5 Brazilian jiu-jitsu legends who joined the UFC

Mackenzie Dern is one of the most highly credentialed grapplers in UFC history
Mackenzie Dern is one of the most highly credentialed grapplers in UFC history

When the UFC was born as a concept nearly 30 years ago, the idea behind it was to find out which was the most dominant martial art. As everyone knows, it turned out to be Royce Gracie’s Brazilian jiu-jitsu that won the day.

Royce Gracie! The man that started it all! 🥋Have you gone back and watched UFC 1 on @UFCFightPass yet?!

The UFC has changed a lot since 1993, with strikers and wrestlers both dominating inside the octagon. However, Brazilian jiu-jitsu has always remained a staple of any UFC fighter’s arsenal.

With that considered, it should come as no surprise that plenty of legends from the world of Brazilian jiu-jitsu have dabbled in the world of MMA and the UFC, often with very differing levels of success.

Some of these fighters have been able to reach the very top of the UFC, while others simply struggled for traction. So without any further ado, here are five Brazilian jiu-jitsu legends who joined the UFC.

#5. Roger Gracie – former UFC middleweight contender

Roger Gracie did well in StrikeForce, but struggled in the UFC
Roger Gracie did well in StrikeForce, but struggled in the UFC

After the massive success of Royce Gracie at the early UFC events, it should hardly come as a surprise that a number of the Gracie family have entered the octagon since.

Renzo, Rolles and Kron Gracie have all stepped into the octagon with varying levels of success. Roger Gracie is probably the most credentialed member of the family to fight in the UFC in terms of grappling.

A genuine legend in the world of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Roger’s grappling record stands at a scarcely believable 67-7-1, with wins over the likes of Fabricio Werdum, Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza and Demian Maia on his record.

Even more impressively, while he’s lost seven times in grappling matches, Gracie has still never been submitted in competition. Unfortunately, his MMA career, in particular his run with the UFC, was nowhere near as successful as his time as a grappler.

Gracie entered the UFC in 2013 after putting together a 6-1 record, primarily in Strikeforce. In fact, his final fight under that banner was a submission of current UFC light heavyweight contender Anthony Smith.

Roger Gracie def. Anthony Smith: via @youtube

However, his only appearance in the UFC saw him well beaten by Tim Kennedy, who largely shut down his stellar grappling game and managed to grind out a clear-cut decision. The fight was Roger’s only UFC fight, as he was cut shortly after, reportedly due to his contract being an expensive one.

While he did win two fights in ONE Championship following his UFC stint, he has not fought in MMA since 2016 and has largely returned to the world of Brazilian jiu-jitsu instead.

#4. Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza – former UFC middleweight contender

Jacare Souza became as well-known for his striking as his grappling during his UFC tenure
Jacare Souza became as well-known for his striking as his grappling during his UFC tenure

Widely regarded as one of the greatest fighters to have never held or challenged for a UFC title during his stint with the promotion, Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza remains one of the octagon’s most highly credentialed grapplers.

A true legend in the world of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Jacare won eight World Jiu-Jitsu titles, including gold medals in the openweight class in 2003, 2004 and 2005.In terms of no-gi grappling, the Brazilian was equally successful. He claimed gold medals in the prestigious ADCC World Championships in 2005 and 2009.

While his MMA career didn’t get off to the best start, he was knocked out by journeyman Jorge Patino in 2003, it soon picked up after he began to train with UFC legend Randy Couture, who he faced in a grappling exhibition in 2006.

Always at an advantage compared to some of his fellow Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners due to his explosive athleticism, Jacare quickly developed a well-rounded, dangerous MMA game. He defeated the likes of Matt Lindland, Tim Kennedy and Robbie Lawler en route to claiming the Strikeforce middleweight title.

2013 saw Jacare move into the UFC. By that point, his striking was almost as dangerous as his submission game. During his time in the octagon, he took out the likes of Chris Weidman, Derek Brunson and Yushin Okami. While he never quite got to the top of the ladder, he remained a perennial contender throughout his tenure with the promotion.

Who said @JacareMMA was a jiu-jitsu guy?!?! #UFC230

In fact, there may well be an argument to suggest that of all the Brazilian jiu-jitsu legends to move into the UFC, Jacare was the greatest.

#3. Marcio ‘Pe De Pano’ Cruz – former UFC heavyweight contender

Marcio Cruz's (right) UFC career remains a story of untapped potential
Marcio Cruz's (right) UFC career remains a story of untapped potential

A Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner from the age of 17, Marcio ‘Pe De Pano’ Cruz became a legend in the world of grappling in the early 2000’s. He claimed six Brazilian jiu-jitsu world championships, became a Brazilian national champion on five occasions, won the Pan-American championship on eight occasions and claimed the 2003 ADCC World Championship too.

Renowned as a showman in the world of grappling, Cruz entered into infamy when he mimed surfing on an opponent’s back during a bout. The list of greats he defeated includes Ricco Rodriguez, Marcelo Garcia, Roger Gracie and Fabricio Werdum.

#BJJ #MotivationMonday "Our only limitations are those set up in our minds" - N.Hill

When ‘Pe De Pano’ entered the UFC in 2005, though, hopes weren’t that high for him due to his status as a neophyte in striking. However, he submitted Keigo Kunihara in his first octagon appearance and then stunned everyone by taking out former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir in his second fight via TKO. That win moved Cruz into UFC title contention, but a questionable split decision loss to Jeff Monson prevented him from claiming a title shot in 2006.

An equally controversial loss to Andrei Arlovski, which saw ‘The Pitbull’ use a fence grab to set up a series of fight-ending punches, followed. Surprisingly, the grappling legend was then cut by the UFC.

However, ‘Pe De Pano’ then went onto win six of his next seven fights on the regional scene, with his only loss coming to Glover Teixeira. Quite why he never returned to the UFC remains a mystery and his story should be seen as one of untapped potential.

#2. Rodolfo Vieira – current UFC middleweight

Rodolfo Vieira's best days in the UFC may well be ahead of him
Rodolfo Vieira's best days in the UFC may well be ahead of him

Nicknamed ‘The Black Belt Hunter’ for his ability to defeat even the highest-level grapplers in the world, to say that UFC middleweight Rodolfo Vieira is a legend in the world of Brazilian jiu-jitsu would be an understatement.

Vieira has won countless numbers of titles, championships and gold medals in the world of grappling, including an incredible seven titles in the prestigious ADCC World Championships from 2009 to 2014. As of the time of writing, his grappling record stands at 100-9, with just one of those losses coming via submission at the hands of fellow grappling legend Dean Lister.

Like Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza before him, hopes were high for Vieira when he decided to transition into MMA in 2017, primarily due to his natural athleticism and brute strength. ‘The Black Belt Hunter’ quickly and easily defeated his early opponents, going 5-0 with three wins coming in Russia’s ACB promotion.

That was enough for the UFC to sign him to a deal in 2019. Vieira quickly defeated his first two opponents, Oskar Piechota and Saparbek Safarov, both via arm triangle chokes.

Unfortunately, his next fight brought him down to earth with a bump. He was shockingly submitted by the unheralded Anthony Hernandez via guillotine choke after gassing out heavily. The defeat put a massive dent in any hopes he had of a move into UFC title contention.

However, since then Vieira has submitted Dustin Stoltzfus in a much-improved performance. At the age of 32, there’s every chance his best years in the octagon are still ahead of him.

INCREDIBLE 🤯Rodolfo Vieira finished with STYLE 💥#UFCVegas31

#1. Mackenzie Dern – current UFC strawweight contender

Could Mackenzie Dern win the UFC strawweight title in the future?
Could Mackenzie Dern win the UFC strawweight title in the future?

The daughter of fellow grappling legend Wellington ‘Megaton’ Dias, it’s probably fair to suggest that Mackenzie Dern is the most credentialed female grappler in the history of the UFC.

Dern’s grappling record stands at a highly impressive 75-25-1. Her list of achievements includes gold medals at the Brazilian, Asian and European jiu-jitsu championships, as well as the BJJ World Cup and the ADCC World Championships. In 2015, she even defeated the legendary Gabi Garcia in a grappling match, despite giving up well over 100 pounds in weight to her larger opponent.

Dern entered the UFC in 2018 after going 5-0 on the regional scene. Unsurprisingly, her slick grappling has brought her the majority of her success thus far. She has defeated six of her seven opponents inside the octagon, with her only loss coming at the hands of Amanda Ribas in 2019.

It must be noted, however, that the bout was her first since returning from maternity leave. Since then, she’s reeled off four wins in a row, three via submission.

Dern is set to face off with Marina Rodriguez in the main event of this weekend’s UFC Fight Night. If she can come out on top in that fight, a UFC strawweight title shot isn’t out of the realm of possibility. If she can manage to capture the title at some point, she’ll not only be known as a legend in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but as a legend in the UFC, too.

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Edited by Harvey Leonard
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