It difficult to argue against the suggestion that the ground game of MMA is the most technical element of the sport. The first two UFC tournaments were won by Royce Gracie, a ‘man in pyjamas’ who turned up and taught the world what a high level BJJ practitioner could do. It quickly became essential for MMA fighters to become proficient at ground fighting, and many other accomplished BJJ players have made the transition to MMA – leading to some painful submissions, nasty bone breaks and many people getting choked unconscious.
This is NOT a ranking of best BJJ players, as you could argue for days about who’s the top. Instead these are five of Fight Quality’s favourite UFC Jiu Jitsu practitioners.
Ryan ‘The Wizard’ Hall won the 22nd series of The Ultimate Fighter showcasing some nasty grappling in the process. With a massive amateur pedigree that includes two IBJJF world championships as a purple belt and over 300 submission wins in competition (200+ by way of triangle choke) Hall has gone on to medal twice at the BJJ World Championship, win at the ADCC world champs, and win the world no-gi championships, alongside a string of national competitions. Whilst he’s not the most active fighter, he does have some of the highest level BJJ in the octagon.
Attaining a black belt in BJJ is a process that can take decades – it’s an art that takes a lifetime to master, if you can ever truly master it. B.J. Penn got his black belt in just three years. Topping this feat is the fact he was the first non-Brazilian to win the black belt division at the Mundials (the BJJ world championships). B.J combined next level skills on the ground with elite striking, making him the second person (after Randy Couture) out of only four people who’ve won belts in two UFC weight classes – living up to his nickname ‘The Prodigy’.
‘Jacare’ Souza is regarded as being up there with the best grapplers of his generation. The number 3 ranked middleweight has a seriously impressive BJJ record to explain why he’s racked up 17 wins by submission in the UFC. He’s won two golds and three silvers in the ADCC championships, and eight golds and two silvers at the BJJ worlds, competing in mainly in the -88kg and the absolute classes. Once he’s got hold of his opponent they’re in for a bad time, which is why he’s nicknamed after a type of Caiman crocodile – explaining his famous crocodile ring entrance and arm gesture.
Damian Maia is typically the first thought when you mention BJJ and the UFC. Known for his high level skills the multi-time title challenger has fought in two UFC divisions, 185 and 170 pounds. He’s currently ranked 5th in the welterweight division, and has racked up 25 wins, including 12 submissions, inside the cage. Maia also has a big trophy cabinet filled with BJJ trophies, including two ADCC medals, a Pan American championship, and multiple CBJJ championship medals. Rated as one of the all time great BJJ players in MMA Maia actually holds a grappling win over Jacare Souza.
Our final inclusion on this list is one of the big guys. A previous champ and perpetual heavyweight title contender, Werdum is a well rounded fighter currently ranked third in the division. His pedigree as a BJJ player is extremely impressive; he’s racked up six ADCC medals (including two golds), seven IBJJF medals (four golds) and six Pan American championship medals (four golds). While we’ll always love Werdum for opening his fight with Travis Browne via flying sick kick to the face, you can’t help but respect that he’s got a serious set of skills on the ground.
This article is a follow up to our 5 favourite Kickboxers in the UFC, which you can read here, and make sure you let us know in the coments who your favourite UFC Grapplers are.