Is Ricardo Arona ADCC’s Greatest Ever Champion?

Submission grappling is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. ADCC gets more and more popular with each iteration and athletes like Gordon Ryan are known by even casual MMA fans now. While submission grappling is getting the respect it deserves, certain figures from the past remain largely forgotten. In this article, we will talk about one of the greatest grapplers to ever step on the ADCC mats, Ricardo Arona.

The term virtuoso is one bandied about too much these days. A young fighter wins a decent competition and suddenly he is the next big thing. Ricardo Arona, however, was a virtuoso in the truest sense of the word. After a few years training, Arona was awarded his blue belt and went to train with Master Lélio.

Ricardo Arona continued to progress at an unparalleled rate and earned his purple belt after winning the national championships in 1994. Master Lélio recognized Arona’s great talent and realised it was in his student’s best interest to join a bigger academy. Master Lélio instructed Arona to leave and eventually the Brazilian Tiger ended up with the Carlson Gracie Team.

In his first year under the Carlson Gracie banner, Arona won the mundials and was awarded his brown belt, he won the mundials again the following year. At this point his prodigious abilities were undeniable, but his real coming out party was only months away.

After a successful year competing as a brown belt, Arona’s hard work culminated in a standout performance where he dominated en route to winning the Brazilian ADCC trials.

At the ADCC championships in 2000, Arona, still a brown belt, dominated the entire field and didn’t drop a single point on his path to gold. Impressive victories over Jeff Monson and Tito Ortiz highlighted just how good the young Brazilian was. While still on the podium, Ricardo Liborio awarded the Brazilian Tiger his black belt.

Arona would go on to return for ADCC 2001 and perhaps put on the greatest performance in the tournament’s history. Over the course of the weekend, Arona scored 8 victories without dropping a single point. In the -99KG division he defeated great names such as Ricardo Almeida and Babalu Sobral, but it was in the absolute division where he shone brightest.

In the absolute division of ADCC 2001, Ricardo Arona scored victories over MMA star Vitor Belfort and BJJ great Saulo Ribeiro before facing Jean Jacques Machado in the final. Arona was simply too much for the legendary Machado and managed to win his division and the absolute category without dropping a single point.

Arona would return to ADCC one final time in 2003, to face Mark Kerr for the superfight championship. Once again, Arona was successful as he managed to best the behemoth Kerr without dropping a single point.

Many remember Arona for his MMA prowess and truth be told, he was an amazing MMA fighter. Too many people forget about just how good of a grappler he was and in my opinion he should regarded as one of the greatest to ever grace the ADCC mats.

Roy Billington

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