Sport BJJ Most Influential Figures- Past and Future

Sport BJJ as we know it, at least the current incarnation started in 1996 with the introduction of the IBJJF Pan Am and Mundail championships, then the introduction of the ADCC Championships in 1998. That being said, I started to think about who has really had the biggest impact on the sport of BJJ. Mind you, I'm not talking about who the most successful competitors are, but who has had the greatest impact on the sport and whose techniques have become the most imitated.

In no particular order, these are the grapplers I feel have had the greatest impact on the game over the last 10 years.


Dean Lister

In 2003, Dean Lister made his mark on the grappling and BJJ community by winning the ADCC Absolute Division, primarily via leg locks. He then repeated his ADCC success in 2011 in his weight division mainly via heel hooks.

It was this event (largely thanks to Lister's sambo background) that put the BJJ world on notice for how effective leg techniques can be in competition. To this day, you still see a large number of ankle lock and toe hold attempts at the highest levels of major competitions (given that heel hooks are not legal in most competitions, but that is an argument for a future BJJ Life article).


Rafael Mendes

Few names are as synonymous with a particular move as much as Rafa Mendes is with the berimbolo sweep. The current king of the featherweight division, Rafa has dominated the world championship at his weight for the last three years, largely thanks to what almost seems to be an impossible to stop De La Riva setup and sweep.

The berimbolo is the flavor of the year these days, largely because it is legal in the IBJJF, but also in it's control and setup to back control. Few moves seem to be as imitated as the berimbolo sweep these days at all levels and weight classes, however few can match the pure control that Professor Mendes shows every time he steps on the mat.


Ryan Hall

Say what you will about inverted guard or 50/50, they are positions all their own and when put into effect, they are incredibly difficult to counter, not to mention the submission threats they pose. And when most people think 50/50 and inverted, the name Ryan Hall tends to spring to the forefront.

One of the early pioneers of inverted guard and a proponent of both 50/50 and the effectiveness of heel hooks, Ryan "The Ry-Angle" Hall is an ADCC medalist who is continually adapting his game. Most recently competing in a pure wrestling competition to show his understanding of how the game is constantly evolving and how we as competitors must adapt with it.

While 50/50 is a tricky position and can lead to a quick disqualification due to the knee reap possibilities, it is still used successfully by the likes of Ryan Hall, Guillermo Mendes and...


Jeff Glover

Deep half guard? You are probably thinking about 2007 Mundail No Gi Champion and 2011 ADCC bronze medalist Jeff Glover. One of BJJ's most acrobatic figures, fond of flying triangles and armbars alike, Glover showed the world the power of deep half guard through dozens of titles and his highly popular instructional DVDs.

When utilized with an aggressive half guard game, many competitors have added on to the groundwork popularized by Glover and his deep half guard skills, but few have been able to replicate the same level of success.

Rubens "Cobrinha" Charles


Three words: De La Riva.

Is that really three words or does it count as one because it's a name? Well, regardless, no one has quite done for revitalizing the popularity of De La Riva guard like Cobrinha has. And most people haven't been as successful at the guard as this eight time world champion, though ever seems to be trying these days.

Of course, it is becoming fewer and fewer as people realize that foot placement becomes really tricky in IBJJF rules. Still, Cobrinha is proof that when you really know the position and rules, you can pull of some pretty amazing s***.

And don't give me any s***, I don't know why the picture is so small.


Caio Terra

There is half guard, there is half guard, then there is Caio Terra's half guard. Of all the other names on the list, I don't think that any have had the same impact as five time no gi world champ Caio Terra. I mean, people sit down a lot now.

Of course, when Caio does it, it is to pull half guard then sweep you almost immediately. Showing that takedowns aren't everything in competitions, Caio has truly changed the face of BJJ competitions with his approach to the game. The only problem is, that while Caio turns his half guard pull into a position to immediately sweep to a dominant position, others just use it because they are afraid of losing two points.

Love it or hate it, the bastardization of this mentality has changed the BJJ game in drastic ways.

The Future...

Okay, it takes me a while to upload pics, so I'm not going to as I run down the figures that I believe will have the biggest impact on BJJ competitions in the years to come. Also, please note that I think the future of BJJ is in submission only tournaments.

Kurt Osiander

One of the funniest, most irreverent and most visually accessible figures in BJJ, Osiander is in a unique position to illicit change in BJJ. Both old-school in his approach to BJJ and an ardent supporter of submission only tournaments, Osiander has not held back his thoughts on advantage points, berimbolo sweeps and wrist locks.

Not that we would expect anything else from a Ralph Gracie black belt. Osiander's recent Finsher Series grappling tournaments are the first step in the revolution to submission only tournaments really getting their foothold in local tournaments. Then the world.

Rener and Ryron Gracie

Forget the Brandon Shaub debacle, Rener and Ryron's Gracie University and Metamoris have been a huge eyeopener for the BJJ world. They are charismatic (minus Rener always saying "that's interesting"), accessible and voices for change toward submission only competitions.

Should Metamoris 3 actually happen at some point with Eddie Bravo via Royler actually happening, it could be one of the biggest moments in competition BJJ. And if Eddie gets another submission, he could also earn a spot on the list (he isn't on the list because of the lack of major competition success by 10th planet black belts, not because he isn't a f***ing marketing wizard).

Paragon Jiu-Jitsu

I know, a little weird that I put a specific gym on the list, especially since I already have Ricardo “Franjinha” Miller black belt Jeff Glover on the list, but given the success of Glover, Bill "The Grill" Cooper and other notable Paragon-ians (?), I think that they belong here.

The main reason I say this is because what I have noticed as a predisposition toward long threads of submission attempts that feed off of and link to each other. Regardless of competition, it seems like Paragon grapplers are ALWAYS attacking something from somewhere. In the current BJJ game, this is a bold move given the possibility of the aggressor losing simply because of a lack of points.

The only issue is that it becomes a chicken or the egg argument. Will tournaments shift to submission only once more gyms start going for submissions over points, or will tournaments need to shift to submission only format before more competitors feel free to end matches instead of worrying about half guard sweep?

Regardless, I think Paragon has the right idea.

Kron Gracie

This one may be subjective to you, but given his recent success both in Metamoris and ADCC coupled with his particular lineage, Kron Gracie may be the link between current sport BJJ and the old-school mentality of winning via submission.

Personally, I don't know if Kron considers himself a proponent of change, but with a father like Rickson in his corner (about as self-defense and basics oriented as anyone in the world) and what has been a growing trophy case of major tournament wins, Kron could be the link between the generation or Royce, Rickson, Royler, etc, and the tournament scene today.

And with a little luck, the submission only format of the future.

I imagine that the argument is almost immediately on the forefront of your minds for names like Saulo or Xande Ribeiro, Marcelo Garcia, Roger Gracie, Leandro Lo, Buchecha, Rodolfo Vieira, Lucas Lepri and about a dozen other world champions. The reason I didn't put them on is because despite their success and proficiency, I don't think that their own abilities have been as often imitated in competition.

These competitors have been able to gain success because of their own particular brand of size, strength and unique skills. Though, I do understand a STRONG argument for Marcelo, though I think due to his abilities and popularity, he is quite happy just to share his teachings and let people flock to him like the salmon of Capistrano.

I sure as f*** would.

But feel free to argue. I know you will whether I want you to or not.