These days, even in Japan where wearing the gi is allowed in competition, nearly all MMA practitioners choose to fight without one. Yet if you allow your mind to travel back to those early UFC competitions, the picture of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu's Royce Gracie with a gi on and his hands in the air triumphantly is hard to shake. What many didn't realize at the time was that before the UFC was even an idea, his family's art had a rival in Brazil. Luta Livra was the martial arts style's name, and no gi submission grappling, sometimes in combination with strikes, was its game.
Though the Gracie's style definitely defeated Luta Livre on most occasions during their territorial war, the fact that fighters don't wear a gi anymore- which was a major difference between the two styles- says something.
Luta Livre History
Luta Livre means wrestling in Portugal. That said, the term Luta translates to 'fight' and Livre translates to 'free'. Therefore, loosely the term means 'free fighting'.
Luta Livre as we know it today emanated from Brazilian judo and wrestling. It was founded in the mid 20th century by Euclydes Hatem, who went by the name Tatu. Luta Livre truly burst into Brazilian social consciousness when the first of the major Brazilian Jiu Jitsu vs. Luta Livre encounters happened in the 1940's, with Hatem defeating George Gracie.
Later in the 1970's, the art was influenced by Tatu's students Fausto and Carlos Brunocilla, who graduated several experts. Perhaps even more so, the art was later positively impacted by Roberto Leitao, a wrestling and judo practitioner. This University professor of Engineering learned to use technique over raw force- similar to Helio Gracie- due to the fact that he was a smaller man and helped to refine several techniques of the art. Though Leitao certainly used leverage to his benefit, his words to Fight! Magazine note a major difference between the philosophies of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Luta Livre, with Luta Livre following an ideology more akin to what catch wrestling or shootfighting might.
"Gracie was stubborn,” Leitao said, referring to Helio Gracie. ”He believed that leverage was enough, but he was wrong.” Those that agree with him, of course, might site the success that wrestlers had against BJJ practitioners once they adapted to the submission game.
Regardless, during the 1980's and 90's, the majority of the fights/challenge matches between the two arts went to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, not Luta Livre, which, along with a lack of finances- due to the fact that Luta Livre has always been considered more of a poor person's art than jiu jitsu, which was more for the elite- declined in the eyes of MMA historians and practitioners.
Styles of Luta Livre
- Luta Livre Esportiva: This style of Luta Livre refers to no-gi submission grappling. It looks similar to catch wrestling, though it developed independently in Brazil.
- Luta Livre Vale Tudo: This is really Brazilian MMA, which happened before the UFC took hold. In other words, no-gi submission grappling plus striking.
Characteristics of Luta Livre
Luta Livre looks a lot like catch wrestling, in that takedowns, takedown defense, and ground control are emphasized, as are submissions on the ground. Since Luta Livre practitioners recognize that most fights go to the ground, ground fighting is the number one priority. That said, striking of the Muay Thai variety is also currently taught within the style.
Goals of Luta Livre
The goal of Luta Livre is to take down and submit an opponent as soon as possible. Again, since striking is taught, the goal might also be to stop an opponent with strikes. That said, Luta Livre is primarily a grappling art, so the tendency would be to go with the former.
Three Famous BJJ vs. Luta Livre Battles
Euclydes Hatem (Luta Livre) vs. George Gracie (BJJ): A very important fight for Luta Livre's popularity. Hatem defeated Gracie in the 1940's.
Rickson Gracie (BJJ) vs. Hugo Duarte (Luta Livre): Duarte, a disciple of Luta Livre, said something insulting about Rickson Gracie’s family on a Brazilian beach. Rickson, widely considered today to be the greatest of all the Gracie fighters, slapped Duarte after the insult and a fight ensued that was caught on camera by a tourist.
In the end, Rickson mounted Duarte and pummeled him into submission. This fight held great importance for the Gracie's as the tape of it was later used as a marketing tool to sell Gracie Jiu- Jitsu’s effectiveness.
- Walid Ismail (BJJ) vs. Eugenio Tadeau (Luta Livre): After Tadeau defeated a BJJ fighter by the name of Renan Pitanguy, Ismail, a Carlson Gracie product, was angry. But years later, after Royler Gracie fought Tadeau to a draw without wearing a gi (an insult, in a sense, considering that Gracie Jiu Jitsu was somewhat founded on the gi), Ismail challenged Tadeau in the media. The fight ended in the second round when the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner threw Tadeau out of the ring, where he was counted out. Later, Tadeau claimed that BJJ supporters didn't allow him back into the ring, while BJJ fans/practitioners indicated that he was either too afraid to reenter the ring or was hurt.