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Joe Moreira


Joe Moreira is one of the most controversial yet important people in early Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in America. He was one of the first black belts in America who wasn’t a Gracie. He started the first BJJ tournaments in the U.S. He was one of the first to cross train in other arts for Vale Tudo. He awarded several BJJ black belts to Luta Livre fighters who never trained in straight BJJ at a time when there was an enormous rivalry between BJJ and Luta Livre.

Despite his controversial nature, Joe Moreira is a very important part of BJJ in America and we would be in a much different place if it were not for him.


Since Joe was in this game well before the formation of the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation, there is scarce information about how he faired in the tournament scene. But Joe is so much more than just his win record on the mats, he literally brought BJJ tournaments to America.

Joe did compete in the limited tournaments available in Brazil, until he was awarded his BJJ black belt and then a Judo black belt two years later. With his Judo black belt he was also awarded a scholarship to train in Japan at the Kodokan Judo Institute and with the Olympic team. During his time in Japan he competed in the Judo World Cup and placed 2nd.

After returning to Brazil from his training in Japan Joe started his first tournament, The Copa Atlantico Sul. Joe was always the headlining bout in these early matches and it soon become reference for Jiu-Jitsu in the 90’s, having the most prestigious grapplers around.

In the early 90’s Joe moved to the United States to pursue more teaching opportunities. Soon after arriving he realized there were no competitions for Jiu-Jitsu in the states, thus he created the Joe Moreira Cup and later helped organize the first Pan American Championships. Joe was truly invaluable to Jiu-Jitsu in America and he’s a name not many know any more.

Joe also fought in early MMA (or No Hold Barred as they were called at the time) fights. He has a 2-2 record including a submission win due to terror.

Joe has also produced many black belts and top students who have gone to make names for themselves. A few of his students are Marco Ruas, Roy Harris, Kimo Leopoldo, and Marcus Aurelio.





Joe Moreira

Joe Moreira was born in the inside of a taxicab right outside of a Rio de Janeiro hospital, guess he was eager to get out and help shape Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Moreira started his fighting career at the age of five when he was urged by his older brother to start up Judo, and by the time he was six he had won his first title. It was around this time that Joe began training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Mauricio LaCerda, who he studied under until he was around nine years old and found the academy run by Carlson and Rolls Gracie where he trained mainly under Reyson Gracie and Fernando “Pinduka” Guimaraes. He only stayed briefly though, after a chance visit to the Reylson Gracie Dojo right across the street, Reylson took a liking to Joe’s style and wanted to groom him to become an instructor. During the next 15 years of studying under Master Reylson, Joe also learned how to organize and run tournament. A skill that would greatly affect us all for the better.

After many years of dedicated training Joe would receive his black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in 1984 from Francisco Mansure. Joe often competed in the top Jiu-Jitsu tournaments of the 1980s, such as Copa Company, Copa Lightning Bolts and Copa Cantao and he racked up a very nice collection of titles. His participation in these prestigious events earned Moreira recognition as one of the toughest fighters of the time. Because of his reputation as a top fighter, Moreira was offered the opportunity to fight the undefeated Rickson Gracie who would go on to become the top Jiu-Jitsu fighter of all time. Moreira fought Rickson twice. Unfortunately Joe was defeated both times, once by 2 point and once was Rickson by armbar. But he had done something no one had been able to do up to that point; give Rickson a tough fight and a friendship developed between the two.

In 1986 Joe received his black belt in Judo, and with this promotion he received an internship to train Judo at Terry University in Japan and then the Kodokan Judo Institute. While in Japan Joe spent many months training extensively with the Japanese Olympic Judo team and completed a course that had over 1,000 Judo black belt students. The highlight of his experience was competing in the Judo World Cup in Japan. Joe won the silver medal adding to his already impressive collection of titles and medals.

After a couple of years of invaluable training in Japan, Joe returned to his native Rio and began to teach Jiu-Jitsu out of a sports center in Barra da Tijuca. While he was teaching there, Joe was contacted by Ricielli Santos about organizing a Jiu-Jitsu event. Santos was well known in the Jiu Jitsu community for organizing some of the biggest tournaments in the 80’s and together they organized the very first Copa Atlantico Sul, named after the Atlantico Sul sports center it was held. Very quickly this became THE Jiu-Jitsu tournament of the 90’s. It became well known as the competition where the day’s top Jiu-Jitsu fighters would go to test their skills.

In the early 90’s Joe was invited by Reylson to move to the United States to become a BJJ instructor. Joe says he was promised many things to move, but when he got there many of the promises were unable to be kept. Due to a financial disagreement Joe decided to break away from Reylson and forge his own path despite not speaking any English. Before the split from Reylson, Joe met a student at Reylson’s named Cub Garrett who saw Joe’s potential and partnered with him to start teaching BJJ. Cub took Joe and his wife into his home and for a year he taught out of Cub’s garage until he was able to open his own school; Joe Moreira Jiu-Jitsu de Brazil academy in Irvine California. During an 8 year partnership with Cub, they opened 30 branches around the country. Joe also realized there were no Jiu-Jitsu tournaments. Having experience organizing events, Joe put on the first Joe Moreira Cup which eventually led to the first Pan American Championships.

Joe was quickly making a name for himself around the martial arts communities which led to an opportunity in 1996; compete in the UFC. Famous UFC referee “Big” John McCarthy was a student of Joe’s at the time and he was able to get Joe a try out behind closed doors with the UFC execs. Joe had to fight UFC 1 fighter Zane Frazier in a bare knuckle challenge match. Zane quickly shot in for a takedown and was swept almost effortlessly by Joe who maintained mount until time ran out. His performance impressed the UFC and Joe was signed. He only fought twice for the promotion, once losing a decision to 6’8” 360lb Paul Varelans at UFC 8 and winning a decision against Yuri Vaulin at UFC 14. But during this time a very important friendship would be made. While training for his UFC 14 fight Joe met UFC 7 Champion Marcos Ruas, a Luta Livre fighter from the same neighborhood, and the two quickly formed a friendship. Back then there was an enormous rivalry between Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Luta Livre, BJJ saying Luta Livre was a sport for poor kids who couldn’t afford a gi, and cross training with them was unheard of at the time. After some time training together, Marcos introduced Joe to another Luta Livre fighter, who like Ruas had a heated rivalry with BJJ and its fighters, and after training with them and seeing their skill levels he awarded them BJJ black belts. This caused a huge controversy in the martial arts world. Joe also trained and awarded a black belt to Kimo Leopoldo.

Today, Moreira is married with four kids and lives in Newport, California. The 8th degree red and white belt teaches seminars around the globe and conducts private lessons. Considered a top authority on Jiu-Jitsu, Moreira has issued 120 black belts around the world and released a total of 38 instructionals.

Joe’s 4 principles of the bottom position

Joe’s side control attack

Back Control Series

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