What is Luta Livre? - Combat Sport Events

What is Luta Livre?


There have always been those lurking in the shadows. Those who are worth a lot, but can’t catch a break and their spot under the sun because of something similar. That similar catches all the attention that belongs to you.

That can be said about the Brazilian martial art of Luta Livre.

In this article, we will look at what exactly it entails how it was developed and why it is still mostly unknown outside Brazil, even if it has influenced the world of martial arts much more than most MMA fans know.

What is Luta Livre?

Luta Livre is a Brazilian martial art created by Euclydes Hatem in Rio de Janeiro. It consists of a mixture of catch wrestling and judo with strikes also allowed with hands, feet knees and elbows.

With two main types of Luta Livre the rules vary.

Esportiva which are grappling matches. These matches are similar to Jiu-Jitsu but with no Gi.

Then you have Vale Tudo which means “anything goes” includes striking as well as grappling. Although the grappling and submissions are still the main element in the fight.

Brief History

Much like the Kain to its Abel, Luta Livre was developed in Brazil. The so-called inventor was a man named Euclydes Hatem.

Hatem started as a catch wrestler however, Tatu, as he was called, was a creative and innovative guy. Tatu began to experiment with many new approaches to martial arts and forms of fighting.

As time progressed he formed his own principles and techniques, encapsulated in the art form known today as Luta Livre.

The name itself means freestyle fighting.

The most notable examples of early success for this martial arts style came when Tatu challenged many Brazilian JiuJitsu masters, even the famous Gracie family to a fight.

The highlight came in the year 1940 when Tatu submitted George Gracie in a Catch Rules fight. This expended the numbers of people who were interested in Luta Livre.

Tatu had many famous students under him afterwards. Some notable examples are Euclides Pereira, Fausto and Carlos Brunocilla.

One can say that Euclides Pereira ended what Tatu started when he challenged Carlson Gracie. The fight took place in 1968 and Pereira won, to the surprise of many.

Luta Livre has two different styles. the first is called esportiva and the second is Vale Tudo or ‘anything goes’.

Luta Livre vs BJJ

There is a lot of light and shadow elements when it comes to the rivalry between these two Brazilian martial art forms.

Ever since its beginning, Luta Livre was considered a poor man’s martial arts. Those unfortunate ones, who didn’t have enough money to buy a gi would have to give up on learning JiuJutsu and focus on Luta Livre.

Apparently, for a time, you could tell who knows what martial art just by looking at their skin color. If you were more light-skinned and came from a middle class or richer family, you were probably into JiuJitsu. On the other hand, if you were a poor black kid, living in and around favelas, you were most likely a student of Luta Livre.

Clashes between the school of martial arts happened often. The most notable examples are the ones we have already mentioned, that of the Gracie family with Tatu and his students. 

Luta Livre dominated during the 60s and 70s. But things began to change in the 1980s when Carlson Gracie became an MMA champion. The people in charge of the reputation of Luta livre rushed into some bad decisions. They believed they could launch the popularity of Luta livre worldwide by challenging the Gracies, like in years past.

This lead to a few exhibitions on the beaches of Brazil that went poorly for the reputation of Luta Livre. Hugo Duarte lost both to Carlson Gracie and Tank Abbott in two successive fights. This led many practitioners both in Brazil and globally to shift their alliance to Gracie Jui Jitsu.

Luta Livre in MMA

Probably the biggest name that came out of the school of Brazilian Luta Livre is former UFC champion Marco Ruas. This man has one of the most impressive debuts in MMA history. When he faced his first opponent in the MMA, Larry Cureton, he was at a huge disadvantage. Cureton outweighed him by around 40 pounds.

But that didn’t stop Ruas, who defeated his opponent with a heel hook after numerous submissions, however, that wasn’t all he and Luta Livre had to offer.

In his final fight in the UFC, he faced giant Paul Varelans. Varelans was 6’8” and weight around 350 pounds. But Raus defeated him with a barrage of leg and fist strikes and claimed his title as a UFC champion.

Another champion that hails from the Luta Livre school is Renato Sobral. He didn’t compete in the UFC successfully like Raus, but he did manage to become a Strikeforce champion in his own right.

He had only one fight in the UFC, that ended in a bit of controversy after he continued to choke his opponent after he already tapped out.

This was apparently due to cursewords his opponent addressed him with before and during the fight. But this incident didn’t stop him and he became a Strikeforce champion later in his career.

Luta Livre techniques

Luta Livre

Much like BJJ and other grappling styles, Luta livre comes with an array of effective hooks, and other kinds of submission techniques.

Naturally, based on the rules Vale Tudo has a much larger array of moves since it allows for striking. Vale Tudo techniques have been used in MMA by several other big-name fighters including Jose Aldo and Darren Till.

One such technique is the reverse side mount. If you lay on your opponent at the side, with your ribs on his, you have to stable yourself and pin him down at the same time.

A lot of beginners make the mistake of trying to get on their knees first. This can only lead to the freeing of your opponent.

You have to stabilize yourself so that you can throw one of your legs around him. You have to fixate him with one arm and one leg so that you can position your rother leg perfectly.

This position and technique, when done right can be effective for both striking and choking your opponent out.

Another effective for example is a standing takedown technique. Ram your opponent with your body, lifting one of his legs up in the hip and throwing him to the ground. A move quite similar to a wrestling or Judo takedown.


So there you have it. Luta Livre although not as widely known as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is still as important as it’s rival martial art.

It’s influence in MMA can be seen today throughout organizations such as the UFC. However, it’s popularity outside Brazil has decreased and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu has increased dramatically.

With the Luta Livre introducing the Vale Tudo style of fighting to the world it’s hard to ignore the fact that the sport had a lot to do with the early development of Mixed Martial Arts.

If you liked this read, check out our article on the Gracie Family.

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