Putting together a list of the top 10 BJJ Practitioners is no easy task. One of the fastest growing sports in the world, the art is ever changing and new techniques and approaches are being added on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Search YouTube for new grappling techniques and you’ll be surprised by how many different styles appear.
Many of the people on this particular list are some of the innovators and some are the examples of how effective those innovations can be. Most of them are fighters but most also got their start in either BJJ or wrestling (which they adapted to submission grappling) and all of them have amazing BJJ skills and, more importantly, they know how to use them effectively.
The only non-MMA fighter on this list, Marcelo Garcia is relatively unknown outside of the BJJ world. Submitting the likes of Renzo Gracie, Jake Shields, Damien Maia, and many, many more, Garcia has competed at the highest levels including, the Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) World Championships, World Cup, and the Pan-American championships.
Competing in the 76kg division, Garcia routinely made quick work of his opponents within that division and did tremendously well in the absolute division (where the winners of each weight division compete against each other). He placed second and third in the 2005 and 2007 ADCC World Championships in the absolute division. He wasn’t just holding his own against some of the best heavyweights in the world, he was consistently winning by submission.
The video below shows Garcia at the 2005 ADCC World Championships against Xande Ribeiro who outweighs Garcia by nearly 20 kilograms. Not only does Garcia hold his own against a substantially heavier opponent, but he (spoiler!) submits him with a rear naked choke. To those thinking this is a fluke, two years later he submitted the much larger Alexandre Ferreira in the same tournament.
Garcia holds the record for most ADCC Championships with four in his weight division. Pound-for-pound, Garcia is among the absolute best BJJ practitioners.
Often overlooked because of his punching power (or his extreme…size), Roy Nelson has one of the best BJJ games in the UFC among active fighters. Though rarely displayed, Nelson’s grappling skill set is a product of Renzo Gracie and has earned him a spot in the Quarterfinals at the ADCC World Championships in 2003 and earning his Black Belt in 2009.
The video below shows Nelson grappling against UFC veteran and elite BJJ practitioner Frank Mir at the Grapplers Quest Submission Only Tournament in 2003. Though the match was back and forth, Nelson was able to pull out a victory and solidify himself as a top grappler and BJJ practitioner.
On this list at least, Nelson should be considered the most underrated grappler.
The current Women’s Bantamweight Champion, Nunes began grappling when she was a teenager and has since earned her black belt in BJJ and a brown belt in Judo. Though renowned for her striking abilities, Nunes possesses tremendous skill on the ground, submitting both Miesha Tate and Sara McMann (outstanding grapplers in their own right).
Her success, in part, is due to her quickness and aggression (see video below). Never waiting to see what her opponent does, Nunes takes the attack to them and does so with such quickness it’s hard to defend against. Anything from arm-bars to triangles, Nunes has the ability to end a match or fight quickly.
A collegiate wrestler by trade, Jon Jones has been able to translate his wrestling skills into a face-paced, high-level submission game. Though not a traditional BJJ practitioner, Jones has brought his ability to take down opponents to the UFC and translate them to submissions. With a victory over BJJ Black Belt Lyoto Machida, Jones has devastating ground and pound due in large part to his takedown and grappling ability.
While sidelined from his latest controversy, Jones grappled elite wrestler Dan Henderson and was able to submit him via arm-triangle. Though known for his dynamic striking ability, Jones has one of the best submission games in the UFC’s Light Heavyweight division.
Considered by many to be the greatest fighter of all time, Silva’s credibility as a supreme grappler comes with a 3rd degree black belt in BJJ under Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera and a black belt in Judo, not to mention black belts in Tae-Kwon-Do and Muay Thai. Often using his superior grappling skills to set up knock-outs and substantial ground-and-pound victories.
His smooth style is hypnotizing to his opponents, often moving from one position to the next with seemingly little effort. Submitting six of his opponents in the UFC, Silva hasn’t competed in international competitions, though it’s safe to say he’d be among the most elite if he decided to compete.
Known as the Prodigy, BJ Penn began his BJJ training in 1997 and by 2000 was the first non-Brazilian to win the World Championships in Rio. Credited with one of the fastest black belts in BJJ history, Penn brought his skills to the UFC and quickly strung together one of the longest unbeaten streaks.
Assisted by his natural athletic ability, Penn has a patient style and is superior to most from his back. Though he typically waits for his opponent to make a mistake and capitalize on it, Penn does have tremendous takedown ability and can dictate the pace and position of any grappling match. His skills are and should be considered amongst the best in the world.
Another ADCC veteran, Fabricio Werdum is the former UFC Heavyweight Champion and two-time ADCC World Heavyweight Champion. Adding to his list of accolades, Werdum also holds a black belt in Judo which no doubt contributes to his success as a BJJ practitioner.
With victories over BJJ veteran, Werdum took his skill set to the UFC and quickly rose through the ranks to become the UFC Heavyweight Champion. Throughout his fighting career, Werdum has submission victories in 10 of his 21 victories. He is, and should be, considered one of the best BJJ Heavyweights and overall BJJ practitioners.
At one point a top contender for the UFC Lightweight title, Melendez earned his BJJ black belt under Caesar Gracie and continues to train at his academy in San Francisco. Though lacking in submissions in the UFC, Melendez typically uses his ground game to control his opponents and grind out a victory either via decision or devastating ground and pound.
As with many UFC fighters, Melendez has a wrestling style of BJJ in which he pushes the pace and stays aggressive. This often opens up submission attempts for him and allows him to control the match from start to finish.
Though known for his stand up wars with the likes of Diego Sanchez an Conor McGregor, or for his pre-fight antics, Nate Diaz has some of the most impressive BJJ skills of any active UFC fighter. Fraught with innovation, Diaz’s ability to transition and secure submissions from seemingly nowhere are a staple to his ground skills.
Often brought in for training camps as a BJJ expert, Diaz routinely submits some of the best grapplers and BJJ practitioners in the world. He brings that skill into the UFC often taking to the fight to the ground after a ruthless few minutes of stand-up. Of his 20 victories in professional MMA, Diaz has submitted 12 of his opponents, giving him one of the highest submission rates in the UFC. While a cast member on The Ultimate Fighter, Diaz submitted all of his opponents before submitting Manvel Gamburyan in the final to win the fifth season of the show.
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