Submission grappling, also known as no-gi BJJ, is one of the fastest-growing martial arts today. It is a combination of different grappling martial arts such as Jiu-Jitsu, Wrestling, Judo, and Sambo. With its emergence, many people from different backgrounds have come to learn the sport.
Various grappling events have contributed to the rise of submission grappling. The IBJJF No-Gi Worlds, Polaris Pro Grappling, Eddie Bravo Invitational (EBI), Who’s Number One (WNO), ONE Submission Grappling, and Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) Submission Fighting World Championship all helped develop the superstars that we know and love today.
These days, you don’t have to focus on both gi and no-gi grappling to become a household name. While it is still best to train in both, many have focused on just one aspect of grappling and built their success around it. Today let’s talk about 20 of the best submission grapplers of the modern era (in no particular order).
1) Gordon Ryan
Gordon “The King” Ryan is currently the face of submission grappling. A prominent student of John Danaher and a former member of the Danaher Death Squad (DDS) and now a New Wave Jiu-Jitsu representative, many regard him as one of the best (if not the best) no-gi grapplers of all time. Roger Gracie, who many consider the greatest Jiu-Jitsu competitor ever, believes that Gordon can become the biggest name in grappling history.
As he looks unbeatable in his current form, it is safe to say that he will continue to dominate the sport for years to come. At only 27 years old, he has already avenged the few losses he had early in his career, all in crushing fashion.
ONE Submission Grappling World Champion and multiple-time BJJ World Champion Mikey Musumeci from the Evolve Fight Team is one of the most accomplished grapplers of this generation. While most of his achievements came from gi Jiu-Jitsu, Mikey has also won the No-Gi World Championship and has been competing in various super fights against top-level competition.
He is a sharp, intelligent young man with a deep passion for grappling. He introduced a powerful leg lock known as the “Mikey Lock,” a devastating technique that can cause immediate damage to the foot if left unchecked.
3) Kaynan Duarte
Kaynan Duarte is a student of BJJ legend Andre Galvao. A phenom from Atos, Kaynan may very well be the best grappler in his division. At only 24 years old, Kaynan has won ADCC twice, along with his numerous achievements in gi BJJ and submission grappling, including super fights.
He won his first ADCC gold at 21, and it will be interesting to see what more Kaynan can achieve in the submission grappling circuit. Will he eventually get his revenge against Gordon Ryan? We’ll have to wait and see.
4) Craig Jones
Craig Jones originally trained with Lachlan Giles in Australia and later went to New York to learn from John Danaher. He is a former member of the DDS, and is now one of the coaches at B-Team Jiu-Jitsu, a team of world-class grapplers based out of Austin, Texas.
Craig’s unique approach to grappling earned the respect of his peers, and he is definitely a superstar of the sport. He is regarded as one of the best grapplers in his division and has an exciting and unique approach to Jiu-Jitsu.
5) Garry Tonon
Garry “The Lion Killer” Tonon is a student of Tom DeBlass and John Danaher. He represents New Wave Jiu-Jitsu and the Evolve Fight Team, and is one of the reasons leg locks became so popular in the past few years.
Garry is a highly accomplished competitor. He is a multiple-time EBI champion and ADCC medalist. He now competes in both submission grappling and MMA.
6) Kade Ruotolo
Kade Ruotolo is a 19-year-old grappling phenom from Atos under Andre Galvao. He and his twin brother (Tye) have been consistent competitors for years and have been successful since they started competing as kids.
Kade won ADCC gold in the 77 kg division this year. He also defeated Uali Kurzhev, a Sambo World Champion, in a grappling standoff in ONE Championship, becoming the first-ever ONE Lightweight Submission Grappling World Champion.
7) Tye Ruotolo
Tye Ruotolo is also from Atos and a student of Andre Galvao, alongside his twin brother, Kade. He has been a standout competitor from a young age, winning many championships, including the Worlds.
His success as an adult is also very remarkable. He won 4th place in the 2019 ADCC World Championships (as a 16-year-old blue belt!) and got 3rd place this year, an impressive feat considering he fought against many championship-level competitors. He is the current 2-division WNO Champion.
8) Lachlan Giles
Lachlan Giles is one of the best grapplers to ever come out of Australia. He is known for his analytical approach to Jiu-Jitsu and has built an exceptional career in grappling, all while studying Physiotherapy. He has since received his PhD and is an active competitor and coach.
He earned the nickname “Giant Slayer” from the 2019 ADCC, fighting as the lightest competitor in the absolute division, submitting opponents 3 weight classes above him via heel hook.
9) Andre Galvao
Andre Galvao is the head coach of Atos Jiu-Jitsu. While this list talks about the best submission grapplers of the modern era, it’s difficult to exclude Andre, as he still competes at the highest level of the sport.
A veteran of submission grappling, Andre is a fierce competitor with a strong overall game. He is by far the most accomplished competitor/coach on our list.
10) Ffion Davies
Ffion Davies is one of the best female grapplers of the modern era. She represents East Coast Jiu-Jitsu under Darragh O’Conaill.
Ffion is a no-gi world champion and is known for her exciting matches in Polaris. She recently won the 2022 ADCC, becoming the champion in her weight class.
11) Gabrielle Garcia
Gabrielle “Gabi” Garcia is perhaps the most dominant female grappler ever. Her imposing size and crushing technique have served her well for years, giving her many championships in both gi and no-gi.
She has competed in MMA and is a multiple-time IBJJF and ADCC champion.
12) Marcus Almeida
Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida, an ace grappler from Checkmat and the Evolve Fight Team, is regarded as one of the greatest grapplers of the current generation.
Buchecha is widely known for his insane championship run in the IBJJF circuit (17-time BJJ World Champion). He is also a two-time ADCC champion and is now competing in MMA under ONE Championship.
13) Jonathan Torres
Jonathan “JT” Torres is a BJJ black belt known for his solid and uncompromising game. He is one of the most accomplished grapplers of this generation and is a two-time ADCC champion.
What makes JT’s game so compelling is his ability to stay calm regardless of the situation. He currently teaches out of Essential Jiu-Jitsu in White Plains, New York.
14) Felipe Pena
Felipe Pena is a well-known competitor from Gracie Barra under Marcelo Azevedo. Known for his amazing back takes, Pena has won many competitions in gi and no-gi.
Although mainly known for his achievements in the gi, he won gold in the 2017 ADCC absolutes and took 2nd place in 2015.
15) Matheus Diniz
Matheus Diniz is a star student of grappling legend Marcelo Garcia. He is known for his aggressive fighting style and has a wicked top game.
Matheus won many high-profile grappling tournaments, such as the Kasai Pro Grand Prix and No-Gi World Championships. He reached the pinnacle of submission grappling in 2019, winning gold in the ADCC World Championships.
16) Nick Rodriguez
Nick Rodriguez, also known as Nicky Rod, is a former wrestler turned submission grappling powerhouse. He is a former student of John Danaher and is now part of B-Team Jiu-Jitsu, along with Nicky Ryan, Craig Jones, and Ethan Crelinsten.
Nicky is known for his explosive style of fighting. He is a 2-time ADCC silver medalist and is undeniably one of the best big men in the sport.
17) Micael Galvão
Micael Galvão, also known as Mica, is a young and exciting black belt from Brazil. He received his black belt under Melqui Galvao and represents Team Fight Sports.
Mica is one of the youngest ADCC competitors in recent years. He won 2nd place in the 2022 ADCC World Championship, losing only to Kade Ruotolo.
18) Danielle Kelly
Danielle Kelly from the Evolve Fight Team is a fast-rising grappling star from the United States. She is an active black belt competitor and trains under Karel “Silver Fox” Pravec.
Known for her dynamic fighting style, Danielle has gained a large following for her exciting matches in EBI, WNO, ADCC Trials, and ONE Championship.
19) Keenan Cornelius
Keenan Cornelius is a former competitor from Atos, now head coach of Legion American Jiu-Jitsu. He gained worldwide recognition by achieving the “Jiu-Jitsu Grand Slam,” winning all the major IBJJF competitions in his colored belt run. He is also known for introducing various gi guards, such as the Worm Guard.
Keenan won 2nd place in the 2017 ADCC World Championships and placed in previous entries as well.
20) Josh Hinger
Josh Hinger is a black belt under Andre Galvao and competes under Team Atos. He is one of the top grapplers in the middleweight division, having won many important competitions in the international circuit.
Josh is a 3-time IBJJF No-Gi World Champion for three consecutive years (2016, 2017, and 2018) in his weight class and has won 3rd place in the 2019 ADCC World Championship.
These are just some of the top figures that have made their mark in the sport. Other names like Beatriz Mesquita, Nicky Ryan, Eddie Cummings, Geo Martinez, Dante Leon, Andrew Wiltse, Giancarlo Bodoni, and many more have contributed their time, passion, and influence to our beloved sport.
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