The Ur-Brazilian MMA Feud: BJJ vs Luta Livre and the Style They Never Saw Coming

A little bit of history on the longtime feud between luta livre and BJJ.

By: Nate Wilcox | 16 years ago
The Ur-Brazilian MMA Feud: BJJ vs Luta Livre and the Style They Never Saw Coming
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

I found a better video from one of the events that I referenced in yesterday’s history lesson so here’s Fabio Gurgel vs Denilson Maia of the classic BJJ vs Luta Livre battles from the 1991 “Desafio – Jiu-Jitsu vs. Luta Livre” event:

Again note that Gurgel wins by dominating position — Maia gets the first takedown but can’t pass guard. Gurgel takes a while but he does pass guard and once he gets mount it’s all over. Pretty static fight really — the two styles had grown up together over several decades and were very incestuous.

Here’s a 1992 fight featuring Marco Ruas, one of the best fighters associated with the Luta Livre camps. He was originally a Muay Thai fighter. His combination of striking and submission prowess made him a trail blazer of MMA. He was a long time rival of Rickson Gracie but sadly the two never fought. Ruas would later be a UFC champion.

The cool thing was, in 1995 at the next Desafio event, the BJJ/Luta Livre rivalry ran smack dab into another native Brazilian style — Capoeira in the form of Mestre Hulk. The tourny was set up very much according to a stock formula, one Lutra Livre guy (Pedro Otavio), one BJJ guy (Amaury Bitetti), a couple strikers and a couple brawlers (including legendary Rickson rival Rei Zulu). Hulk refused to play into the unprepared striker stereotype and surprised them all, especially Bitetti. Here’s a Brazilian TV report from the time:

And here’s a highlight reel of Hulk:

Moral of the story — strikers with enough ground skill to not get overwhelmed have an excellent chance in MMA. Plus Capoeira, while not a high percentage style, does have some wicked cool moves.

More MMA History posts in the extended entry.

Previous installments of MMA History:

XXII: Catch Wrestling and Kazushi Sakuraba’s Early PRIDE Run
XXI: The Amazing UFC Championship Run of Frank Shamrock

XX: Kazushi Sakuraba and Frank Shamrock Emerge at Ultimate Japan
XIX: The Humbled PRIDE of Nobuhiko Takada
XVIII: The Losses of Luta Livre
XVII: The Lion’s Den Roars
XVI: Rico Chiapparelli and the RAW Team
XV: Pancrase, RINGS, and Shooto 1996
XIV: Boom and Bust in Brazil
XIII: Coleman Gets His Kicks
XII: End of the UFC Glory Days
XI: Carlson Gracie’s Mighty Camp
X: The Reign of the Wrestlers
IX: Strikers Attack
VIII: From Russia With Leglocks
VII: A New Phase in the UFC
VI: A Dutch Detour
V: The Reign of Royce
IV: Rickson Brings Jiu Jitsu Back to Japan
III: Proto MMA Evolves Out of Worked Pro Wrestling in Japan
II: The Ur-Brazilian MMA Feud: BJJ vs Luta Livre and the Style They Never Saw Coming
I: UFC 1 Pancrase meets BJJ

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About the author
Nate Wilcox
Nate Wilcox

Nate Wilcox is the founding editor of As such he has hired every editor and writer to work for the site. Wilcox’s writing for BE is known for its emphasis on MMA history, the evolution of fighting techniques and strong opinions. Wilcox developed the SBN MMA consensus rankings which were featured in USA Today from 2009 to 2011. Before founding BE, Wilcox was a political operative working for such figures as Senators John Kerry and Mark Warner and an early political blogger. He is the co-author of Netroots Rising, a history of the political blogosphere from 2003 to 2007. Wilcox also hosts the Let It Roll podcast on music history for the Pantheon Podcast Network.

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