There have been countless Brazilian Jiu Jitsu world champions and blackbelts who have transitioned to the world of MMA. Some people who have been highly successful in the sport of jiu jitsu have not been able to put their submission game together in mixed martial arts. Being a world champion jiu jitsu player does not assure that you will be able to step into the world of mixed martial arts and be able to submit everyone. When you mix striking in with jiu jitsu it becomes a totally different ball game. The old adage is “his a jiu jitsu black belt once and he becomes a brown belt.” I might add that there are some fighters who do not have a background in jiu jitsu who have had great success with submissions in MMA. The perfect example is Matt Hughes. Hughes does not have a rank in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but I believe he could hang with anyone in the world, he even controlled the legendary BJJ master Royce Gracie on the ground. With that said, which current MMA fighters have the best and most dangerous Brazilian Jiu Jitsu game. In order to be on this list, I believe a fighter needs to have a record of success with submissions, an effective and dangerous guard game, and the ability to control an opponent on the ground with their base and even their sweeps.
1. Fabricio Werdum – Werdum is not only a world champion BJJ practitioner, but he is one of the few guys who has brought his A-game in BJJ into the sport of MMA. He has submitted many of his opponents, most notably was Fedor Emelianenko. Werdum has one of the most dangerous guards in MMA
2. Nick Diaz – Nick Diaz does not have the world champion BJJ pedigree of many of the guys on this list, but he is still a legit black belt under Cesar Gracie. He also has spectacular submissions. Perhaps hies best submission was his gogoplata finish of Takanori Gomi in PRIDE. Diaz is so tough on the ground because he is so tough on his feet as well.
3. Rousimar Palhares – There is no doubt about it that Palhares is probably the scariest ground fighter in MMA. Palhares has sick leg locks. The crazy thing is that you know he is going ofr them and he still gets it. If I was a MMA fighter in the UFC middleweight division, Palhares would be the one guy I would not want to fight because he destroys legs.
4. Shinya Aoki – Perhaps it is not fair to put Aoki this low. Aoki is the best BJJ player in his division. You do not want to go to the ground against him. He will snap something (and has). He uses great technique. He goes for all sorts of submissions such as neck cranks. Aoki is very dangerous on the ground.
5. Demian Maia – Maia has the pedigree and at one time would have topped this list with no debate. However, since going on a roll submitting opponents, Maia has gotten away from his game. He stopped even looking for takedowns and submissions. He still has an impressive resume and he still is a threat to anyone, but his mystique is diminished somewhat.
6. Frank Mir – Tim Sylvia. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Enough said. Mir has a dangerous guard. He will break your arm if you don’t tap.
7. Nate Diaz – See Nick. He is very similar to his brother and is just as successful with submissions, maybe more so. He has a great triangle and he has great transitions (ask Gomi).
8. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira – I may be wrong for putting Nogueira here at this point in his career. However, there is no doubt that he is a HUGE threat on the ground. I think he has the ability to submit anyone still. If he gets his arms on your neck it is trouble.
9. Vinny Magalhaes – Vinny is incredible on the ground. I think he may be deserving of a higher ranking, The only reason he is not higher is that his best submissions haven’t been against as high of level competition as some guys above him on this list. Vinny is technical, he can do everything and he loves to go for the spectacular finishes. By the way, his BJJ match at ADCC against Fabricio Werdum was incredible.
10. Jake Shields – Shields is always a threat to an opponent because of his submission prowess. He is well versed and well respected as a submission stylist. In a pure BJJ competition he beats most guys. In MMA he has submitted some top flight opponents.
Others to consider: Masakatsu Imanari, B.J. Penn, Hatsu Hioki, Carlos Eduardo Rocha, George Sotiropolous and Paul Sass
Keep a watch on several notable BJJ guys who are transitioning to MMA. Robert Drysdale is going to be focused on MMA in 2012. Braulio Estima is rumored to be making a move to MMA. Is Sergio Moraes and Romulo Barral were more active they could be on a list like this. Really keep an eye on Antonio Braga Neto. He is a legit prospect and a great BJJ practitioner.
Yes, there are some great jiu jitsu practitioners not on this list. Perhaps it is surprising not to see guys like Jacare Souza or Roger Gracie. While their skills on the mat are off the charts they fall behind the above guys in using their BJJ in MMA. Make no mistake about it, most MMA fighters don’t want to hit the mat with Jacare or Roger Gracie, but for one reason or another they have not utilized their submission skills to the extent of others.