BJJ vs Luta Livre — Which One Is Better? [Solved]

Whether you are into grappling or not, you have likely heard about the BJJ vs Luta Livre rivalry. This is among the biggest rivalries, not just in the grappling world, but in the history of martial arts. From street fighting to wild gym wars, BJJ vs Luta Livre rivalry had it all.

On paper, these two arts share much in common, and might even look the same to the average person. But, BJJ is a grappling style that has its origins in Judo and puts a lot of focus on ground fighting. The goal is to take the fight to the ground and submit the opponent using chokes and joint locks.

Luta Livre is a grappling art that is also known as “Brazilian Submission wrestling”. As its name suggests, it has its origins in catch wrestling, which makes it different from BJJ. But on the other side, it also puts a lot of emphasis on ground fighting and includes some elements of striking.

Keep reading this article to find out more about how BJJ and Luta Livre differ from one another. And, we will explore the history of their rivalry, and try to find out which one is better for MMA or self-defense.

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What are the main differences?

Although both of these styles focus on grappling, BJJ and Luta Livre differ a lot from one another. This is notably true when it comes to techniques, emphasis, and many other aspects. Here is all you need to know:

History and derivation

BJJ is a fighting style founded by the famous Gracie family in Brazil. It all started when the famous Judoka, Mitsuyo Maeda came to Brazil to teach Judo around 1917. After around 5 years of training, his students, Carlos and Helio Gracie used Judo as a base to form their own style. Their new system differed from Judo a lot since they moved its emphasis on ground fighting. The name “jiu-jitsu” derives from the words Ju (gentle) and Jutsu (art), so in translation, it means “a gentle art”.

Luta Livre, on the other side, shares the same time and place of origins. Its founder was Euclydes Hatem who at the time was a famous catch wrestler. He created a fighting system that was a mix of catch wrestling, Judo, and striking put into one style of fighting. He named it “Luta Livre” which translates to “free fighting”.

Techniques and emphasis

BJJ is a fighting style that covers both standup grappling and ground fighting. Since most fights begin on the feet, the initial goal is to use Judo moves to take the fight to the ground. The emphasis of the art is on ground fighting where the goal is to finish the fight using chokes and joint locks. The art is all about leverage and technic, rather than using sheer force. It doesn’t include any striking at all.

Luta Livre is similar to BJJ, but, its emphasis is on catch wrestling techniques. When it comes to ground fighting, it focuses more on leg locks, which were not allowed in BJJ in the past. And, it includes the basics of striking, notably from Muay Thai, and ground and pound as a way to finish the opponent.

Styles and uniforms

In the past, there was only one style of BJJ in which all students needed to wear a uniform called “Gi”. A gi uniform consists of a heavy cotton jacket, pants, and a rank belt around the waist. It is very similar to the one in Judo or even karate. In the beginning, this type of uniform was very expensive. It was a status symbol to some extent because poor people couldn’t afford one at the time. 

But over the years, and notably the birth of MMA fighting, we would see the rise of the No-Gi style. Nowadays, there are plenty of No-Gi schools around the world.

Luta Livre, on the other side, was much different right from the start because it was all about No-Gi training. In some way, people saw it as a fighting style for the poor people, the same ones who couldn’t afford a Gi uniform to train BJJ. Over the years, the two main styles over Luta Livre have emerged, and both of them teach No-Gi techniques:

Luta Esportiva Livre — this form focuses just on catch wrestling and submissions.

Luta Livre Vale Tudo — this form includes both grappling and striking. It was created for early MMA matches in Brazil and famous “Vale Tudo” tournaments.

Which one is better for Self-Defense?

BJJ is a much better option than Luta Livre when it comes to self-defense. This mainly due to a fact that BJJ has evolved much more over time. Nowadays, its grappling techniques are far more versatile and practical for self-defense.

And we don’t have to talk much about how BJJ is more popular in just about every part of the world. Even if you are a fan of Luta Livre and want to learn self-defense, you will still have to go with BJJ. Luta Livre is not that popular outside of South America, and you might have a hard time finding a gym. On the other side, it seems like every town has at least one BJJ gym.

BJJ is better when it comes to techniques as well. Don’t get us wrong here, Luta Livre teaches you great self-defense skills also. But, Jiu-Jitsu has a small edge in our view because it focuses more on leverage and technique. This is the reason why it is the only style that teaches you how to deal with a bigger and stronger opponent. We can all agree this is crucial when it comes to street fighting where there are no rules or weight classes.

Luta Livre, on the other side, is also very practical for self-defense. Like in BJJ, you will learn all about how to take the fight to the ground, and subdue or submit the opponent. It is even more versatile than to some extent as it teaches you how to throw or block strikes. But this aspect on its own is not enough for us to say that is better than BJJ for self-defense.

Nogi vs GI BJJ

BJJ and Luta Livre Rivalry and Street Fights

As said earlier, BJJ and Luta Livre emerged in the same place, and at around the same time. In some way, these two arts were on a collision course right from the start. It was just a matter of time before fighters from both styles started battling each other, not just in the ring, but on the streets as well. Athletes from both sides were calling out and battling each other for many, many decades. 

The rivalry between these two styles started in the 1930s and it would last up until the mid-90s. They fought each other on the streets, in the gyms, and in Vale Tudo events. Vale Tudo resembles modern MMA fighting, and its events were very popular due to the BJJ vs Luta Livre rivalry.

When it comes to the results, it’s fair to say that Luta Livre fighters have won more matches during the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. But, the tables would start to turn around from the 1980s when the best and most intense fights between these two arts took place. The rivalry would last up until the mid-90s when the rise of BJJ exploded due to its dominance in MMA, while Luta Livre failed to achieve the same status. 

Here are some of the most memorable fights between BJJ and Luta Livre

BJJ vs Luta Livre Famous Fights

It’s really hard to explain how big the BJJ vs Luta Livre rivalry was back in the day. The matches between these two arts were huge and often led to wild brawls in the arenas all across Brazil. Here are some of the most memorable bouts:

George Gracie (BJJ) vs Euclydes Hatem (Luta Livre)

The fight between George and Hatem marks the beginning of the rivalry between these two arts. In 1940, George would challenge Hatem to a fight, with an intention to prove that BJJ is superior to Luta Livre. It’s worth pointing up that this was all before the hate, street fighting, and many other bad things that took place between these two styles. Both sides agreed to a fair fight, and it all ended with Hatem submitting George via wrist lock. 

Rickson Gracie (BJJ) vs Hugo Duarte (Luta Livre)

This is, perhaps, the most famous BJJ vs Luta Livre fight. It all happened when the BJJ legend, Rickson Gracie, attacked and beat Luta Livre master, Hugo Duarte at “Pepe Beach” in 1988. It was a spark that triggered a war between these two arts. 

Duarte was so mad that he gathered a group of around 60–70 people, and he went on to invade the Gracie Academy. According to some sources, some of the members carried knives and even loaded guns. It was the wise Helio Gracie, who was 80 years old at the time, who would calm down the situation and suggest that the rematch should take outside the gym in the parking lot. The fight didn’t last long as Rickson went on to secure the full mount and force Duarte to give up once again.

Renzo Gracie (BJJ) vs Eugenio Tadeu (Luta Livre)

This was, by far, the most infamous fight that took place in 1997 at “Pentagon Combat” in Brazil. The hype around this event was massive and the entire arena was full of fired-up supporters from both sides. While Renzo and Tadeu were fighting inside the cage, the crowd started invading the cage, pushing the fence and climbing over it. 

At one point, one of the spectators kicked Renzo Gracie in the face which triggered a huge riot. People from both sides started fighting each other, and many people got hurt. The riot was so big that the government decided to ban all MMA events for the next 10 years.

Which one is better for MMA and why?

BJJ is much more popular than Luta Livre when it comes to MMA fighting, and it has been like that since day one. Still, this doesn’t mean that Luta Livre is bad for MMA by any means, no, it’s actually very practical. But BJJ took over the sport in the early stages, and it established itself as the best fighting style. Luta Livre, in some way, never got a chance to show its full potential in cage fighting. 

You see, Brazilian authorities banned MMA fighting after the infamous incident at “Pentagon Combat”. During the late 80s and early 90s, there was no MMA fighting in Brazil at all. Around this time, Gracie’s were already present in the US.  In fact, Gracie’s were actually the co-founders of the initial UFC Company. And UFC, as we know, marks the beginning of MMA in the western world. 

In the early days of MMA, the world saw the domination of just one man, and that man was Royce Gracie. He used his BJJ skills to win all UFC fights he took place in, beating fighters from other styles who were often much bigger than he was. This was huge because, back then, fighters were experts in just one fighting style. Every UFC bout was a pure style vs style matchup and BJJ emerged as the best.

MMA started to rise at a rapid pace, and so was BJJ. Luta Livre, on the other side, failed to achieve the same or to come up with a star like Royce was. This was the main reason why Luta Livre started to fall into oblivion and why modern MMA fans don’t know much about it. The BJJ emerged as the best grappling art not just in the US, but the entire world.




I'm Timmy and I'm the chief-editor and co-founder of Jiu-Jitsu Street. You'll usually find me on the mats and also cross-training Muay Thai. Besides martial arts I'm also into functional fitness and all things health. Jiu-Jitsu Street was created to provide useful information for BJJ beginners and seasoned practitioners alike to help you on your journey and love for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Oss!

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Jiu-Jitsu Street is a community of fun loving and hard rolling BJJ enthusiasts. Born out of our passion for the gentle art, we have decided to create this blog and help you on your journey. Let’s grow and learn together on this never-ending journey. Oss!

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