The UFC’s rise in popularity was, in no small part, due to the introduction of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu into the diet of a martial artist. Before the UFC, Bruce Lee was the epitome of the smaller man succeeding through better technique and skill over strength and size. Royce Gracie showed the world in UFC 1, that technique can win over size in the real world too. Today, BJJ is a staple of any MMA fighter. As a result, being proficient on the ground is no longer an advantage but rather a prerequisite for MMA. In this article, we look at 3 UFC legends who’s BJJ is rarely seen in the octagon despite being as potent as any in the game today.
UFC fighters with BJJ
Donald Cowboy Cerrone
We don’t often associate BJJ and Cowboy. As a prolific kickboxer and standup fighter, Cowboy relies far more on his kicking game with several highlight-reel head kick KOs in the UFC. What many overlook is Cowboy’s 17 submissions in his 36 professional wins. BJJ wasn’t something that Cowboy focused on at one point in his career. He sunk a triangle in his first pro fight and scored an armbar against Mike Perry in 2018. His BJJ skills have littered his career. His long limbs and reach give him a real advantage in securing triangles against stockier opponents. Fighting at 155, Cowboy was able to achieve a strong level of control when he found himself on the ground and often finding the submission while he was down there.
The Diaz brothers are synonymous with BJJ and the Gracie family. Nate holds a second degree black belt under Cesar Gracie. It may be unfair to call a second degree black belt underrated but if you have seen Diaz fight, you know that his style is far more stand-up centric than ground focussed. In his 20 pro wins, 11 of those came from submissions. This is a decent amount but not as much as you might expect from somebody of Diaz’s ability. Instead of taking the fight to the ground, Diaz is happy to stand and bang with his opponent. He is happy to talk smack and slap his opponents rather than take them down and test their jiu jitsu. When he does take it to the ground, his technique is instantly apparent. Check out Nate Diaz fights against Conor McGregor and Carlos Condit for examples of this.
Aldo was the King of the featherweight devision the Prince of Brazilian MMA for years. Aldo is a black belt in both in BJJ and Lute Livre, a form of Brazilian martial arts combining the skills of wrestling and judo. With both of these skills, you might expect Aldo to dominate on the ground. Instead, Aldo chose to dominate on the feet. Aldo has 17 KO victories in 28 pro fights. This is in stark comparison to his single submission victory in pro MMA. That submission came back in 2005, years before his WEC and UFC days. Out of the three fighters listed, I think that Aldo is the most confusing. Being a kid from Brazil who was raised on grappling and take-downs, it is truly bizarre that he only has one submission win throughout his professional career. You might think that it is a weapon he is waiting to unleash, but at 33, entering the twilight of his career, this seems very far from reality.
In the years of BJJ in MMA, many fighters have showcased their exceptional skill and ability on the ground. Damien Maia and Gunnar Nelson are two examples which spring to mind. These fighters have the ability and the desire to take their opponents down and finish with a submission. Other fighters however, like the ones mentioned above, seem content to keep that skill under wraps until they need it.