Can Roger Gracie Replicate Grapping Success in MMA


This Saturday, on the main card of Strikeforce: Diaz vs Cyborg, Roger Gracie faces what will be widely considered his most significant test yet in what is still an embryonic MMA career.

In Trevor Prangley, Gracie must overcome a strong wrestler as well as a substantial experience deficit. Whilst Prangley is certainly not a renowned striker, he will likely seek to utilise a substantial advantage in stand up training experience by keeping the fight on the feet. Unlike some of Roger’s previous opponents who were dismissed as well past their prime, in the case of Randleman, or grossly undersized, as was the case with Kondo, Prangley can be considered nothing less than a solid light heavyweight- as testified by a recent win over Keith Jardine. It will be this fight that defines Roger as either a true MMA prospect, or as a grappler who still has some substantial refinements to make before the highest tier of MMA competition beckons.

Despite fighting a substantial portion of his bout with Randleman standing, it should be no secret that Roger Gracie will look to win the fight by submission. It would be supremely illogical not to do so considering that no one in the world should hold the advantage over him on the ground. There is of course the danger of ground and pound to be incorporated into his MMA game but should he be able to recreate a positional grappling battle and minimise striking, Roger will be the heavy favourite. In grappling Roger’s dominance is, if anything, under-emphasised.

Roger has not merely won the Mundials seven times, but has done so with a uniquely high finishing percentage- owning multiple submission wins over the very best in the world whilst never being finished himself as a black belt. His only losses are by the narrowest of margins, his opponents usually seeking to eek out a points victory rather than engage more actively. Whether this astonishing record of success will translate to comparable achievements in MMA remains to be seen, although it has been the source of some speculation.

His particular style of jiu jitsu could be accurately summarised as orthodox. Roger is not known for using esoteric techniques, and finishes most of his fights by classic manoeuvres such as the collar choke from mount (notably, he finished every one of his matches in the 2009 Mundials with this technique), rear naked choke in no-gi, and the occasional armbar (presumably for variety). He doesn’t overly rely on the gi- largely rejecting spider guard and it’s variants- and tends to work from a tight closed guard, often pulling an arm across to take the back or working for an armbar from the bottom (as he did against Ron Waterman in his MMA debut). He has also developed some high percentage half-guard sweeps. More often than not, his goal is to advance to mount, or the back, and finish from there. It is the tightness of his positional grappling that should transfer across to MMA particularly well. His spree of collar choke finishes should not be crudely interpreted as the hallmark of a gi grappler, but also attest to a virtually inescapable mount. At any rate Roger’s ADCC success casts aside any insinuation that he cannot enjoy the same success in a no-gi environment, contrary to the claims of certain Strikeforce announcers who insist that Roger is unfamiliar with the rear naked choke (the same move that he submitted Xande Ribeiro, Fabricio Werdum and Jacare with, all without clumsily reaching for a piece of non existent material).


 Time after time, the very best black belts in the world have been unable to prevent him from passing guard and mounting them. Terere, after being defeated by Roger in the absolute division of Mundials, conceded, “all I could move were my eyes”. Pressure, often hard to discern visually, can mean everything in grappling and it should hold true that Roger advances and maintains position uncommonly well for an MMA fighter. If he can combine this with at least rudimentary ground and pound, then it should hold him in good stead for his fledging MMA career.

Any doubts over Roger probably stem from the fact that he makes only partial concessions to the sport of MMA in his preparation. Unlike Jacare or Damien Maia, Roger has never taken a hiatus from jiu jitsu competition to concentrate solely on MMA. In a recent interview with adcombat, he reiterated that:

My sport is Jiu-Jitsu, it is where I come from and it is the sport that my family gave to the World. My motivation to always train comes from wanting to be the best in JJ, and that is the reason I've competed in 8 Worlds as a Black Belt.”

Whilst it would be grossly inaccurate to suggest that Roger does not trouble himself to engage in sport specific training (he always does so at Renzo Gracie’s academy, and has recently trained with GSP along with members of Team Rough House), Roger continues to compete in the Mundials with the kind of regularity that incites much chagrin from his competitors, who seem increasingly unable to challenge him. Whilst Jacare or Maia are beginning to look like MMA fighters rather than converted grapplers, having taken to training with MMA teams on a consistent basis, Roger does not hide his preference for jiu jitsu. Prangley will be a big enough test, and not one he is guaranteed to pass. Should he win, the competition will surely be of a very high calibre, and eager to exploit any perceived weaknesses in their opponents. In such circumstances, conventional MMA wisdom would suggest that more than a passing familiarity with wrestling and striking are a prerequisite for lasting success.

Roger does possess competent takedowns, increasingly he has worked on Judo and has been a black belt for some time, but it is not generally considered his forte. He has often conceded two points in competition after being taken down, and does not have the reputation of someone like Jacare for highly competent wrestling. Perhaps more so than his striking, Roger will need to call upon his improving takedown ability or show an aptitude for pulling guard. Certainly the latter is a riskier proposition in MMA, but Roger may be confident that his abilities from his back will neutralise ground and pound. Objectively, being on his back is surely a preferred alternative to exchanging punches with more experienced strikers- so guard pulling may be a common occurrence for Gracie, at least against an opponent like Prangley who outmatches him in wrestling. There are some positive claims to have emerged from his recent training sessions with GSP, with the UFC welterweight champion insisting via Sherdog that,

Roger is really good at taking the fight where he wants it – to the ground. He’s much better than people think. He’s not just a Jiu-Jitsu guy. Roger is a true MMA fighter.


Provided that Roger can bring the fight into his area of expertise, he may be able to cope with only a basic knowledge of the stand-up game. Perhaps his basic level of striking will counterintuitively be an advantage, since he will be unlikely to indulge in just enough striking to be vituperatively punished by knockout (as has been the case with more than one grappler in the past).

There is, however, at least one high profile sceptic when it comes to Roger Gracie’s MMA endeavours. Carlos Gracie Jr, alarmed by the neck circumference of some high profile fighters, does not believe that his student can replicate the same success in MMA. Graciemag reports that he is particularly concerned that Roger does not have the physical attributes necessary to succeed in the sport:

If both guys know Jiu-Jitsu, the stronger one wins…Roger is big but skinny, he’s thinner, with less muscle mass than his opponents.”

It is true that Roger is not an explosive fighter, but he is unmistakably strong.  Robert Drysdale shared an ofter-repeated anecdote involving Roger tearing a new gi during one of their matches and one of Roger's black belts, Nicolas Gregoriades, gave an illuminating account of how dominant Roger can be in practice - with his strength playing some part of the process:

Roger is big and strong, there’s no argument about it. At almost 6’5″ and about 220 lbs he’s unusually large for jiu-jitsu fighter. I remember a certain training session in which we were doing stand-up training. He had an underhook which I thought I was defending reasonably well. I was placing all my weight on it to neutralize his leverage. When he got bored he suddenly threw me literally across the mat using just that underhook. I have trained with 300 lb wrestlers who have not had that sort of power. This is one of the reasons he is such a dangerous fighter. He combines high levels of attributes with perfect technical knowledge. In the unlikely event that you match him technically in any area he simply over powers you.”

Roger has fashioned an almost unbeatable jiu jitsu game around his attributes, and obtained a level of technique that has always been the primary determinant of his success, but it is the case that he has adopted a methodical approach to combat that seems at odds with the frenetic activity of modern MMA. Many successful MMA fighters, particularly those from a wrestling background (who now constitute a very high percentage of leading MMA athletes), have a very explosive, high tempo style. It is something that Jacare can mimic fairly closely. Roger, by contrast, often appears languid- nonchalantly taking grips and incrementally advancing position.

There is certainly no law to say that Roger’s approach cannot find success in MMA, in similar fashion to Demian Maia who also tends to favour a cerebral strategy, and his serenity may well be an undervalued asset as he takes on new challenges. An often overlooked factor in transitions into MMA is mindset, and Roger has so far appeared every bit as imperturbable in MMA as when facing submission attempts from Xande Ribiero or Marcello Garcia.

Prangley, predictably enough, has told that he is hoping to test Roger’s ability to endure punishment:

But Roger’s never really been hit, and I’m going to put it on him.”

Should Prangley be effective in landing shots, Roger will have to countenance a very different kind of pressure and will answer a few more questions as to his viability as a genuine contender in the division.

Fighters like Roger Gracie entering MMA allows the sport to temporarily resume its place as a proving ground for starkly distinct styles of combat- giving the fans a taste of those early days. It has always been the potential clash of styles that has given MMA one of it’s greatest selling points: the complete unpredictability of what will happen when two diametrically opposed fighters compete. For that reason, whatever the outcome of Roger’s foray into MMA, Strikeforce should be lauded for giving these outstanding grapplers a showcase for their abilities- and a chance to redefine the landscape of a sport that so many conclude has outgrown its origins.

Dom Ashton


 Good article.


I think Trevor probably beats Roger.

Thanks for the black Jaco shirt!


I want a black Jaco shirt!!

romophobia -  FRAT

I think Trevor probably beats Roger.

Thanks for the black Jaco shirt!


 Glad you got the one you wanted.  Pulled some strings, no big thing ;)

What is this Grapping you speak of??? Phone Post

magwibs - I want a black Jaco shirt!!

 Hit the link in my name on a regular basis and you'll get it eventually.