The Countdown: Top 10 Best Jiu-Jitsu Fighters in MMA Today
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a beautiful art and one of the most effective forms of combat in the world. It involves using leverage and technique rather than brute strength to apply joint locks and choke holds to force your opponent into submission.
Made famous by the Gracie family in Brazil and was introduced to the United States in the early '90s at the very first Ultimate Fighting Championship. Little 176 pound Royce Gracie was submitting everyone that was put in front of him with ease and these were guys who out-weighed him by several pounds.
The sport of MMA has evolved a lot since then so the question remains—who has the best Jiu-Jitsu skills for MMA competition? Who are the top ten best Jiu-Jitsu guys in MMA right now? I’m about to tell you.
Let the countdown begin!
No. 10- Dustin “McLovin” Hazelett
As far as having the best Jiu-Jitsu for MMA competition—Dustin Hazelett is one of the best in the world. He is a BJJ black belt under Jorge Gurgel and he has several highlight reel submission victories on his résumé.
His style of Jiu-Jitsu is very unorthodox and he is able to lock on a submission from almost any position.
Just look back to his most recent fights with both Tamdan McCrory (UFC 91) and Josh Burkman (TUF Season 7 Finale)—in both of those fights Dustin was able to finish off his opponents with an armbar from a very unusual position.
Not only does Dustin have some of the best Jiu-Jitsu in MMA today but he also has the best nickname in all of MMA as well. I mean come on, who isn’t going to cheer for someone with the nickname of “McLovin”? If you don’t like this guy then you obviously don’t have a soul!
At just 22 years of age—Dustin “McLovin” Hazelett has a very bright future ahead of him.
No. 9- Rousimar Palhares
Look up the term “Vicious Bone Breaking Jiu-Jitsu” in the dictionary and you will find a picture of Rousimar Palhares right next to it!
Palhares is a black belt under UFC veteran—Murilo Bustamante and is one of the most aggressive fighters on the ground in MMA today.
His overall record is 9-2 with six of those wins coming by way of brutal submission. Since coming over to the UFC in May of 2008—Palhares is 2-1 with victories over Ivan Salaverry and Jeremy Horn.
Palhares’s only loss in the UFC came at the hands of Dan Henderson via unanimous decision at UFC 88 but in that fight Palhares came very close to finishing Henderson off with a submission on several occasions.
The loss to Henderson proved that Palhares still has a lot to learn in order to compete with the best fighters in the world—but as far as Jiu-Jitsu is concerned he is already among the pound-for-pound greats right now.
No. 8- Paulo Filho
Do not let his recent performances fool you—this guy is still one of the most dangerous ground fighters in the entire world!
Filho was once considered to be the second best Middleweight fighter in the world (under Anderson Silva of course). He was the WEC Middleweight champion and he was submitting everyone that was put in front of him.
He has six submission victories to his name and every single one of them came by way of an armbar. It’s to the point where everyone expected his armbar and was ready to defend against it but Filho would still lock it in and get the submission.
Recently Filho has faced some personal demons and it has affected his training and his fights. His mentality and his heart just isn’t where it used to be and his pound-for-pound ranking has dropped considerably because of it.
His last fight with Chael Sonnen at WEC 36 was terrible (and I’m being nice) and he ended up losing the decision to Sonnen.
For that fight with Sonnen, Paulo Filho missed weight by eight pounds… eight freakin’ pounds and he was the champion at the time.
Hopefully Filho can make a comeback, I still believe he is extremely talented but in this sport talent is not enough—like I always say—you can be the most talented fighter in the world but if you don’t have that mentality then you should not be fighting at all!
No. 7- Thales Leites
Thales Leites isn’t exactly the most popular fighter among fans right now—most fans are pretty upset with him for his performance against Anderson Silva recently at UFC 97.
If this was a list for “Top Ten Fan Favorites”, Leites would not even be close to making the list right now.
However if you can look past the Silva fight—Thales Leites is still one of the most talented BJJ black belts in the sport right now.
Once he gets you to the ground it’s pretty much a 90 percent chance that he is going to submit you (unless you are one of the fighters that I have ranked above him).
MMA fans—I am begging you, please don’t disrespect Thales Leites skills as a fighter. Sure his fight with Anderson Silva was horrible and sure Thales might not be the most exciting fighter in the world—but you cannot deny his talent.
His Jiu-Jitsu is world class and he’s got a very durable chin—plus he has only lost twice in his career. Please give this kid another chance because one bad performance does not make you a bad fighter.
No. 6- Fabricio Werdum
The casual fans mostly remember Werdum as that guy who got knocked out by Junior Dos Santos at UFC 91 in November. However those of us who have followed the sport for a long time know all about Werdum and his incredible talent on the ground.
Many people ask me “Well who has the best Jiu-Jitsu in the Heavyweight division?” (Ok fine nobody asks me that but let’s just use it as an example) and I always tell them it’s between Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Fabricio Werdum.
If we are talking about the best pure Jiu-Jitsu guys that are now fighting in MMA then Werdum would probably be ranked number one on this list—but for MMA Jiu-Jitsu he is not nearly as dominant.
Don’t get me wrong—he is still one of the most talented guys on the ground in MMA right now but the fact of the matter is—the last time he won a fight by submission was in 2006 against Aleksander Emelianenko and that was three years ago.
I still consider Werdum one of the best Heavyweights in the world—going on pure talent over anything else—and I would love to see him back in the UFC in the near future.
No. 5- Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira
Type in the word “legend” on google right now and it will pull up hundreds of results on “Minoatauro” Nogueira.
You’re talking about a guy who can take your best beating and still manage to make a huge comeback by catching you in a submission to win the fight. If they were to create an MMA version of “Rocky” it would be based on Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
Both he and his twin brother Rogerio are high level BJJ black belts and both have transitioned very well into MMA.
Rodrigo was very successful in the Pride Fighting Championships with big wins over the likes of Mirko Cro-Cop, Josh Barnett, Heath Herring, Ricco Rodriguez, Dan Henderson, Fabricio Werdum and several others.
His only losses in Pride were to Josh Barnett (which he avenged) and to the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world—Fedor Emelianenko (twice), both of those losses came by way of decision.
Once the UFC bought Pride in 2007, Nogueira made the move over to the UFC and defeated Heath Herring and Tim Sylvia to become the interim UFC Heavyweight champion.
He was recently knocked out for the first time in his career by Frank Mir at UFC 92 back in December but I am confident that he has what it takes to win his belt back in the future.
No. 4- Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza
The term “Jacare” might not mean a lot to the casual observer but those that follow MMA like a religion know all about this Jiu-Jitsu God and his flawless technique on the ground.
Jacare began training in Jiu-Jitsu at the young age of 17 and since then he has gone on to win several championships in Jiu-Jitsu. He made the move to MMA back in 2003 and has accumulated a record of 10-2, with nine of those wins coming by way of submission.
He was the runner up in the Dream Middleweight Grand Prix eventually losing by knock out to top ranked Middleweight turned Light Heavyweight—Gegard Mousasi.
Make no mistake about it—Jacare is among the elite of the elite as far as Jiu-Jitsu for MMA is concerned. I’ve ranked him this high for a reason and I’m sure most die-hard MMA fans will agree with me.
No. 3- Shinya Aoki
Aoki is the current WAMMA (World Association of Mixed Martial Arts) Lightweight champion and is ranked second in the world (under B.J Penn) in the Lightweight division.
His grappling ability is simply amazing and his ability to pull of unorthodox submissions from crazy positions is border line on the edge of mythology. The guy can submit you with pretty much anything from any position and that’s what makes him so incredible.
Not only is his Jiu-Jitsu very effective but his ways of getting a fight to the ground are very unorthodox and effective as well.
He is currently 20-4 with 12 submission victories over the likes of Eddie Alvarez, Joachim Hansen, Clay French, Todd Moore, Jason Black and several others.
I believe that neck cranks, gogoplatas and heel hooks are some of the most underutilized submissions in MMA and they are also the hardest to pull off but Aoki is the exception to that because he pulls them off all the time and makes it look easy!
No. 2- Demian Maia
Demian Maia has taken his pure Jiu-Jitsu and adopted it perfectly into MMA—something that not a whole lot of people have been able to do. What I mean by that is there is a big difference between the sport of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and the aspect of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for MMA.
We see it time and time again where a high level BJJ world champion comes into MMA, gets punched in the face a few times and his high level Jiu-Jitsu turns into white belt level while in the cage. Demian Maia however has been able to adopt his Jiu-Jitsu for MMA competition and in doing so has become very successful.
Watching Maia fight on the ground is like watching Leonardo Da Vinci paint the Mona Lisa—it truly is a work of art and a masterpiece.
No. 1- B.J Penn
I’m sure the B.J Penn haters are fuming with anger and ready to chase me down with flaming torches for listing B.J Penn as number one on any sort of list. “Oh he’s overrated” or “He’s a quitter”, whatever guys.
Bottom line is that B.J Penn has the absolute best Jiu-Jitsu for MMA competition and I don’t care what anyone else has to say about it.
Sure he got dominated by Georges St. Pierre at UFC 94 but if the greasing allegations are true then his Jiu-Jitsu would not have been as affective as normal.
I’m not saying GSP cheated but I do believe there was grease on him and that makes it very hard to work your Jiu-Jitsu because every time you go to grab the guy your hand will immediately slip off. I still believe GSP would have won anyway due to his overwhelming wrestling and better striking but that’s a tale for a different story.
The cool thing about B.J’s Jiu-Jitsu is his flexibility and his ability to control people’s arms with his legs. B.J is so flexible that he can use his legs like the average human uses their arms and he can bend them in very strange positions and most fighters don’t know how to deal with that.
B.J might not be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, but for Jiu-Jitsu in MMA he is definitely No. 1.
(Honorable mentions: Kenny Florian, Jake Shields, Nate Diaz, Ricardo Almedia, Matt Serra, Ricardo Arona, Gabriel Gonzaga, Jeff Monson and Nick Diaz.)
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