William Vandry BJJ in My Eyes (October 2010): The Greatest Jiu-jitsu Battles of all Time!

3rd Degree BJJ Black Belt William Vandry, posing in front of some of the students at his quarterly seminar at Vandry Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Austin, Texas - June, 2010

By Professor William Vandry (3rd degree Black belt BJJ)

I wrote an article a few years ago regarding who was the best in BJJ.  Of course the best in my opinion based upon history was:

  1. Carlos Gracie
  2. Helio Gracie
  3. Carlson Gracie
  4. Rolls Gracie
  5. Rickson Gracie
  6. Rigan Machado

Ok, so with respect to each of the great fighters above in BJJ, refer to a past article Any Given day.

In BJJ, we all enjoy the training at an academy.  We enjoy the armlocks, leglocks, chokes and a great sweep or reverse.  When you have a good training partner that matches you move for move, it is a test.  A test on the mat is a time where you develop new angles and reach into your gut.  At times in a class, you can train with a partner and have an excellent time.  Many of my students review with their particular partner how did they get them in this submission, escape, etc.

What makes a match exciting?  Fast pace.  The eve and flow.  The danger.  The surprise.  The escapes.  The drama.  Oh, if we could see all matches like that.  So what are some great battles that many may either know or never heard about?  Lets go back into time and review what my opinion is the best battles in BJJ.

1. Rickson Gracie vs. Rigan Machado

This match was one of the most exciting in BJJ.  Rickson Gracie was the best at the time, and Rigan Machado was coming up as a close no. 2.  Rigan was a lot younger, I think 18, and showed a great heart.  Rigan gassed, but it also displayed Rickson’s great defensive skills and his ability to overcome and weather the storm.

2. Helio Gracie vs. Kimura

File:Masahiko Kimura vs Helio Gracie ude-garami.jpg

Here is the actual match:


Helio Gracie was a great fighter, and one of the patriarchs of BJJ.  When Carlos Gracie passed away, Helio was the official grandmaster of BJJ.  This match was a match held in Japan against the great champion Kimura, known for his Kimura armlock that we all use in BJJ today to finish opponents.


3. Carlson Gracie vs. Waldamar Santana

4. Rickson Gracie vs. Funaki

Funaki was a training partner with then shootfighter and UFC fighter Ken Shamrock.  Shamrock felt Funaki could beat Rickson, who was regarded as the best fighter in the world at that time.  Rickson had already won two MMA tournaments, but many claimed that he had not fought a good grappler.  Funaki was a good test for Rickson, and he proved his skills by choking out Funaki.


5. Mario Sperry vs. Royler Gracie

Royler was well known, and thought to be one of the most technical Gracies.  Mario Sperry was a great champion and this BJJ match was known as the first time a Gracie had tapped in public.  Sperry caught Royler with a clock choke.

6. Walid Ismael vs. Royce Gracie

Similar to the Royler – Sperry fight, Royce was preparing to fight in Japan, and felt Wallid would be a good tune-up fight.  This match displays that good grappling and a person constantly competing in tournaments are two different angles of preparation.  Wallid was known as a tough fighter, and had also caught Royce in a clock choke.  Royce lost consciousness and this was a huge win for Wallid.

7. Jean Jacques Machado vs. Ricardo Arona

JJ showed why he in fact is one of the most exciting, and technical Jiu-jitsu fighters of all time.  JJ fought a larger Arona, and by points Arona won, but JJ definitely went to win band got numerous near hits with submissions.  Arona played a more conservative game.

8. PeDePano vs. Fernando Margarida Pontes

PeDePano was nearly unbeatable, and was a multiple world champion and the best fighter from Gracie barra.  Fernando was a well-known fighter coming back from an injury and many thought PDP would easily win.  Margarda ended up tapping PDP with an armbar.

9. Demian Maia vs. Jacare

Demian showed his absolute control and his talent, technique, and more importantly his experience and knowledge in jiu-jitsu.  I also think Demian and shogun are the two best grapplers in mma.  Demian got Jacare’s back and won a match playing the guard and constantly attacking.

10. Roger Gracie vs. Jacare (no gi)

a great win for Roger, avenging a controversial Mundial loss to Jacare.  He managed to establish back mount and to choke.  Roger has size, and good fundamental techniques along with speed.

Special mention:

11. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Lyoto Machida 2

I felt Shogun won the first fight with a close decision.  He opened up the firepower the second fight, and Machida could not defend against shoguns awesome striking, grappling and constant attacking.  Shogun seems to be getting better each fight, and I would like to note that his loss in his first UFC has more to do with knee surgery, not enough prep or recovery time or conditioning.  He is right where he needs to be right now.

12. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Ricardo Arona

Shogun displayed his potential destruction when Arona had just defeated a seemingly invincible Vanderlei Silva by points.


All of these matches have ton of value.  Each of them teaches you something if you really pay attention.  At times when you are wrestling, you are behind in points.  At times you are ahead.  When you are behind, you need to step it up and get the action moving to get the pace up to get a submission or more points.  When you are ahead, you need to catch your breath and prepare to finish.

Every student of mine has a training partner, and many students have a consistent partner.  I enjoy training with all of my students, the white belts I tend to work at the same pace they do, and simply exploit an error.  After doing so, I then explain what I did to help them defend better in the future.  For blue and purple belts, I stay a pace ahead and at times let them dump their bullets.  I enjoy working position and exploiting a flaw that I also detail to them to work on their particular game.  For brown and black belts, I enjoy working defense, such as giving them mount, side, back or whatever their best positions are.  Why?  Well in my opinion the advanced guys can get dependent on the same game they are so used to in their careers.  I also feel it helps me to develop my defense, new counters and ideas to strategize future theories.  This type of strategy I believe is what makes good fighters better.  Not simply relying on top game, or guard all the time, but spreading out your weapons.

At times I will work nothing but armbars from my guard.  Sometimes just kneebars or leglocsk, and sometimes-just chokes.  It depends on how you train.  I believe this type of strategy to make you a better fighter the way the above great champions developed their styles to establish their technique taught me from watching, reading and studying their motions.  I used to read about Rickon Gracie.  I read about his incredible defense, and his strategies to avoid injury during a fight.  His guard was very fundamental, but his changeups, and adaptations is what made him one of the greatest of all time.

I remember when I was a white belt reading about Rickson’s defense.  I read about him sparring with all the top world champions back then.  I read how he could be side controlled, mounted, or whatever, but you just couldn’t finish him.  Then his incredible wind would kick in gear and he would eventually submit his opponent.  This taught me years ago about what I call essential concepts.  I coined this term in a past video series Century martial arts made on me.  Essential concepts are simply ideas, or theories that you explore and problem solve until you develop what becomes your answer for your problem.

These solutions of course don’t happen just with wrestling, you need fundamental training first, good coaches to mentor you and develop ideas to open your game.  And you also have to have selfless coach.  My coach Master Carlos Machado did not just train me when I first took lessons from him.  In my private lessons with him, he would develop strategies for my game that he felt would make me even better.  He would show me his strategies and teach them to me.  I too do this with my students.  I want them to develop well, and keep exploring.  It is great to explore ideas, and strategies.  When training at an academy, sparring should not be about winning.  Sparring should be about strategies, risk, developing ideas, working bad positions, trying new theories.  When Shogun fought Machida the second fight, he opened up the game and decided to step it up.  Obviously his risk strategy was to use his best weapons as shown when he was in half guard going to leglock to back to the feet.  Keep working, and enjoy these fights that are a piece of history in BJJ everyone should know and remember.

Absorb, and think.

Professor William Vandry, (3rd degree Black belt BJJ)

Vandry BJJ Academy: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), Muay Thai Boxing & Judo – Austin, Texas