Luta Livre vs BJJ – History and Differences

Luta Livre is a Brazilian martial art of catch wrestling. And if you follow this website – you need no introduction to BJJ. This article will give you some information about the general history of Luta Livre and its rivalry with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Luta Livre History

Luta Livre translated from Portuguese means “wrestling”. The translation of the words “Luta” and “Livre” are “fight” and “free” respectively, which means that the loose translation would be “free fighting”. As we’ve mentioned in the introductory paragraph, Luta Livre is a style of catch wrestling and it originates in the country of Brazil. Euclydes “Tatu” Hatem is the original creator of this martial art. This martial art was created back at the beginning of the twentieth century – and what’s interesting to note is that it started to develop parallelly with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

One of the greatest Luta Livre minds is Roberto Leitao. He implemented his knowledge of engineering and mechanics (he was a university professor) into developing the Luta Livre techniques. And what’s again interesting is the fact that, like Helio Gracie, he too wasn’t physically very strong. This led him to invent new techniques and refine the old ones so that they could now be implemented with leverage rather than brute force. To that end, the development of Luta Livre was very similar to the development of BJJ. After spending years in dedication and research on the subject, Leitao published what’s known as the theory of Luta Livre. You can read more about the fundamental principles of Luta Livre here.

With time, Luta Livre fell out of favor and it never did achieve worldwide popularity as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu did. There are several reasons for this. The first one is that Luta Livre failed to create a true champion that would transcend different martial arts and that would popularize the name of Luta Livre. The second reason comes in the fact that, with time, the BJJ guys started implementing more and more no-gi techniques. Many popular no-Gi tournaments came out, like ADCC, for example. Luta Livre’s specialty is in no-Gi, so when BJJ entered the no-Gi world, it meant that Luta Livre started losing its competitive edge.

Ultimately, what we feel was the reason for Luta Livre’s downfall in MMA importance and effect was the fact that the practitioners had wanted to learn something about everything – i.e. they used the Jack of all trades approach. They were good all around, but they weren’t exceptional in one particular field – unlike the other martial arts of the day.

As a system of techniques, this martial art is primarily a grappling art. This means that the takedown and the submission holds are heavily favored. However, strikes are also involved and they can also be used to stop a fight. The striking part it favors the use of various Muay Thai based techniques.

There were many notable fights between the Luta Livre practitioners and the BJJ practitioners. You will get to learn more about them in one of the paragraphs below.

Luta Livre types – Esportiva and Vale Tudo

There are two main types of Luta Livre. The first one is called Luta Livre Esportiva. This involves submission holds only – and is very similar to catch-wrestling, although it has been developed independently in Brazil. The second type of Luta Livre is called Luta Livre Vale Tudo. This is, in fact, the sport of MMA in Brazil – it involves both submissions and strikes.

Luta Livre vs. BJJ

As we’ve mentioned before, Luta Livre and BJJ have developed at practically the same period of time. But there are several important differences between them. First of all, in the beginning, the BJJ practitioners heavily favored the Gi and they more or less scoffed at no-Gi grappling. Getting a Gi was also considered as somewhat of a status symbol due to the fact that the poor people couldn’t purchase one. In this sense, Luta Livre was considered by some to be a martial art made for the poor people that can’t afford to get a Gi. Luta Livre only uses no-Gi techniques.

Also, BJJ doesn’t use any striking techniques, unlike Luta Livre. These two separate martial arts are implemented in the world of MMA and they are combined with striking for the purpose of winning the fight. But on their own – only Luta Livre uses techniques that utilize striking and ground and pound.

Many people would say that, despite these main differences, Luta Livre and BJJ are very much similar. And we can definitely see where this is coming from. They are both grappling martial arts that favor the utilization of grappling submission techniques. However, if there is one key difference between the two that we have to mention – it’s contained in something that one of the Luta Livre leading architects has said back in the day. We’re talking about Roberto Leitao’s notorious statement about Helio Gracie.

He thought that Helio Gracie was wrong in thinking that leverage is all a person needs in order to beat his opponent and that the size and difference in strength don’t matter. So, one of the main principles behind the sports philosophy, according to Leitao, was that strength does matter as much as technique matters. This is in firm opposition to Helio Gracie’s aforementioned theory that leverage is king and that strength is not as important.

Finally, we’ll mention the fact that, although both are grappling arts and use submission holds, the L.L practitioners put an emphasis on leglocks, unlike their rival BJJ practitioners. Leglocks are scoffed at by some BJJ schools in the world even to this very day – though this is not as pronounced as it was back in the day.

Famous fights

There are many fights that were very popular back in the day involving Luta Livre and BJJ practitioners. In this section, you will get to learn more about them.

Euclydes Hatem (LL) versus George Gracie (BJJ)

This is one of the biggest fights that helped dramatically increase the popularity of Luta Livre as compared to BJJ’s. In this fight, the founder of Luta Livre, Euclydes Hatem, won against one of BJJ’s top competitor of the day – Gorge Gracie.

Hugo Duarte (LL) versus Rickson Gracie (BJJ)

This too was a very important fight between the practitioners of these martial arts. Rickson Gracie needs no introduction, he’s currently considered a legend of BJJ – and is in popular opinion the best of all Gracies. This wasn’t a competitive bout, to be fair. The story goes that Hugo Duarte insulted Rickson’s family. Rickson challenged Hugo on a beach and the ensuing fight was recorded on camera by a random tourist. The fight ended by Rickson mounting his opponent and doing ground and pound until his opponent gave up. The recording of this fight was later used for BJJ marketing purposes by the Gracies.

Eugenio Tadeau (BJJ) versus Walid Ismail (LL)

In this fight, BJJ practitioner and student of Carlson Gracie, Eugenio Tadeau, managed to throw his opponent out of the ring. In this way, he won the fight, but this is not without controversy. After the bout, Ismail claimed that the BJJ supporters and fans didn’t let him re-enter the ring. The BJJ supporters and fans, on the other hand, claimed that Ismail was either too scared or too hurt to reenter the ring.

Renzo Gracie (BJJ) vs. Eugenio Tadeu (LL)

This is the most infamous of all the Luta Livre vs. BJJ fights. And the reason for this is that the fight started but never ended. Instead, there was a massive riot in the entire venue where the fight was held. There was much bad blood between the BJJ practitioners and the Luta Livre practitioners of the time. And the fight between Renzo Gracie and Eugenio Tadeu is where it all culminated. The fight started like any other fight – under the given rules of the bout. Renzo Gracie was 5-0 in MMA at the time. He took lead in the first round by doing ground and pound from the mount position and he nearly managed to finish the fight. But Tadeu persevered and, as Renzo started to get tired, he claimed the initiative. But the fight never reached its end.

The reason for this is that the Luta Livre fans and supporters started getting into the ring and they started punching and kicking Renzo Gracie. The referee had to stop the fight right there and then. After a few of these punches, all hell broke loose in the venue and there was a big brawl between the fans. After a short time, the lights went off and someone shot a gun in the air. This concluded the infamous event. This is considered one of the worst Luta Livre vs. BJJ fights because, after it, the authorities banned MMA in Brazil for more than 10 years – which cast a big shadow on its development and the rise of its popularity.