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Rodolfo Vieira sees Gordon Ryan neck and neck with Roger Gracie for GOAT status in grappling

Gordon Ryan submitted Andre Galvao at ADCC 2022
Photo courtesy of Tiago Molinos

Can Gordon Ryan surpass Roger Gracie and become the greatest grappler of all-time? For UFC middleweight Rodolfo Vieira, one of the very few ADCC gold medalists to ever compete inside the octagon, he’s one gold medal away from that.

Vieira, who remains one of the most revered names in the grappling circuit after his jiu-jitsu retirement to transition to MMA, was impressed by Ryan’s performance at this year’s ADCC in Las Vegas. Ryan not only won gold in his weight class, but also tapped Andre Galvao in a highly anticipated superfight.

Roger Gracie is not the most victorious ADCC competitors counted by number of medals, sitting behind Galvao, Ryan and the likes of Marcelo Garcia, Mark Kerr and Ricardo Arona. But the way he dominated his opponents with relative ease makes him one of there most celebrated grapplers ever.

Gracie won gold three times at the ADCC, defeating names like Mario Sperry, Alexandre Ribeiro (three times), Shinya Aoki, Fabricio Werdum and Ronaldo Souza. He captured 10 titles at the IBJJF World Championship, something Ryan, a five-time ADCC gold medalist, hasn’t accomplished.

“I think it’s hard to say who’s the greatest,” Vieira said on a recent episode of MMA Fighting podcast Trocação Franca, “but I think it’s between [Ryan] and Roger. But really, with the age [Ryan] has — if you look at Roger when he won the ADCC 2005, he didn’t have the age [Ryan] has. He still has so much time ahead, and he’s already showing a super high-level jiu-jitsu, so mature.”

Gracie was 24 when he first won the ADCC in 2005, two years older than Ryan when he placed first in 2017.

“He fights beautiful, very aggressive, to submit, and I love watching him fight,” Vieira said of Ryan. “He made it look easy at this year’s ADCC. I was rooting for Andre, of course. Deep in there I knew Andre had a chance, even though many people said he didn’t, that [Ryan] would catch him, but I really thought Andre could win. Unfortunately, he didn’t. He was able to neutralize Andre’s game and did what he did. And the fact he had a 40-minute match with Andre Galvao and still asked to compete in his weight class, you can count on the fingers which athletes would have the guts to do that.

“It’s hard, it’s between Roger and him, but I believe one more [ADCC] win and I think he will be considered [the greatest], no doubt.”

Gracie retired from major grappling tournaments in 2010 to focus full-time on his MMA career, but years later, he came back to the mats to submit multiple-time world champions Rodrigo Comprido and Marcus Buchecha. In the end, his record as a black belt shows 76 wins and only seven defeats, having avenged every single one of those losses. Ryan, who also teased a move to MMA in the past, won 97 of 103 matches in eight years, currently riding a 53-match winning streak since 2018.

Vieira, who withdrew from a UFC Vegas 65 clash with Cody Brundage due to COVID-19 days prior to the Nov. 19 card, retired from grappling in 2015 to become a MMA fighter, returning only for ocasional superfights. “Black Belt Hunter” was paired up against Ryan for a match in 2019, but it never came to fruition, and he said it’s hard to come up with the ideal strategy to stop him now.

“What I would do is try to stay on top of him and use my passing game,” Vieira said. “I would obviously have to work hard on my leg lock defense, which is a flaw I have, and try to stay on top, because he has great passing game, very tight. It’s so much pressure, he never stops. In fact, he never stops even on the bottom.

“People usually fight him very defensively. In my prime, training no-gi a lot, I would have to trust in my passing game. That’s the strategy, stay on top and not give him any opening. To put pressure to pass the guard, get to his back, get to half-guard, an arm-triangle choke. … But it’s hard to say. That would be my shot, because it wouldn’t work from the bottom.”

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