Two weeks before Thanksgiving ‘93 Royce Gracie submitted three men in one night. All told he spent less than five minutes in the cage and, in doing so, introduced audiences to the complex world of Brazilian jiu jitsu.
Now, 22 years, six months, and one day later, three men are carrying on the legacy that Royce started. Together, Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza, Demian Maia, and the current heavyweight champion, Fabricio Werdum, boast a combined 20 world titles in jiu jitsu competition. From the prestigious, invite-only ADCC all the way to the ‘Mundials’ or World Championships of jiu jitsu, the three are among the most dominant to ever compete.
All the more impressive? Each has won multiple world titles competing in the traditional jiu jitsu gi, a training method often derided by MMA purists as a waste of time when training for a “real” fight. From a wrestler’s point of view, that position makes sense. Why take time away from valuable drilling by putting on a five pound jacket? When asked about training in the old school garb, Dan Henderson made it clear he had no interest in the kimono.
“…you need Jiu-Jitsu or striking to finish the opponent…but the truth is I never put on a gi. I’d be lost in the gi.”
For years that mentality has survived in some form or another. It’s only after the recent success of jiu jitsu luminaries and a greater adoption of traditional martial arts that modern MMA athletes have begun to train in the gi.
While it’s tough to debate the efficacy of collegiate wrestling as a base for today’s MMA fighter, the “gentle art” still stands as one of the strongest pillars on which to build your game. The fact that jiu jitsu is so low impact on the body plays a huge role in this; Cain Velasquez, Daniel Cormier, Khabib Nurmagomedov…the list of lifetime wrestlers who are plagued by injuries is seemingly endless. That’s simply not the case with jiu jitsu, and the continued success of Jacare, Maia, and Werdum well into their 30’s is evidence enough.
But there’s tough tests in front of all men this weekend where they’ll be competing in Curitiba, Brazil on UFC 198. Jacare Souza is coming off his first loss in the UFC against Yoel Romero last December, and will find little place to hide against the “Young Dinosaur” in Vitor Belfort. Demian Maia, on the other hand, has enjoyed nothing but success for the last two years, picking up four consecutive wins in the crowded welterweight division. But at 38, and against the violence incarnate that is Matt ‘The Immortal’ Brown, Maia will have his work cut out for him.
Finally, the reigning heavyweight king Fabricio Werdum meets Stipe Miocic in the night’s main event. This is a fight that could finally provide Werdum with the platform to make his claim as the heavyweight G.O.A.T. With wins over Fedor Emelianenko, Cain Velasquez, and Minotauro Nogueira, there’s little left for ‘Vai Cavalho’ to prove. Finishing Stipe Miocic and adding another submission to the near dozen he already owns will only further cement his claim.
Having the home country advantage is a massive win for the jiu jitsu aces already, especially given the furor Brazilians are capable of generating. And while nothing is set in stone until Bruce Buffer announces your name, the fact that three of the most dominant Brazilian jiu jitsu world champions are converging on a single night in the sport’s home country is reason enough for the jiu jitsu community to celebrate.
Maybe it wasn’t such a waste of time rolling around in those pajamas.
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – JUNE 13: Fabricio Werdum warms up in his locker room backstage during the UFC 188 event at the Arena Ciudad de Mexico on June 13, 2015 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)