Firas Zahabi Comments on Gordon Ryan’s Potential Transition to MMA

Firas Zahabi is one of the most accomplished and universally respected coaches in MMA. A black belt under John Danaher, Zahabi has coached many of MMA’s best fighters, including Georges St-Pierre, Rory MacDonald, and Kenny Florian. Owing to his background in BJJ, Zahabi is also widely respected within the jiu-jitsu community. Recently, on an episode of the “More Plates More Dates” podcast, Zahabi spoke about no-gi superstar Gordon Ryan and his potential transition from jiu-jitsu to MMA.

Earlier this year, Ryan announced that he had signed a contract with ONE Championship, and that while he was initially planning to just compete in grappling, MMA was on the table. A grappling match featuring Ryan and veteran MMA fighter Shinya Aoki was subsequently announced, but canceled after Ryan announced his indefinite leave of absence from competition to address ongoing health concerns.

Zahabi speculated on Ryan’s chances of success in MMA.

“I know him well,” Zahabi said. “I’ve known him since he was young. He’s a very, very intelligent guy. If he puts his mind to MMA, he can do it. Especially with John [Danaher] in his corner… If he really puts his mind to it, he can go very far. Will he do it? Because in my opinion he’s making so much and doing so well in jiu-jitsu right now that to start back at the bottom of the totem pole might not be something that’s financially the best. Because right now he’s at the top, top of the jiu-jitsu world. He’s arguably the greatest jiu-jitsu guy ever, Gordon Ryan. And I think he could cement that and just be that legend of the sport.”

Zahabi also commented on Ryan’s ability to pick up striking, but offered a note of caution.

“I’m sure he could figure out striking. I’m sure he could get really sophisticated with striking. But the thing is with striking, it has a lot more to do with natural ability and your ability to absorb a shot. Now here’s the thing, we never know by looking at a guy how well he can take a shot.”

Ultimately, Zahabi seems to believe that Ryan is unlikely to ever transition to MMA. The reasoning is relatively simple: why leave jiu-jitsu when you’re at the top of the mountain?

“I know, ultimately, he wanted to do MMA,” said Zahabi. “I haven’t talked to him in a while. I think… jiu-jitsu is so hot for him right now. He’s selling instructionals… I think [Ryan and John Danaher are] probably just gonna dominate the jiu-jitsu world. Make their mark as the greatest jiu-jitsu team ever. And that’s something that I think is just as important as a UFC world title for them.”

I think it’s not just money, it’s status. John and Gordon are doing something extremely special in jiu-jitsu. They’re really innovating jiu-jitsu.

Ben Coate

Ben has been involved with grappling, whether through wrestling or Brazilian jiu-jitsu, essentially his entire life. After wrestling throughout his childhood, Ben found Brazilian jiu-jitsu as a young adult and quickly fell in love. He has been training for over ten years and currently holds the rank of brown belt, and remains involved in both the MMA and BJJ scene. Ben has been writing about combat sports since 2017. He has interviewed and profiled some of MMA's biggest stars, including multiple UFC champions.

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