When considering the top Jiu Jitsu fighters of all time, we should acknowledge Jiu Jitsu’s short but fascinating history.
Jiu Jitsu has its roots in Japan, in Kodokan Judo especially. It’s story outside Japan moves to Brazil, where in 1925, Geo (Jyoji) Omori started a judo/jiu jitsu school.
Another Japanese, Mitsuyo Maeda, was also instrumental in the rise of Jiu Jitsu in the West.
Maeda’s teachings are said to have filtered down to the Gracie family through Carlos Gracie, a showman type with a propensity for embellishment.
Evidently the best of the fighting Gracie brothers to this point, Jorge (George), hit the road to demonstrate his ability in professional bouts and to teach Jiu Jitsu.
Meanwhile, more loyal to Carlos, brother Hélio focused on developing the ground fighting aspects and teaching their version of Gracie Jiu Jitsu.
Carlos, meanwhile, taught jiu jitsu to the Brazilian national police and researched the Gracie Diet, a nutrition regime aimed at keeping blood pH levels neutral.
BJJ & UFC
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Gracie Jiu Jitsu were introduced to the United States by Carley Gracie, the final member of the Gracie family to be taught by Carlos and 11 of his 21 children.
Second-cousin Rorion Gracie followed Carley, teaching jiu jitsu Stateside and training actors Mel Gibson and Gary Busey for 1987 movie Lethal Weapon.
In 1993, Rorion teamed with a promoter to create UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship).
The Gracie family are in the thick of everything BJJ, but it’s worth mentioning the legacy of Mitsuyo Maeda includes one Luiz França.
França took Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to the favelas (slums), a world away from the circles the Gracies moved in. As well as the poor, he taught police and army personnel. One of his pupils, Oswaldo Fadda, kept the tradition going, teaching for free in public parks.
Unsurprisingly, the time came when the Gracies would be challenged at their own game.
Fadda’s fighters emerged triumphant, prompting him to say, “We put an end to the Gracie taboo,” and for Hélio Gracie to add, “All you need is one Fadda to show that Jiu Jitsu is not the privilege of the Gracie.”
Both França and Fadda had learned directly from Geo Omori—mentioned earlier in this piece.
Omori also came up against the Gracies. He fought and drew with George Gracie.
And in his match against Carlos Gracie, Geo refused to quit despite severe ligament damage when Carlos dislocated his arm.
Which brings us to one of the game’s more memorable moments, involving Roger Gracie and Ronaldo Jacaré Souza—two who are certainly among the top Jiu Jitsu fighters of all time.
The famous ‘arm-lock’ match
It was July 25, 2004, and a championship was on the line.
Gracie began by pulling guard (bringing his opponent toward the ground) and attacking Jacaré’s arm.
Roger then found himself in turtle position with his back exposed.
Jacaré worked the opportunity and went ahead 4-0 on the scoreboard.
Roger got another chance to pull guard as the match progressed, this time capturing Jacaré’s left arm.
The Gracie arm-lock was on. The struggle was real.
Somehow Jacaré loosened the lock and ripped his arm free, but not before tearing his elbow ligaments.
From that point on, his left arm hung uselessly by his side.
He spent the remaining minute and a half, defending his damaged arm. Roger failed to find an advantage and when the bell ended the contest, Jacaré was the Mundial absolute gold champion.
A year later Jacaré was back to battle Roger Gracie in another Absolute championship title, this time losing on points.
The list of BJJ champions is long and contentious.
Rickson Gracie, Marcus Buchecha Almeida, Rubens Charles, Rafael Mendes, and Marcelo Garcia are acknowledged greats.
As are Alexandre Ribeiro and Andre Galvao. Others include Fernando Terere Augusto, Rudolfo Viera and Leonardo Leozinho Vieira.
In the ’50s, João Alberto Barreto never lost a fight—and we’re talking mainly Vale Tudo (anything goes) contests.
In the ’70s, Rolls Gracie was also undefeated.
In Australia, we have Anton Minenko and Craig Jones.
Female BJJ competitors are also revered, among them: Michelle Nicolini, Luiza Monteiro, Beatriz Mesquita, Dominyka Obelenyte, Kyra Gracie, Luanna Alzuguir, Leticia Ribeiro, and Gabi Garcia.
But Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is not all about who’s the best. It’s benefits are undisputed.
For more information about BJJ, read our previous blog post.