Photos by Susumu Nagao
[Shogo Kawabata is a Shoyoroll creative team member and freelance editor. He published the jiu-jitsu zine「ATAQUE」since 2000. He is currently publishing a strangest plants magazine with Straight-Books.]
Before it was called “mixed martial arts,” no-holds-barred fighting was virtually dominated by the strongest jiu jitsu players of BJJ’s early teams.
It was a time when style mattered more than well-roundedness—as most of the world had yet to catch up with the technical mastery of grappling that the Brazilians had been honing for a few decades.
The significance of the walkout—the entrance into the ring—held more meaning in those early days, simply because fighters were far more representative of their individual instructors and training partners.
In these photos, taken by legendary photographer Susumu Nagao, we see Vitor Belfort, and Wallid Ishmael—two of the most fierce-some grapplers to have been raised under the tutelage of Carlson Gracie, the prolific jiu-jitsu teacher and team-leader known for his hard-nose style and rebellious attitude.
You’ll notice both Belfort and Wallid are seen wearing their gi during their entrance—something you don’t see in MMA very often anymore. Back then, a gi was worn as a sign of respect to both their lineage, and as a symbol to show the crowd what style they were truly representing in battle.