MMA hardcores and history buffs will recall the epic “style vs. style” rivalry between Jiu-Jitsu and Luta Livre in Brazil.
The two grappling arts were strongly disassociated with one another and constantly at odds. Jiu-Jitsu and Luta Livre were surging in popularity midway through the 20th century, and the stark divide between the two cliques intensified at an equal rate. The cardinal antithesis was that Jiu-Jitsu is practiced in the gi or kimono and Luta Livre is a no-gi system. The cost of the gi versus the freedom to fight in minimal attire also sparked a social antagonism with undertones of class versus class and rich versus poor, making the clash more personal and emotional than a simple quarrel over combat preferences.
The simmering rivalry drew to a boil in the 1980s and crescendoed in 1991 with the Desafio event in Rio de Janeiro. The show featured three Jiu-Jitsu versus Luta Livre challenge matches in an attempt to determine the superior style once and for all. The competitors were: Wallid Ismail (Jiu-Jitsu) vs. Eugenio Tadeu (Luta Livre), Murilo Bustamante (Jiu-Jitsu) vs. Marcelo Mendes (Luta Livre) and Fabio Gurgel (Jiu-Jitsu) vs. Denilson Maia (Luta Livre).
Even though the modern combat sports world emphasizes the tradesman more than the trade, back then, the clean sweep for Jiu-Jitsu vaulted it to the forefront in Brazil. The art became the more recognized and respected of the two and Luta Livre fighters and gyms dwindled to near extinction. One puzzling aspect is that Vale Tudo (“anything goes”) and NHB (No Holds Barred) competitions were concurrently springing up all over the world with an atmosphere more conducive to Luta Livre, as the Jiu-Jitsu practitioners were burdened with adapting their technique for an opponent who wasn’t wearing a gi.
Luta Livre has picked up some momentum recently. Once a student under Eugenio Tadeu, Marcio “Cromado” Barbosa captains the Renovacao Fight Team (RFT) in Brazil. Marcelo Brigadeiro of RFT passes along the Luta Livre tradition as the grappling coach of Team Kaobon in the UK. Together, the two schools have produced the likes of former Pride fighter Luciano Azevedo, undefeated UFC lightweight Paul Sass (11 of 12 wins by submission) and Bellator middleweight Maiquel Falcao.
Jiu-Jitsu would change the face of martial arts a few years later when the Gracie family ventured to America to initiate another hand-to-hand competition to define the most effective martial art. That was UFC 1, where the legend of Royce Gracie and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu were born … and are still thriving today.
Video footage of all three matches awaits in the full entry. Thanks to the UG’s “Pro Ice” for the find.
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