Twin brothers Kade and Tye Ruotolo can make an argument for being the top two pound-for-pound submission grapplers on the planet. On May 20, the Ruotolo brothers will make their ONE Championship debuts in a pair of highly-anticipated submission-only grappling matches.
Although the Ruotolos received their black belts from fellow ONE signee Andre Galvao just six months ago, the 19-year old brothers have spent the better part of the past of years competing against — and beating — the best grapplers on the planet. They are quick to credit each other and their upbringing for their success in the sport.
“To be honest with you, I had the most perfect childhood,” Tye Ruotolo told Grappling Insider. “I’m so grateful for everything, just the way I’ve grown up.”
That “perfect” childhood included jiu-jitsu, and plenty of it. At three-years old the brothers started at Checkmat, learning the finer points of half guard from Lucas Leite. From there, they continued on to Art of Jiu-Jitsu, perfecting their berimbolo game. And now, training at Atos alongside Galvao, the Ruotolos are showing the results of 15-plus years of world-class jiu-jitsu instruction.
As beneficial as that training has been, so much of the Ruotolo’s success is thanks to their best and most frequent training partners — each other.
“Ever since we were three-years old, if my brother beats me or submits me, it’s like there’s a force coming from inside me, I’m probably gonna submit him next no matter what… We’re always there to push each other. We’ve definitely been a big help to each other, our progression growing up. Just in general, always fighting each other,” said Tye.
Naturally competitive, the Ruotolos didn’t limit their “training sessions” to the gym.
“Not even all the jiu-jitsu training, even off the mats, at home,” said Kade. “Even before we had mats at home, all the carpet training sessions and all the scraps that would come from the training sessions. I just attribute a lot of our toughness to each other.”
The Ruotolos are intensely competitive between each other, but don’t confuse that with a lack of brotherly support. Quite the opposite; they see themselves as a unit. A victory for Tye is a victory for Kade and vice versa.
“We work together before anyone else,” said Tye. “He helps me get better and I help him get better, and together we’re gonna try and be the best. As long as we’re at the top together, it’s cool. Regardless of who’s winning between us, as long as it’s us at the top.”
It makes sense that the Ruotolo brothers will make their ONE Championship debuts on the same card. Tye will take on ADCC medalist and recent ONE Championship lightweight title challenger Garry Tonon, while Kade will square off with veteran MMA submission specialist Shinya Aoki. They join their coach, Galvao, who had a successful ONE Championship submission grappling debut earlier this year.
“[ONE Championship CEO ] Chatri [Sityodtong] welcomed us with open arms, and we’re super happy to be a part of the family” said Tye. “I really think they’re gonna be pretty much the new face of MMA.”
On paper, Kade — who was Grappling Insider’s 2021 no-gi grappler of the year — holds a significant advantage over Aoki. Ruotolo is the current Who’s Number One lightweight champion and finished last year with an impressive unbeaten streak that saw him winning the ADCC East Coast Trials with victories over the likes of William Tackett and PJ Barch.
Aoki has considerably less recent experience in submission grappling, but over the past 20 years, he has developed a reputation as one of the most dangerous submission artists in all of MMA.
Kade is quick to show his opponent respect.
“He’s an MMA legend without a doubt,” he said. “I know he’s an OG grappler. I think he’s very physical, he looks strong. We’re gonna go in there and lock horns for sure.”
Aoki has also earned another reputation — that of a vicious and even malicious applier of submissions, of a fighter that takes joy in breaking an opponent’s limb.
“Some people have said he has a somewhat questionable style… It doesn’t really matter what he’s coming in with or what style, there’s no way he’s gonna get into my head with any dirty tricks or anything like that. My brother, he’s tried every dirty trick on me, and we have experience fighting guys like Vagner [Rocha] and different guys like that so I think I’m ready for whatever he throws at me for sure.”
Tye’s opponent, Garry Tonon, seems to approach jiu-jitsu in the same way as the Ruotolos do: high-paced, relentless attack sequences that overwhelm and exhaust opponents. That’s why fans are salivating over the upcoming Ruotolo/Tonon match-up; stalling is not something either Tonon or Ruotolo are interested in. Fans are expecting an entertaining match with endless scrambles.
Ruotolo has a similar prediction for the match.
“It’s funny how we have very similar styles. I think he likes the leg locks a little bit more than I do. Not to say that he knows more in that department. I’m pretty confident in the leg lock department and I definitely think I could surprise him there, too. But we’re both some of the most exciting grapplers out there, we both are always looking for the submissions and always scrambling. I think he’ll give up a lot of positions in search of the submission, which I won’t do as much, but what we do is we both go forward no matter what so I think it’s gonna be a hurricane of scrambles and submission attempts until one of us gets tapped but there’s no way it’s gonna be me.”
As much as the Ruotolos emphasize pace and aggression, Tye admits to having a bit of a chip on his shoulder about his technical ability. Sure, he’s one of the best scramblers in the world, but Tye maintains that he and his brother are two of the best technical competitors in all of jiu-jitsu.
Ruotolo believes that technique-for-technique, he’s still superior to Tonon.
“I like to think that we’re some of the most technical out there,” Ruotolo said. “We’ve been doing jiu-jitsu since we were three-years old with some of the most high level guys in the world… We have very deep knowledge of jiu-jitsu as far as everything from Marcelo Garcia butterfly sweeps to Lucas Leite style half guard… the berimbolos when we went with the Mendes bros to the takedowns of Andre [Galvao], so we’ve been doing it our whole lives. Our brains are full of techniques and I’m excited to show some of that technique.
“Maybe I won’t apply so much of a pace with Garry and just go technique-for-technique because maybe I gotta start proving to people that I am all technique and it’s not all athleticism and explosivity.”
Ahead of their ONE Championship debuts, the Ruotolo brothers are currently enjoying the best runs of their respective careers. What’s scary about that is that, at 19-years old with a massive amount of world-class training and competition experience under their belts, they are only getting better.
“I’ve been taking the mindset of keeping an open mind, getting everything from everyone, taking what’s for me, throwing out what I don’t need,” said Kade. “And I feel like mentally, physically, everything has been coming together these last couple of years. I’ve kinda come into the grappler that I always really wanted to be and more. I’m excited. It feels like we just got the formula right now.”