In a new regular feature OntheMat will be attempting to summarize the BJJ credentials of the fighters you see entering MMA.
If you’re a long time reader of OntheMat.com, then this article may not be for you. Many of the names mentioned here have been interviewed and profiled years before on this very site.
But if you haven’t been following MMA for the last ten years, and are not that familiar with the BJJ and Submission Grappling circuits, these articles may prove helpful to you. With the popularity of Mixed Martial Arts (and in particular, the UFC), many athletes from Jiu Jitsu are making the leap. As a base art, Jiu Jitsu is an excellent introduction to MMA. But often, when a fighter enters with a background in BJJ, they are often toted as submission “experts” or Jiu Jitsu “experts”. The word “expert” is thrown around so much, it’s beginning to lost meaning. Furthermore, tracking down credentials in grappling, with the myriad of championships and organizations, is difficult to say the least.
But the Jiu Jitsu community in many ways is still a relatively small one and a close knit one. Through the grapevine among grapplers, there is a relatively honest and blunt assessment of skill among peers, and OntheMat has been at the forefront for over a decade now. So as a guideline to those who are introduced to these fighters through television, or for those of you who want to brush up on their knowledge, we’ve going through our archives and done some research to give you more of a grappler’s perspective on the “expert” status of many of the names you are now hearing about (unless you’ve been on OTM the whole time, in which case, many of these names you’ve heard about for years). We plan to make this a regular feature on OntheMat.com, and we will begin be looking over UFC 83 card, which in terms of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu credentials, competition record and if those BJJ skills have actually translated into success in the cage.
Matt Serra: Matt Serra was among the first of the next generation of American black belt, having awarded by Renzo Gracie in May of 2000. Matt has long held a reputation as one of the top grapplers in the United States, if not the world. He has competed in many BJJ Gi and Submission Grappling events, taking third in the worlds as a brown belt in 1999 at Medio weight (coincidentally BJ Penn took third at brown belt lightweight that year) and second in the 76K weight class at ADCC in 2001 (defeating Takanori Gomi, Leo Santos and Jean Jacques Machado and then losing a close match *wink to Marcio Feitosa). Since entering the UFC he has not competed in BJJ or grappling, but runs a very successful school out of Long Island where these remain staples of the curriculum. With a current record of 9-5, 4 of those victories come by submission (44%)
George St. Pierre: George St. Pierre was awarded a brown belt by Renzo Gracie / John Danaher, however friction between St Pierre and long time Renzo student (and future opponent) Matt Serra caused St. Pierre to leave the academy. Previously St. Pierre had worked his way to a purple belt under Fabio Holanda. Georges has been known to occasionally compete in submission grappling events, winning Canadian tournaments such as the Ontario Submission Wrestling, and was invited to compete at ADCC 2005 where he defeated Otto Olsen in the first round before getting triangle choked by Leo Santos. It is safe to say his grappling skills have improved tremendously since that point as evidenced by his MMA performances, but he has yet to compete in a pure grappling match since then. With a current record of 16-2 , 5 of those victories are by submission (31%)
Travis Lutter is a black belt under Carlos Machado. He is a two time ADCC participant having breezed through the North American Trials each time. In 2000 he lost in close match in the first round to Mundial Absolute Champion Rodrigo “Comprido” Medeiros at the 99k and under class. In 2001 he lost to Saulo Ribeiro at the 87K weight class. In 2003 he won against a stacked field at the Ultimate Submission Showdown, a grappling superfight tournament promoted by the Gracie Academy in Torrance, where he defeated Ryron Gracie in the finals by a score of 13-0. A gi rematch against Ryron at the IGJJF in 2004 never materialized as Lutter fell ill as he flew into the tournament. Since then he has not competed in a pure grappling situation. With an MMA record of 9-5, 7 of those victories come by way of submission (77% finishing rate).
Rich Frankin hold a brown belt in BJJ under close friend Jorge Gurgel. Although one of the most successful middleweights in the short history of MMA, he has not competed in any major grappling competitions to our knowledge so it’s difficult to make a further assessment of his skills outside of a MMA perspective. With a record of 23-3, just five of those wins have come by way of submission (21%)
Kalib Starnes is Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Although he is reported to have begun his training under Royce Gracie (presumably in Torrance, California), he represents Revolution Fight Team out of British Columbia which is a Gracie Barra Affiliate, and it hasn’t been made clear exactly who awarded him the black belt. Kalib was actually registered to compete at the black belt division of Pan Ams in 2007 but did not wind up competing. I’m unsure if Kalib has a competition record in either BJJ or Submission Grappling. His current MMA record is 8-3-1, with 5 of those victories coming by way of submission (62%). After his bout with Nathan Quarry at UFC 83, he has been cut (or asked to be released, depending on who’s story you believe) from the Ultimate Fighting Championships.
Charles McCarthy is currently training with American Top Team in Florida and has been officially awarded the rank of brown belt in BJJ. Prior to this he trained and actively competed under the banner of Florida Freestyle Academy. Charles was known on the submission grappling circuit, having participated in a number of pro divisions for Grappler’s Quest. His current MMA record is 10-5 with all ten of those victories coming by way of submission (a whopping 100%)!
Mac Danzig may not claim any kind of ranking in BJJ, but his Jiu Jitsu skills have been highly touted from a number of reputable sources. Mac Danzig’s first submission grappling competition was a high profile match at X-Mission in late 2006, where he submitted BJJ black belt Alan Zborovsky. He has yet to compete in a grappling match since then. With a record of 18-4-1, Mac has won 10 of those bouts by submission (55%)
Mark Bocek is a black belt under Nova Uniao awarded by Joao Roque. Previously he had spent time training under both Renzo and Rickson Gracie. Furthermore, he is the most decorated Canadian Grappler ever, and has won numerous tournaments in his native Canada, the United States and Brazil over many highly skilled grapplers. Most significantly he was North American Trials winner at ADCC in 2007, defeating a very tough field and moving unto the second round of the world championships. Mark is noted as a submission stylist who has also worked diligently on his wrestling. His MMA career is young, with a record of 5-2 three of those wins are by submission (60%).
Kuniyoshi Hironaka has black belts in both BJJ (which he picked up in five years, almost unheard of in Japan) and Judo (which he has been training at for over 15 years. While it’s hard to track his competition record in Japan on the grappling circuit, he has a very high profile win over Jean Jacques Machado at LA Sub X where it is fair to say he controlled the match handily. With a current record of 11-5 only four of those victories have come by way of submission (36%)
Demian Maia is among the most accomplished BJJ stylists to ever enter the octagon, and a candidate among many to be the best pound for pound BJJ stylists on the circuit now. Representing Brasa, Demian is the current ADCC 87K champion. He also has numerous BJJ Black Belt titles and significant wins. He currently has a perfect 7-0 record in MMA, five of those victories by submission (71%) As one of the highest profile and most skilled BJJ stylists competing in MMA we’re definitely following him closely.
In addition to the above mentioned fighters, there was one more highly touted BJJ black belt involved with the broadcast:
Kenny Florian is a black belt under Roberto Maia and has been a long time personal friend of OntheMat. Prior to entering MMA, Kenny was extremely active on the grappling circuit all over the world, and traveled back and forth between his native Boston and Brazil at least a dozen times for training and competition. Kenny was always known for being a game competitor, competing (and winning) many absolute tournaments, thus it was no surprise when he made it the finals of the first Ultimate Fighter reality show, competing two weight classes above his natural category where he would finally settle. Since making his mark in the UFC, Kenny has not competed in a submission only tournament concentrating on his MMA skillset. With a record of 9-3 five of those victories are by submission (55%)