By Micah Caputo
The number of Heavyweight BJJ blackbelts in MMA is slim. However, the few that exist definitely stand out from the pack. One of the most amazing things about all these guys is that with only a couple exceptions none of them have been submitted in MMA. One of the best ways to rank fighters is to look at their best wins and their best losses.
Here they are the top BJJ black belts in MMA, conveniently organized into their respective divisions.
The Barry Sanders Division.
This division is for athletes that retired too early. Gabriel Gonzaga is the second youngest guy on this list and he is talking about retirement. The Parallels to Barry Sanders run even deeper though. Sanders was a monster football player, while Gonzaga was a monster fighter that nobody wanted to face. They both retired in their primes and blamed it on their recent losses. Sanders on the perennially losing Detroit Lions and Gonzaga to a string of top level fighters. Lastly, they both had unique ways of announcing their retirements. Sanders by faxing a letter to the newspaper and Gonzaga, assuming he stays retired, on his twitter page.
Why does Gonzaga even belong on this list?
He is the 2006 Mundials black belt champion. In MMA he has never tapped and his best losses came to Fabricio Werdum, Junior Dos Santos, and Shane Carwin. None of those losses are anything to be ashamed of. The one weak point in his resume is his top level wins. His best win was his high kick KO of Mirko Filopovic. This was amazing, as it was CroCop’s second KO loss ever and the first by way of high kick. Of course his blackbelt level BJJ set up this kick as Gonzaga severely weakened CroCop with a vicious ground attack prior to the kick. Hopefully, Gonzaga comes back and moves out of this division.
The Heath Ledger Division
These next three guys all have excellent backgrounds, but the last few years none of them have fought any serious competition. They clearly enjoy fighting, however it remains to be seen if they will attempt to climb back up to the highest level before they retire.
Jeff Monson is, at forty, the oldest guy on this list. He is the only guy on this list with submission losses. Both came early in his career in 1998 and 1999, respectively. He is a two time ADCC champ and his best wins were over Ricco Rodriguez and Roy Nelson. His best losses have come to Josh Barnett, Tim Sylvia, Chuck Liddell, and Forrest Griffin, all ex-UFC champions. Don’t count him out of any fight. However, at forty years old and with 51 fights under his belt I don’t see him coming back to fight top level guys. He clearly loves to compete though, because he has hardly slowed down after fourteen years of fighting.
Next up is Ricco Rodriguez. Despite his addiction and weight issues he has started to make a comeback. A comeback implies that he once had good years though and Rodriguez certainly has. He was the first ever ADCC champ and a UFC heavyweight champion. His best wins were over Jeff Monson and former UFC champions Randy Couture and Andrei Arlovski. In his 56 professional fights he has never been submitted. He also may just move off this list. It has been rumored that if he wins his next fight against James McSweeney he may just have another shot in the UFC.
Last, and certainly not least, Josh Barnett is the enigma of this division. He is not a traditional BJJ guy, but his knowledge of grappling has been clearly demonstrated by his many submission victories and his recent no-gi grappling world championship. He was also awarded his black belt by Rigan Machado black belt, Erick Paulson. He belongs on this list. His record shows that he has submitted twice. However, both submissions were to CroCop, one by way of strikes and the other due to injury.
Barnett’s best wins were over Jeff Monson and Minotauro Nogueira. He also beat Randy Couture for the UFC heavyweight title, but tested positive for steroids immediately after. The first of three times he has done so in his career.
Barnett’s participation in the Strikeforce heavyweight tournament gives him the best chance of moving out of this division. Of course, he is on the weak side of the tournament bracket and it will take more than just wins over Brett Rogers and Sergei Kharitonov to move him up. He will have to win the whole tournament.
Part Two preview….
Werdum, Nelson, Bigfoot, Minotauro, Mir.