion, known as a crafty and skilled negotiator, began searching for an opponent. Negotiations began and fell apart with some prominent Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighters, most notably Mario Sperry, with widely differing versions of just how and why the two sides were unable to come to terms being circulated. The bottom line, however, was that Royce and Rorion only agreed to a match with Wallid.

Apparently both Royce and Rorion felt Wallid would be the perfect choice for such a tuneup. In their negotiations, knowing full well that Wallid had beaten Ralph and Renzo in matches with time limits, they insisted upon a match with no time limit. They also felt that Wallid’s supposed lack of conditioning would work to Royce’s advantage, who could bide his time and gradually wear him down in classic Gracie Jiu-Jitsu fashion. Again, Wallid was more than accommodating, and agreed. The Gracies also knew that Wallid had built up a solid reputation as a workman-like fighter who won many matches by racking up points, but was not, rightly or wrongly, thought of as highly in terms of having the top submission skills. So the Gracies insisted that the match have no points, but could only end by submission. And Wallid again said, no problem. And the Gracies wanted both fighters to wear the traditional gi’s, another Gracie specialty. And again Wallid agreed.

With these minimal rules specifically tailored to favor Royce, everything seemed to be in place for another Gracie victory. Royce could both triumph in a successful comeback, and avenge the Gracie name against the man who had already beaten two of his family. This would set the stage for a victorious return to NHB against Kerr at Pride in 1999, and possibly close out his active fighting career in storybook fashion.

Thus, this Jiu-Jitsu match between Royce Gracie and Wallid Ismail was scheduled for December 17, 1998, as the main event on a Jiu-Jitsu card at the famed Copacabana Arena (Arena Olimpica da Praia de Copacabana) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

THE FIGHT

There may have been a storybook ending to this match, but it certainly was anticipated by almost no one, Royce and Wallid included.

The report of the match I received from Luca Atalla, editor and executive director of, get this, Gracie Magazine, who was at this match, was short and simple:

The fight started with Royce taking Wallid down, but Wallid got one leg and got the top position. Then he tried to pass the guard, Royce gave the back and the Carlson student got the choke. That’s it.

That was it, in about five minutes. Wallid said Royce initially took him down with an “ultimata,” a judo technique. Wallid was able to reverse Royce from the guard, and get on top. Then as Royce tried to escape, Wallid secured a gi choke known as the “relogio,” or “clock choke.” Royce couldn’t get out of it, but didn’t tap out, either. Wallid held it tight, as Royce was choked unconscious, lying limply on the mat. Finally Rorion threw in the towel, and it took a while to revive the fallen icon of BJJ and NHB.

In the end, the absence of time limits didn’t matter, as the match lasted just five minutes. The rule saying the match could only end in submission didn’t matter, since Wallid choked out Royce. And the gi’s didn’t matter, since it was a gi choke that Wallid used to finish Royce. If anything, all these stipulations actually seemed to favor Wallid.

Basically the winning hold, the “relogio,” is a gi choke executed by grabbing the collar and turning clockwise or counterclockwise to force the choke.  It is considered by Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu aficionados as a simple and basic movement, and one that surprisingly Royce Gracie wasn’t able to defend. Thus, Wallid’s quick and decisive submission victory sent shockwaves across the martial arts and fighting worlds.

Hopefully now Wallid will begin to receive the recognition he so richly deserves as a master grappler. His losses in UFC and Pride 4, until now, may have been the only matches he had been known for outside Brazil, which is unfortunate. Now the whole world knows that he is for real, a world-class martial artist and grappler.

WALLID PRAISES ROYCE

There have been some, however, who have used the occasion of Wallid’s defeat of Royce to trash Royce, and even all the Gracies. They’re no good, and never were, some of these critics scream. But the man who has actually defeated three Gracies, Wallid Ismail, is not among these detractors.

If you think Wallid would say such things, then you don’t know his character and class. Both before and, especially, after the match, Wallid has only had good things to say about Royce Gracie. “Royce is an excellent fighter,” Wallid emphasized over and over again. He is well aware that Royce’s defeat signalled the start of a chorus of critics, especially on the Internet, who all said this proved that Royce wasn’t any good anyway. “Now a lot of people speak bullshit,” Wallid told me. “Everybody forgets that Royce beat everybody.” In fact, he said that it is “stupid to talk that Royce is not a good fighter,” adding that “everybody who talks bad about Royce is a coward.”

Wallid explained, “Because he won, everyone respected him.” Now that Royce lost this one match, “everyone don’t respect you no more.” He said, “everyone needs to continue to respect Royce,” whose technique he continued to praise.

“Everybody lost in Jiu-Jitsu,” he said. “I lost.” Wallid said although he had never lost in Jiu-Jitsu by submission, he had lost one match on points. He says his “fighting record is 20 fights of Freestyle, with 18 victories and 2 defeats,” the ones in Pride and UFC. As to Jiu-Jitsu, “I’ve fought so many times that I can’t remember.

“Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali, all these guys lost.”  He concluded, “Just God is invincible.”

WALLID’S “SECRETS”: TRAINING AND HARD WORK ALL DAY

Wallid attributes his success to a number of factors that should now be familiar to any serious student of the martial arts and the fight game. “I train all day,” he said. “You train hard, you improve.” He also did not let his defeats at Pride 4 or UFC sidetrack him. “It’s incredible,” he said. “One day won, one day lost, one day won. It’s a fun life.” His irrepressible warrior mentality has served him well. When he lost at Pride, he said, “I know I’m going to be back, because I know I’m going to train hard. I know my spirit’s strong,” something neither Rorion nor Royce anticipated.

He watched old tapes of Royce Gracie to prepare for this match, but admitted, “In a fight with no points and no time limits, there’s no way to make a plan before.” He also said, “I thought the fight would last for a few hours. So defeating a fighter like Royce in five minutes was a surprise despite I knew I could do it anyway.” And why did he use the “relogio?” Simple. “Because it was the hit possible at that moment. It could have been any other one, depending on his movements.”

Wallid has a way of making profound statements sound very obvious. Listen to why he said he was able to defeat Royce: “Because I trained a lot. It was all of these things together, technique, training, and conditioning. Because all of these elements are necessary.” No shortcuts, no secret weapons, no mumbo-jumbo. Just hard work. “I believe not only me but everybody was surprised about this.”

And he clearly understands that in defeating Royce, and in such a convincing and indisputable fashion, he made martial arts history. “I have no doubt that this fight will be remembered for years,” he said. “I also believe that for them, beating me would be a kind of revenge for defeating the other two Gracie members.” But the revenge of the Gracies would have to wait for another day, if ever at all.

In Brazil, Wallid said, Jiu-Jitsu is the second biggest sport, only behind football (soccer). Before the fight, Wallid said that in Brazil, the Brazilian magazines were saying, in effect, “Royce is the man. He’s going to kill Wallid.” After his win, he said, “Everybody don’t believe this.” But he made believers out of everyone in Brazil, as Wallid has become the toast of the town in Rio. He has appeared on the covers of about five Brazilian magazines, and has been honored by Rio’s Secretary of Sport, Jose Moraes.

And Wallid is now achieving international recognition. “Now everyone knows me,” he said. “Never any one guy beats three Gracies.”  Wallid has also been bombarded with offers to do videotapes and seminars in North America, which will happen sometime this year.

REMATCH IN THE WORKS

A few days after the fight, when Wallid phoned me from Brazil and said he wanted his side of things aired to the whole world, he mentioned that a rematch with Royce was in the works. He said he had spoken to Rorion about a rematch just after this fight, and Rorion had agreed.

Again Wallid is accommodating about the terms.  “Whatever Royce wants,” he said. “Whatever rules Rorion wants.” He explained, “This is my life.” And if you hadn’t figured it out by now, “I don’t have fear in my heart.”

The main difference with the rematch is that both sides will plan to make some significant money from it, and secure a major media outlet for it. That means that it may be held in the U.S. or Japan, and possibly made available somewhere on pay-per-view.  Nothing is set as we go to press, but this does seem like a promoter’s dream, one of those rare must-see matches that come along only every so often.

Wallid also wanted to leave this message with the martial artists and fight fans of North America: “All of the martial arts are good, but Jiu-Jitsu is the most efficient of the fights because it is an extremely technical fight. That’s why all of the fighters of the world are learning Jiu-Jitsu.”

So the rematch should come this year. Wallid has decided just to concentrate on this, and not to accept any other fights before it.

And what is his message to Royce Gracie, a man for whom he has repeatedly said he has the utmost respect? “I know I’m going to beat you again.”

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