Luta Livre is a no-gi submission grappling art that was once best known for its storied rivalry with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu reps in the Vale Tudo and "style vs. style" era. The term used to conjure up images and stories about Luta Livre's do-or-die clash with BJJ fighters at the 1991 Desafio event in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to determine which fighting style was superior. The BJJ candidates defeated all three of the Luta Livre fighters and eventually rose to global prominence while Lute Livre practitioners and schools faded away.
But that's not the case by today's standards -- just like everyone and everything else in MMA, evolution is imperative. Presently, Luta Livre is an increasingly popular topic and now associated with rising UFC prospects like Terry Etim and undefeated lightweight Paul Sass, who's won 11 of 12 by submission and faces Jacob Volkmann in tonight's UFC 146: Dos Santos vs. Mir event.
Bellator Fighting Championships has been assaulted by a legion of dangerous Luta Livre fighters, such as this year's Middleweight Tournament winner and former UFCer Maiquel Falcao, Bantamweight Tournament finalist Luis Alberto "Betao" Nogueira, who picked off Alexis Vila on his road to the finals, and the fan-friendly Genair da Silva, aka "Junior PQD."
The lineage for all of these Luta Livre representatives stems back to Brazil's Renovacao Fight Team; a school run by Master Marcio "Cromado" Barbosa who, in his MMA debut, submitted the legendary Caol Uno in Shooto. One of Barbosa's star pupils is Marcelo Brigadeiro, the UK-based Team Kaobon's grappling coach and the trainer and manager of Falcao, "Betao" Nogueira and "Junior PQD." Beyond the jump, Brigadeiro shares his thoughts on the resurgence and evolution of Luta Livre, the fallout from the BJJ vs. Luta Livre competitions and whether there's still a rivalry today, Paul Sass's grappling technique and the 10 best Luta Livre fighters currently competing in MMA.
Continued in the full entry.
Dallas Winston: How has Luta Livre changed or evolved from the 90s?
Marcelo Brigadeiro: I think it has became much more technical and more professional. Most of the people that were in charge of spreading Luta Livre in the 90s only had the concern of showing off and please their own egos. Nowadays there are less people working on spreading Luta Livre around, but the ones that are doing it have the right goal and the right attitudes. Technically, I believe that me and others that are in charge of spreading Luta Livre (LL) around are much more concerned in developing techniques and in improving LL skills.
Dallas Winston: It seems like LL is starting to make a comeback in MMA. Do you agree? If so, why do you think there's been a resurgence?
Marcelo Brigadeiro: Yeah, for sure. And this time we are much stronger and much more ready to do so. It is happening right now because people like me and my master Cromado kept holding the LL flag even when everybody else has left. Everybody else that could have done a lot for LL has left to go after their own goals. Me and Cromado were different: we've put LL before anything else in our lives and for the last years we have sacrificed a lot to keep LL alive. Now we are very proud to see it getting stronger and stronger.
Dallas Winston: Was the Desafio BJJ vs. Luta Livre event in 1991 really the main cause of LL fading from popularity while BJJ soared? Were there any other reasons for this?
Marcelo Brigadeiro: Of course not. A single event cannot be the cause of the big gap that exists between Luta Livre and BJJ`s popularity, especially because in this LL vs. BJJ events, half of the so-called "LL representatives" weren't even from Luta Livre. We did not have enough fighters so people from Thai Boxing and Capoeira used to fight representing LL and their losses were scored as our losses.
But it was not the main reason at all. The main reason is that the BJJ representatives were much more clever and much more competent in spreading the art than we were. While they were marketing BJJ and concerned with spreading it around with business strategies, we were only worried about going to the gyms and beating the BJJ fighters up. And this difference of mentality between both arts is easy to understand if you think that, at that time, most of the BJJ representatives were rich and have been to good schools; the majority of them had been to the university, while the LL ones were from the favelas and many of them didn't even know how to read or write properly.
Dallas Winston: The centerpiece of BJJ is the gi, yet none of the 3 BJJ reps wore a kimono in the Desafio matches. That made it seem like it was much more "fighter vs. fighter" than "style vs. style" yet BJJ was viewed as superior afterwards. Can you give me your thoughts on that? It never made sense to me.
Marcelo Brigadeiro: You are right. It has never been about the best martial art, but about the best fighter. It is how it used to be and how it is nowadays. But we all took too long to understand that. People ask me, "If its about the best fighter and not the best martial art, why does BJJ have many more successful representatives in MMA and grappling comps than LL has?". It is an easy answer: its all about mathematics. For each LL fighter there are 1,000 BJJ fighters ... which has the best chances to find 10 exceptional talents among its representatives?
Dallas Winston: Are there any grappling techniques specific to LL? A move you would see and say "That's pure Luta Livre"?
Marcelo Brigadeiro: Yeah, many. The guillotine, the heel hook, the arm triangle and many others are LL signature moves. BJJ fighters did not know how to use them until they started training with us.
Dallas Winston: In your opinion, who do you think the top 10 current Luta Livre reps in MMA are?
Marcelo Brigadeiro: Terry Etim, Paul Sass, Gesias Cavalcante, Genair da Silva, Luis Nogueira, Alexandre Pequeno, Alexandre Ferreira, Daniel Acacio, Luis Besouro and Rafael Morcego,
Dallas Winston: In your opinion, what are the key differences between Luta Livre and Catch Wrestling?
Marcelo Brigadeiro: I think Luta Livre is more complete. Catch Wrestling is a very interesting art with a lot of very good and not used techniques but, according to its rules, there are many techniques that cannot be used, while in Luta Livre we can do it all.
K.J. Gould: Does LL still have a rivalry with BJJ, even if now just friendly?
Marcelo Brigadeiro: Yeah, deep inside we will always have it. Maybe not the new practitioners but everyone that took part in the LL vs. BJJ war in the 90s will always have it deep inside.
K.J. Gould: How much of a leglock game did Paul Sass have before joining Kaobon, and how much has he developed them in his time there?
Marcelo Brigadeiro: Nothing (laughs). Sass' leglocks were horrible before but he is a very talented kid and learned it very fast. Nowadays his overall game is really good -- I can say that Sass now has a very dangerous and complete ground game.
Follow Marcelo Brigadeiro on Twitter: @Brigadeiromma
Brigadeiro's website: www.prime-fighters.com
RFT website: Renovacao Fight Team
Follow Marcio "Cromado" Barbosa on Twitter: @MCromado