Gordon Ryan believes he’s the best no-gi grappler in the world right now. His résumé — double gold at IBJJF worlds, gold at ADCC and several Eddie Bravo Invitational titles — seems to back that up.
Jiu-jitsu, though, is only in Ryan’s short-term plans, he reiterated Monday on The MMA Hour with Luke Thomas. MMA is the future for him, the Renzo Gracie Academy product said. It’s all just a matter of when. If Ryan had to choose between mixed martial arts and gi jiu-jitsu, it wouldn’t be a difficult decision.
“Gi is just not as exciting for me,” Ryan said. “I don’t want to invest time into something that’s not as fun as MMA, which is my ultimate goal. My ultimate goal was always to be the best in MMA, not the best in grappling.”
Ryan will get a taste of MMA next month. He’ll face former UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum, an elite grappler himself, in the opening round of a Combat Jiu-Jitsu tournament Feb. 22 in Los Angeles, a card that will air on UFC Fight Pass. The winner of that match faces the winner of a bout between Rustam Chsiev and Josh Barnett, who Ryan has already beaten at Quintet. Palm strikes are legal in Combat Jiu-Jitsu.
Ryan, 23, said he’s only been seriously training in MMA for about two months, so a debut fight could be a ways off. In the interim, Ryan said he’s trying to make jiu-jitsu more appealing to the masses. That seems to include a fair share of trash talk on his social media accounts.
“I’m really trying to turn grappling into a spectator sport,” Ryan said. “The whole thing is 95 percent of people who watch grappling events actually do grapple. They participate in the sport. Whereas, if you look at 95 percent of the people who watch NBA or NFL, they don’t participate in the sport. So the whole thing is how can we make grappling into a spectator sport by breaking that barrier and getting people from outside the sport to actually watch jiu-jitsu events?”
Ryan does not prescribe to the ideals that Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a pure martial art where respect and humility are paramount. He believes the idea that BJJ began that way is “fake.”
“That’s not what jiu-jitsu is created on at all,” he said. “The Gracies used to beat up people just to prove that jiu-jitsu was the better martial art in Brazil. People have this fake idea where they think you should be like humble and respectful, but that’s not always the case.”
This year, Ryan has Combat Jiu-Jitsu in February, something big in August he said he cannot yet announce and then ADCC in September. Perhaps then, he’ll make an earnest foray into MMA. But maybe not. Ryan said his coach John Danaher, the mentor for such fighters as Georges St-Pierre, doesn’t want him to start competing in the cage until he reaches a high level. A very, very high level.
“I’m just gonna keep training in MMA,” Ryan said. “And whenever John thinks I’m ready to fight, I’m gonna have my first fight. He doesn’t want me to take my first match until I’m on Jon Jones’s level, he says. So hopefully it’ll just take me 10 years to actually have a debut.”
At this moment, Ryan said he believes he can win fights in mixed martial arts. But that’s far from what he wants to accomplish in the sport. Ryan has a grappling-to-MMA blueprint to follow. His teammate and mentor Garry Tonon is 3-0 in ONE Championship with all finishes.
“I’m terrible right now,” Ryan said. “I’m getting better, definitely. I think I can go in and beat low-level guys, for sure. … I feel like I can go out and beat mid-level guys. But I don’t want to beat mid-level guys. I want to beat like world-champion level athletes.”