Introduction to Luta Livre: From Street Fighting to Combat Sport

Last updated on 20.05.2023 by

When it comes to the development of MMA and modern martial arts, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gets a lot of the credit. But one other Brazilian martial art that doesn’t get enough credit, although it was extremely influential, is the art of Luta Livre.

If you’ve never heard of Luta Livre, it is an effective martial art with a rich history. Here is an introduction to Luta Livre and how it became an internationally practiced sport.

History and Origins of Luta Livre

Luta Livre, which translates to “free fight” in Portuguese, is a Brazilian form of submission wrestling that has a long and complex history. It is often considered to be the predecessor of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

The origins of Luta Livre can be traced back to the early 20th century in Brazil. At that time, professional wrestling was very popular in the country, and many wrestlers from Europe and North America would come to Brazil to perform. Brazilian wrestlers began to take part in these shows and soon developed their own style of wrestling, which incorporated elements of catch wrestling, judo, and other grappling arts.

Euclydes Hatem

The man that developed Luta Livre was the legend known as Euclydes “Tatu” Hatem. Mestre Tatu took up catch wrestling as a teen after an unsuccessful attempt at becoming a professional rower.

Hatem had a stocky figure and was incredibly strong, which is why he was given the nickname Tatu or armadillo. 

He would win numerous wrestling tournaments and various styles, but was most known for his catch style of wrestling. For decades, Tatu would win numerous championships and would beat the best grapplers in the world for over three decades. 

Tatu would even soundly beat George Gracie, who was known as the best athlete of the Gracie family. Hatem and Helio would go back and forth challenging each other, but nothing ever came from them.

During the early 1950s, Hatem would retire from competition and open his own wrestling school. Calling his style Luta Livre. He would teach thousands of students over the next thirty years until his death in 1984.

Luta Livre’s Rise In Popularity

Luta Livre continued to grow in popularity throughout the mid-20th century, and many famous wrestlers emerged during this time. One of the most famous was Antonio Inoki, a Japanese wrestler who traveled to Brazil in the 1960s to study Luta Livre. He later went on to become a wrestling superstar in Japan and around the world.

Many Luta Livre practitioners like Inoki would share the art of Luta Livre around the world. 

Fundamental Techniques of Luta Livre

If you look at the art of Luta Livre, it is almost identical to modern no-gi jiu jitsu with a heavy wrestling base. Also better knowledge of leg locks, which are now more widely practiced in modern grappling.


Since Luta Livre is heavily based in wrestling and some judo techniques, it has a heavy emphasis on wrestling. If you want to fight on the ground, you first have to get your opponent down.

Just like in a heavy wrestling based BJJ school, Luta Livre teaches various forms of takedowns. Numerous types of double leg, single leg, and throw entries.


Just like with BJJ, Luta Livre is a form of submission grappling. If you attend a Luta Livre school, you will learn many of the same strangle and arm locks that you would in a jiu jitsu school.

The main difference however, is that Luta Livre is known for teaching more leg lock techniques. You will definitely get some good tips for hitting leg locks if you train at a Luta Livre school.

Ground Control and Escapes

Since Luta Livre is more wrestling based, their students are taught the importance of ground control. They control their opponents very similar to a jiu jitsu athlete with a base in wrestling.

Focusing to stay on top and grind out their opponent to open up a submission opportunity. They also learn many of the same escapes that are taught in mat wrestling and modern day no-gi jiu jitsu. 


Mestre Tatu didn’t teach striking, but most modern Luta Livre schools are similar to MMA schools. They also learn a form of striking like Muay Thai to go along with their grappling ability. This is why we’ve seen many successful Luta Livre fighters in MMA.

Luta Livre vs. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Luta Livre and BJJ do get compared a lot, and they do have many similarities, but also a lot of differences. Here are some of the similarities and differences between the two.


  • Submission Grappling Arts: Both martial arts are forms of submission grappling, where the focus is to get your opponent to the ground. Establishing control of your opponent and submitting them.
  • Both Effective: Both grappling arts are proven effective and learning either will improve your self defense abilities.
  • Belt Systems: Both martial arts have a belt system for their students. They’re a little different, but they do use belt systems.
  • Both Produce Great MMA Fighters: Both styles have created some of the best MMA fighters in the world.


  • Philosophies: BJJ tends to rely more on using a guard in their grappling. Luta Livre being wrestling based teaches their students to stay on top and control their opponents.
  • Gi & No-Gi: Traditional BJJ is taught in the gi and Luta Livre trains no-gi. This difference was one of the many things that caused the fierce rivalry between the two styles.
  • Leg Locks: Along with being more wrestling based, Luta Livre practitioners were known for being more proficient at leg locks. 

The Rivalry Between BJJ and Luta Livre 

Historically, BJJ and Luta Livre have had a fierce rivalry for the last century. Much of which was civil until the early 1980s. We could write an entire article on the conflict, but we’ll keep it short.

At a Carnaval event in the early 1980s, a group of Muay Thai fighters beat up Royce Gracie and his cousin. This sparked a violent war between Luta Livre and BJJ that would last until the late 1990s.

For the next two decades, members from both sides would fight in Vale Tudo competitions, as well as street fights. Some of which almost turned deadly, with mobs from both sides arming themselves with knives and guns at different points.

Many famous fighters from both sides took part in this war from Walid Ismail, Fabio Gurgel, Murilo Bustamante, and Mario Sperry.

One of the most famous fights from this war took place on a beach in Copacabana between Rickson Gracie and Hugo Duarte. 

The Pentagon Combat Riot

The last battle between the two in 1997 would end in a riot at an event put on by ADCC founder Sheik Tahnoon. During the main event between Renzo Gracie and Eugenio Tadeu, things would get out of hand.

Crowds of people would climb onto the cage as the two fought. Renzo was assaulted by a spectator and when he retaliated the riot commenced. 

The crowd trashed the arena and there were multiple injuries and reports of gunshots. This riot made international news, which made the Brazilian government step in.

They made the two sides squash their beef and make peace. Since then, the two sides are peaceful and even train alongside one another.

Famous Luta Livre Fighters

There have been numerous champion Luta Livre fighters in the history of combat sports. Here are some of the most famous Luta Livre fighters in the history of the martial art. 

Euclydes “Tatu” Hatem

We have to start with the creator of Luta Livre himself in Euclides “Tatu” Hatem. During his fighting career, Hatem won numerous titles against the best grapplers in the world for over three decades. Without Mestre Tatu, there would be no Luta Livre.

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira 

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira is one of the greatest fighters in the history of MMA. He is the only fighter to ever hold the UFC and Pride Heavyweight Championships.

Minotauro is a long time Luta Livre practitioner, as well as a jiu jitsu practitioner. He developed an effective style that helped him be one of the world’s best fighters for three decades.

Antônio Rogério Nogueira

We can’t also forget Minotauro’s equally talented brother, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. Rogerio was just as good as his brother and grew up learning these martial arts alongside his brother.

One thing Rogerio has over his brother is he was a Brazilian champion in boxing. He would use his boxing and grappling ability to fight the world’s best fighters in Pride and the UFC.

Marco Ruas 

MMA pioneer and former UFC champion Marco Ruas played a vital role in the spread of Luta Livre. He was seen as one of the leaders of Luta Livre during the rivalry against BJJ.

Actually leading Luta Livre to victory during one of the first Vale Tudo shows between the two martial arts. Ruas is considered a legend in fighting and respected by all in BJJ and Luta Livre.

Pedro Rizzo 

Marco Ruas’ protege Pedro Rizzo, was one of the most feared fighters in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Known for his powerful leg kicks and knockout power, Rizzo would rack up wins against many of the world’s best fighters. Including knocking out UFC champ Josh Barnett.

Milton Vieira

Milton Vieira is a name that you may not know, but is one that you should know. Vieira, a Luta Livre practitioner, credited for invented the anaconda choke submission. One of the most powerful head and arm chokes that is now taught in all forms of submission grappling.

During his fighting career, Vieira fought everywhere from Deep, M-1, Strikeforce, and the UFC.

The Role of Luta Livre in MMA

Today, Luta Livre is still practiced in Brazil and in other countries around the world. It has evolved over the years and now incorporates elements of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, submission grappling, and other grappling arts. Many famous fighters have come out of the Luta Livre tradition, including Marco Ruas, Anderson Silva, and Fabricio Werdum.

By that list of names, you can understand that Luta Livre has played a vital role in the evolution of MMA. It is a highly effective martial art that you should consider looking into. Learning Luta Livre techniques will definitely help improve your grappling.