Renato Canuto is undeniably one of the most entertaining jiu-jitsu competitors on the planet. Known for his flying armbars and acrobatic guard passing, Canuto will make his ONE Championship submission grappling debut on Friday, August 26 at ONE 160 when he takes on top European grappler Tommy Langaker.
“I’m super excited to be competing at ONE,” Canuto told Grappling Insider. “I feel like it is a great opportunity for grappling in general.”
Canuto and Langaker are part of a slew of recent ONE Championship signings of top jiu-jitsu talent as the organization looks to grow its submission grappling roster. Recent ONE signees include the likes of Mikey Musumeci, Kade and Tye Ruotolo, and Danielle Kelly, among other top grapplers.
As excited as Canuto is for his upcoming match against Langaker, he has spent most of 2022 preparing for his transition into MMA. He plans to make his MMA debut by the end of this year.
“I feel like I’m on a new level,” Canuto said. “I haven’t trained this hard or this much since I was like 17, to make a comparison to how I feel right now. I feel very young, so it’s good.”
An IBJJF gi and no-gi world champion, Canuto is still very much a grappler at heart, but has been reaping the benefits of training in MMA.
“Because I still have to teach and have my own school, everyday I end up training in jiu-jits. I never go all day without training jiu-jitsu, and then MMA I’ll train every morning. I truly feel like it has been my cardio, not that my cardio was ever too bad, but it made my cardio even better. It helped me with the explosive part of my game.”
In terms of pure grappling, Canuto is already light years ahead of the typical professional MMA fighter; he could probably rely on that grappling alone against most opponents he’ll face early in his MMA career. But that doesn’t mean he’ll stop learning and training jiu-jitsu once he transitions to MMA.
“If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse, for sure,” he said. “I don’t want that to happen. I want my jiu-jitsu to be super sharp to the point that anyone that I fight will be like, ‘Oh my God, that guy on the ground is insane.’ I still want to represent jiu-jitsu in MMA.”
If possible, Canuto hopes to continue competing in both jiu-jitsu and MMA at a high level.
“I feel like I’ve seen guys that went to MMA and they kinda fully stopped grappling. I’ve seen guys that have done both. I’ve seen guys in MMA like [UFC welterweight] Gilbert [Burns] that stayed in MMA for a long time and then came back [to jiu-jitsu] and did OK. As long as I feel like I can perform well on both sides, I’m gonna try and do both. But if I go out there and my grappling sucks, I’m not gonna keep competing if I can’t give my best on both sides.”
Canuto’s move to MMA is exciting not only because he’s already an established, world class grappler, but also because his style of grappling is uniquely entertaining. Canuto’s game is high-paced and high-flying, and he owns more than one flying armbar win.
And while Canuto has noticed that he tends to play a bit tighter when he’s practicing MMA grappling, he plans to keep the same entertaining style of of grappling he’s displayed throughout his career.
“I’m not gonna go there and just hold someone down the whole time,” he said. “I still want to be able to catch them off weird angles, same kind of unorthodox style.”
Canuto started jiu-jitsu at age 8 and has been trying to hit high-flying techniques ever since.
“Whenever I saw people doing flying submissions, or I saw them doing that type of style, where they’re moving a lot or doing tricky stuff, I always thought that was really cool. It always caught my attention… Flying armbars, flying triangles, the cartwheel stuff, some front rolls to the mount. When I was a kid I was already doing tricky stuff like that.”
That “tricky stuff” carried over to competition, where Canuto has found plenty of success. In addition to his IBJJF world titles, Canuto is also a Kasai Pro champion, a Third Coast Grappling grand prix champion, and an ADCC veteran.
Throughout all that success, Canuto has purposely maintained a fan-friendly style – an all-around, offensive style that he would enjoy watching as a fan.
“The way I like competing is the same way I would like to watch someone compete, basically… The thing is, because I like competing the way I would like to watch, I built a style over time where I’m able to do a little bit of everything. I may not be a great guard player, but I can definitely play guard. I can definitely hit submissions from guard. I have a pretty big arsenal of sweeps and back-takes from bottom, too. Over the years, I’ve definitely played way more top game, so if I am on top I’m exactly where I want to be, so I can pass from the outside, I can pass closer now even better. I can do tricky stuff like cartwheels… I like to keep the fight moving and to be able to have attacks from everywhere.”
Canuto is one half of jiu-jitsu’s most accomplished power couple; his wife is three-time IBJJF no-gi world champion Raquel Canuto.
The Canutos train together regularly and talk about jiu-jitsu “every day.” But as close as they are, their styles of grappling couldn’t be more different. While Renato’s approach to jiu-jitsu is acrobatic and movement-based, Raquel’s is perhaps best described as “suffocating,” as she is one of the world’s best pressure passers and has a closed guard that will slow down even the most frantic guard passers.
As Canuto has invested more of his time into training MMA, some of the jiu-jitsu teaching duties have shifted to his wife, giving him the opportunity to learn from Raquel.
“I watch her teach, and whenever she’s teaching the things she does, from guard or passing, I always learn different stuff because she really has figured it out. Things that I talk about and I try to teach, she will take it and she will put her own style and her own way of doing things.”
Canuto is quick to compliment his wife’s understanding of jiu-jitsu.
“We have similar styles in a bunch of ways, but very different styles when you watch because she’s trying to pressure through the whole time. I like to go more around the guard,” he said. “And even the way that she plays guard, she’s trying to suck you in. I’m more trying to do berimbolo type of stuff and different kinds of moves. I do learn a lot from her. Especially lately. Lately I’ve learned a lot.”
As ONE Championship continues to expand its stable of submission grapplers, Renato Canuto seems to embody exactly the type of athlete ONE is seeking to attract. He is an accomplished competitor at the highest level and, above all else, is an entertainer.
In submission grappling, Canuto has nothing left to prove. And with a potential $50,000 bonus on the table, Canuto is making entertainment his number-one priority.
“I feel like they are picking the right guys,” Canuto said about ONE’s recent signings of jiu-jitsu competitors. “They are picking people who fight and go forward, and make people understand, like, look, if you come and you fight and you do a good job, you’re gonna get paid well and you might even get a bonus, so that’s basically my focus. As much as I can, every time I step in that cage, I want to get a bonus. I want to go there and give the best I can. I’m not really caring about winning or losing, really. I just want to go there and put on a great show…
“Right now I’ve got a lot of weight off my shoulders. I’ve accomplished a lot of things in jiu-jitsu that I wanted, so I’m gonna go there, put on a good show, then make the fans happy, and spread grappling all over the world.”
How to watch: ONE 160 takes place on Friday, August 26 and will air in the US live on ONE’s YouTube channel at 7:30 AM ET.