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Does Jiu Jitsu Suck? UFC Then and Now

The Before Times: 1990’s

In the year between the first and second UFC events, Gracie Jiu Jitsu exploded in popularity. If any other family created this kind of buzz, there would be a huge market discrepancy. The demand would outpace the supply in a dramatic fashion, the gyms would be so full they would have to turn students away, the UFC would collapse, fields would be barren, the skies would blacken, wombs would shrivel, and the end of days would be upon us.
Between the elders of the clan, Carlos and Helio Gracie, they had at least sixty children. These warriors and creators of Gracie Jiu Jitsu set out to build not so much a family, but an army of highly trained fighters that would change the face of martial arts more than any other family before. The generation that followed Carlos and Helio included Gracies and Machados. Every black, brown, purple, blue, and white belt practicing Jiu Jitsu today can trace their belt back to someone with either of those last names. The sheer number of brothers and cousins that were high level Jiu Jitsu practitioners were more than able to handle the onslaught of new students that flooded their doors in 1993.

Early belt system in Gracie Jiu Jitsu, image – BJJ Eastern Europe

The Brothers’ Experiment

Rorian Gracie, brother to Royce, Rickson, and Royler, (the R at the beginning of a word in Portuguese is pronounced as an H, so Royce becomes Hoyce and so on) would set up the first UFC to bring the “Gracie Experiment” to the world stage. This experiment was born out of the dojo storming that began in Brazil. The better black belts of the Gracie clan would run into the gym of another style of martial art and challenge their highest rank fighter. The result was always a win for the Gracie. Eventually, they would have a standing challenge with anyone that wanted to fight. The biggest iteration of this was UFC 1.
Despite UFC 1’s eventual success, the road to the tournament’s creation was full of setbacks and roadblocks. There was low turnout and low PPV buys when compared to every single event after. They sold 86,000 PPV’s. Paltry  when compared to UFC 2’s 300,000.
The ads they put out in Black Belt Magazine went mostly ignored. When co-promoter Art Davies described the event to Chuck Norris, Norris famously asked, “is this legal?” The answer would become, “it will be someday.”

UFC 1, image – Timetoast

UFC 1 was hindered by a crowd that didn’t know what was happening, refs that weren’t comfortable with the rule set (or absence of), and fighters that didn’t know what to expect. The only thing certain about was the display of Gracie supremacy. The Gracies attempted to bring the best active martial artists into the McNichols arena and show them how dominant Gracie Jiu Jitsu as a fighting system was. The night was a success in that Rorian Gracie put together the event and gave the $50,000 in prize money to his brother, Royce Gracie. Second place was nothing.

The End of Gracie Supremacy

Royce won UFC’s 1, 2, and 4 with submissions. The hardest fought was his triangle win against Dan Severn almost sixteen minutes into the main event of UFC 5. Dan stayed on top and head butted Royce until he tucked Dan’s arm and caught him in the choke. He would fight Ken Shamrock to a draw in UFC 5. A Gracie didn’t fight in the octagon for eleven years. In 2006 Royce went against champion at the time, Matt Hughes. Matt Hughes was at the peak of his abilities as welter weight champ when Royce squared up to him. Royce was pushing forty. 

In the fight, Matt Hughes quickly realizes Royce’s striking poses no threat. Hughes rushes in and drags Royce to the ground. He attempts a straight arm lock, and despite having the elbow joint hyperextended, Royce does not tap. Hughes then takes Royce’s back and proceeds to beat him into the land of wind and shadows. A Gracie wouldn’t fight in the UFC until 2019.

Hughes v Gracie, image –

A Kind of Rise

Kron Gracie, son of Rickson Gracie, entered the octagon to the sound of an air raid siren. He fought Alex Caceras and choked him out in the first round. It was apparent Kron’s skill set the second he put his hands on Alex. Kron dragged him to hell and finished him beautifully. 

Kron Gracie, image – BJJ Heroes

Kron is no soft touch. He has a resume that rivals the best. Kron has taken gold in ADCC, Silver in Worlds (being beaten by points by Gilbert Burns), gold in Euros, and went 4-0 in Rizin. When he lost to Cub Swanson later in 2019, it wasn’t because Kron had found some new kind of fragility in the UFC. Cub Swanson, being a legend in his own right, was just crafty enough to devise the perfect game plan against Kron. Swanson, also a high level black belt, refused to be taken down by Kron. He opted to keep it standing, and despite Gracie having trained with Nick and Nate Diaz for his standup, Cub out struck him handily. It was a loss, but not an insurmountable one given time and discipline.

A Failure of The Experiment

While Kron was doing press for his latest fight, a featherweight bought with Charles Jordain, Kron seemed aloof. The fight itself was brutally underwhelming. Charles Jordain came in ready for war, and Kron came in ready to leave. Kron, finding himself unable to get off even the smallest amount of striking on the feet, repeatedly pulled guard and stalled on the ground. It was a performance that was one dimensional. Gracie came into the octagon without having updated or adapted his fighting style. He looked sluggish and undisciplined against the enthusiastic Jourdain. Kron drew criticism from Dana White, which is fair because Dana is open with his criticism. He also drew criticism from Chris Daukus, who should probably be working on his striking defense instead of grumping on twitter. 

Normally, an unranked featherweight losing a one sided decision to another unranked featherweight isn’t anything to write about. This is Kron Gracie, though. His status as the direct offspring of the people that created the UFC will follow him, whether good or bad. He had an opportunity to meld a style that has its foundations in Gracie Jiu Jitsu, but is functional against current opposition. For whatever reason, he did not do that.

Where Does This Leave the Roots?

If MMA was a tree, Gracie Jiu Jitsu would be the roots. The current business infrastructure would be the trunk, and the branches would represent all of the amazing events they have put on over the years. Unfortunately for Gracie Jiu Jitsu, the roots look like they’re staying in the ground. While no one can argue the impact and importance, anyone would be hard pressed to win a title using only Jiu Jitsu. I can hear the nerds and virgins in my ear already saying, “but Dane, Charles Oliveira went on an amazing win streak, submitting elite opponents in arguably the UFC’s deepest division! Using fundamental Jiu Jitsu, no less!”

To which I would reply, “shut up nerd.” I might point out how Oliveira has top level, highly evolved range striking to soften his opponents and close distance. He also varies his attacks enough to trick his opponents and mixes in elite clinch work to supplement his ground game. I might point this out, but probably not, because I’m not like those nerds.

In most cases, the Jiu Jitsu specialists tear through their division until they run into top ten competition who have well rounded games. Jiu Jitsu has been solved for MMA, and like with all other single style fighters, to compete at the highest levels you need high level backup plans. Islam Makhachev is a specialist wrestler, but has clean, elite striking. Israel Adesanya is a high level kickboxing specialist with elite takedown defense. Ryan Hall and Paul Craig, on the other hand, have great Jiu Jitsu, but struggle anywhere not the ground.

Does This Mean Jiu Jitsu is Cringe?

Luke Thomas says a lot of things I don’t agree with, but they rarely hurt my feelings. This did. It hurt because I know that Mark Zuckerberg training doesn’t make Zuck cooler, it makes BJJ lamer. It could be a case of someone programming Zuckerberg’s AI with too many episodes of the Joe Rogan Experience.

This is taking into account a sport that has its G.O.A.T. participating in some suspect behavior. This is a sport that made Dillon Danis kind of famous, sort of. The comments are brutal

Jiu Jitsu being embarrassing is nothing new. Ralek Gracie, son of Rorion Gracie, also had a budding music career. Rorion created the UFC and trademarked the Gracie name. Ralek made this

I will save my thoughts on Eddie Bravo for another article and another time.

My point is that there are a lot of aspects of the culture in Jiu Jitsu that lacks the self awareness requisite in avoiding embarrassing behavior. There is a point of market saturation happening in combat sports, and Jiu Jitsu can’t escape lameness or backlash. This is true for anything as it reaches popularity.

No, It’s the Kids Who Are Wrong.

Most everything I’ve written up to this point is completely irrelevant when it comes to training. Most people who practice BJJ will never compete. They’ll never set foot in the octagon. Most people don’t even care who the current stars of the sport are. The most pure form of the art I’ve found is people training in a gym, oblivious to the latest drama dished out by social media or the press. This is how it should be. 

What makes BJJ unique is its lack of gatekeeping. It truly is a community based on bringing new people in and trying to help make them the best humans they can be while smothering them nearly to death. Jiu Jitsu is for everyone, after all




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