Euclydes Hatem: The Armadillo
Known as “Tatu”, or “Armadillo”, Euclydes Hatem was a legend of the grappling scene in 1930s and 40s Brazil. Hatem carved out a niche for himself in the violent Catch Wrestling scene and is considered to be the founder of Luta Livre.
Born to a Lebanese family in Rio de Janeiro in 1914, Euclydes Hatem was to become a household name. Hatem was an overweight child who began rowing at first, but soon Catch Wrestling became his passion. In his teens, Euclydes Hatem began training at the Associação de Cristã de Moços (the YMCA) in Rio de Janeiro with two legendary wrestlers. The first was the aged Orlando Americo da Silva, known as “Dudú”, who had previously taught both George and Helio Gracie. The second was another legend of the catch scene, Rufino Dos Santos, who famously beat Carlos Gracie in a grappling match.
With the nickname “Tatu”, meaning Armadillo, Euclydes Hatem turned pro in 1935. Including his amateur career, Tatu was almost unbeatable between 1930 and 1950. From the late 1930s and throughout the 1940s, he dominated the Brazilian grappling scene. While Catch had become scripted “Pro Wrestling” in the USA by this time, it was still very much alive and well as a hardcore sport in 1940s Brazil.
His relentless attacking style, extraordinary power and refined technique earned him immense respect and the name “Mestre Tatu” (Master Tatu). He was particularly known for strangleholds, winning many matches with chokes. His reputation as a choke specialist led to many fighters refusing to meet him without it being made off limits. Through the 1940s, Euclydes Hatem defeated several notable grapplers, including the French champion Charles Ulsemer, judoka Takeo Yano (a student of Mitsuyo Maeda) and George Gracie. Takeo Yano and Tatu became good friends, with the Japanese grappler learning Catch from Hatem and introducing heel hooks to Jiu Jitsu. The match with George Gracie in 1942 was one of the biggest sporting events of the era. The match ended in the third round with Euclydes Hatem submitting Gracie with a reverse double wrist lock.
After defeating the best in the grappling world, Hatem retired as the highest paid fighter in Brazil. He taught his style of Luta Livre in a few schools including his own. His fighting days were not quite over. A former student of Helio Gracie, Valdemar Santana (who famously beat his BJJ teacher in a four-hour long Vale Tudo grudge match) walked into Mestre Tatu’s gym and challenged him. Tatu defeated Santana in seconds, sending him on his way. As Catch Wrestling began to become increasingly scripted in the mid-1940s, grapplers moved away from it to what began being called American Luta Livre. Euclydes Hatem taught his Luta Livre to eager Brazilians, mixing Catch, Greco-Roman and Freestyle Wrestling with Japanese Jiu Jitsu. He passed this on to Fausto and Carlos Brunocilla who disseminated it across Brazil and into the rest of the world.
Euclydes Hatem passed away aged 70 in 1984. His legacy of Luta Livre has grown into a formidable sport which has produced some of the great fighters to come out of Brazil.