“The Smashing Machine” was released in 2002. This documentary gave great insight on the life of fighter Mark Kerr, his struggles with addiction, relationships and conditioning, all while fighting in some of the greatest promotions of the time. The associate producer of this film was Brazilian movie producer Frederico Lapenda. The year prior, Lapenda also co-produced “Rites of Passage: The Rebirth of Combat Sports,” which are both classics to all of us veteran MMA fans.
Now turn the clock back to August 14, 1996, NK Hall Bay Auditorium, Japan, that same visionary, Lapenda, introduced us to the World Vale Tudo Championship (WVC). Never before had a non-citizen of Japan hosted such an event in their country.
WVC 1 brought with it an eight-man No-Holds-Barred style tournament and a super fight with two former UFC Champions in Steve Jennum vs. Marco Ruas. Richard “Red” Heard became the WVC tournament champion that night, while Ruas made easy work of Jennum for the super fight. All in all, Lapenda delivered an action-packed night to a full house and everyone went home satisfied with the spectacle they witnessed. Keep in mind this was during the dark ages of our sport and events were very difficult to pull off in the United States, as politicians fought it tooth and nail.
As a collector, I look at events such as the WVC and know not many pieces of memorabilia survived. Many artifacts such as fight worn items, canvas’s, banners and programs were tossed, but one thing that typically isn’t is the championship belt. When the promotor straps that gold around your waist, it has to be a great feeling and typically that belt is staying with that fighter. However, my good friend and fellow collector Charlie Smith owns the very belt awarded to Richard Heard that August night in 1996. It is a very significant belt as its the very first belt awarded at a WVC event. He also has the check which was never written out to the champion, but Heard did raise it in the ring after his final victory.
These tournament style events separated the men from the boys. Heard came out for his third and final bout vs. Fred Floyd (six-foot-four, 340 pounds) already battle scarred with a gash on his upper right eye. Both fighters went at each other hard, but Heard was the better man that night and choked Floyd into submission in the first round to become the inaugural WVC champion.
Lapenda would later go on to produce over 100 shows around the world.
Frederico Lapenda was very influential in growing the sport of MMA to what it is today. As just a young man in his twenties, he created one of the finest promotions of its time and later went on to be a very successful movie producer and now serves as the president of the Beverly Hills Film Festival. There’s no telling where our sport would be without personalities such as Lapenda, but what I do know is he sure knew how to put on great shows in both the ring and on film.
Ed Theisen is a preserver of MMA and combat sports memorabilia. It is his goal, along with partner Charlie Smith, to open up the very first combat sports museum.
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World Vale Tudo Championship 1 full event
(Courtesy of nhb mma)