(The Gracies proved that BJJ is indispensable — not that it’s invincible. / Photo via Getty)
By Elias Cepeda
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in mixed martial arts has been on my mind a bit more than usual lately. A few weeks ago Benson Henderson walked to the ring wearing a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gi with his brand new black belt tied around it at the waist.
Minutes later he walked out, his black belt still in tow but without his UFC lightweight title belt after getting submitted by an arm bar from inside the full guard of Anthony Pettis. At the time, Pettis was ranked as a blue belt — the belt just above white in BJJ.
Not many weeks prior to that, Roger Gracie, the most dominant submission grappling competitor in decades, lost his UFC debut and then was promptly dropped from the organization. This past Saturday, Roger’s cousin Rolles – son of legendary Rolls Gracie – got knocked out in the second round of his WSOF 5 fight with Derrick Mehmen in tragically comic fashion.
Rolles got hit, the punch put him out on his feet and he spun around slowly before falling to the ground. It looked like the slapstick “Flair Flop” move that pro wrestler Ric Flair used to pull off after getting hit to put over his opponent. Three and a half years ago, of course, Rolles humiliated himself against Joey Beltran in his lone UFC fight after appearing to exhaust himself almost immediately.
Both recent Gracie losses brought about public questions of whether or not the Gracie family and Jiu Jitsu itself have become outdated in modern MMA. Henderson’s submission loss to Pettis could have been seen as a triumph of Jiu Jitsu technique but instead, some critics chose to question the validity and use of BJJ belt ranks.
What did Henderson’s black belt mean, exactly, if he could go out and get submitted by someone with a lower BJJ rank, who was more known for high-flying kicks than anything, and with such a basic move? The notions that Gracies losing fights and Henderson getting submitted somehow reflect negatively on Jiu Jitsu itself are, of course, silly.
MMA isn’t about magical styles and secrets solely in the possession of those with certain-colored pieces of clothing or particular surnames. It never has been.