What exactly is Luta Livre?
The Brazilian grappling art of Luta Livre has lived in the shadows of its better known sibling, BJJ. As no gi becomes ever more popular, a light has been shone on the less familiar fighting style.
No gi grappling is on the ascendancy. While traditional Brazilian Jiu Jitsu remains on an upward trajectory, with Judo and Sambo also growing, the popularity of MMA has given rise to a new generation of grapplers who want to do away with the gi entirely.
Luta Livre began life in the rough and ready grappling scene of 1940s Rio de Janeiro. Through the 1930s and 40s several grudge matches and style vs style matches were held, pitting the Gracies, various judokas and catch wrestlers against each other. As the 1940s wore on, Catch Wrestling began to become scripted, as it had in the USA in the 1920s, becoming Pro Wrestling. Disillusioned wrestlers who were used to real competition began forging their own way. One of these men was Euclydes Hatem, the most popular wrestler of the time.
Hatem retired from the ring in 1950, starting his own academy where he taught his style of Luta Livre which melded what he had learned from his career fighting all comers from various grappling arts. With his own Catch Wrestling background forming the foundation, elements from Greco-Roman and Freestyle Wrestling were incorporated, along with Jiu Jitsu and Judo. Hatem passed his teachings on to father and son team, Fausto and Carlos Brunocilla, who in turn spread the art throughout Brazil in the 1970s, along with wrestler and judoka Roberto Leitão, who added to the system.
Luta Livre Brasileira, or “Brazilian freestyle fighting”, was initially popular with the poor kids in Brazil, as you didn’t need to buy a gi. The rivalry between Jiu Jitsu and Luta Livre may have started with Hatem beating George Gracie in 1942, but has continued throughout the years with Euclides Perreria beating Carlson Gracie in 1968, Hugo Duarte losing to Rickson Gracie on the beach in 1988 after a scuffle broke out and Eugenio Tadeu losing to Jungle Fight founder Wallid Ismail in 1991. The sports were seen as opposite, with the rich kids facing off against the poor ones from the favelas in a form of class warfare.
The sport of Luta Livre is divided into two distinct styles: the grappling only “Esportiva” and the all in Vale Tudo. While most competitions are in the sporting style, Vale Tudo is one of the early versions of MMA and has been a major contributor in terms of the fighters it has produced. Names like UFC7 champion Marco Ruas, seven-times lightweight Shooto champion Alexandre Franca Nogueira, Cage Rage, UFC and Bellator fighter Renato “Babalu” Sobral and UFC legend José Aldo.
While Luta Livre has not enjoyed the popularity of BJJ outside Brazil, it is starting to get more of the respect it deserves as MMA continues its march through the combat sports arena.