‘It’s all about integrity for us’ – Kade Ruotolo renews call against steroids in BJJ

ONE submission grappling world champion Kade Ruotolo spoke about why he and his brother want an end to steroids in BJJ.

Reigning 77kg ADCC champion and ONE lightweight submission grappling world champion Kade Ruotolo refuses to remain silent on issues that matter to him the most.

Now just one day away from his world title defense against Tommy Langaker in the co-main event of ONE Fight Night 11: Eersel vs. Menshikov on Prime Video, the 20-year-old is once again speaking out against the use of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) that is widely prevalent in jiu-jitsu and professional grappling.

While Ruotolo and his twin brother Tye have been vocal about his issue for some time, he admits they are facing an uphill battle when it comes to creating real change.

“My overall thoughts on steroids in the sport, it’s something my brother and I, we’ve been discussing a lot, and it was something that we were very verbal about in the past,” he said in an interview with ONE Championship. “It’s almost hard to stay verbal on it because I don’t even really see a real fix to it, to be honest with you.”

With a lifetime in jiu-jitsu, Ruotolo is intimately aware of just how widespread steroid use is in the sport. Still, he and his brother are determined to change the narrative by showing the younger generation a different way.

“There are always people who are going to be taking little shortcuts and ways to get around it. My brother and I, our biggest thing is just showing the next generation that you don’t need it. “

Steroids and jiu-jitsu go hand-in-hand, Ruotolo says, because the sport’s biggest and most accomplished stars have been users, with many openly admitting to taking PEDs.

“I think the reason why it’s so prevalent in jiu-jitsu especially, and MMA and these other sports, but especially in jiu-jitsu is because if you look at all of our peers, all of our greatest, everyone that’s accomplished, golds, at Worlds, this and that it’s almost like you had to be on steroids to do it. There are probably a couple of competitors that aren’t using it. If they were, it was Caio Terra, he was super verbal about it, and maybe a handful of other athletes like Mikey Musumeci.”

Kade Ruotolo wants to show the new generation that steroid-free success is possible

What’s upsetting to Ruotolo is that young athletes looking to make a name for themselves in professional grappling feel pressured into using PEDs, led to believe that the only way to win at the highest level is with the help of steroids.

“And I think there’s no one really saying, ‘don’t do this, don’t do this,’ to the kids and to the next generation,” he said.

Ruotolo brings up Mica Galvao as an example. The teenage black belt captured gold at the 2022 IBJJF Worlds, defeating Tye in the lightweight final. But earlier this year, news broke that Galvao had tested positive for a banned substance and had accepted a one-year suspension from the IBJJF and USADA. 

“And that’s why, for example, the last person who was in Worlds last year, got caught for steroids,” Ruotolo said. “He was 18 years old. They’re starting younger and younger, and it’s pretty sad to see.”

In many ways, Ruotolo seems to have given up on the idea of creating a completely fair, steroid-free playing field. But that’s not what’s motivating him to speak out.

Instead, it all comes back to his drive to send a better, healthier message to younger aspiring grapplers:

“For us, my brother and I, at this point, our main goal, our only goal, it’s not even about making the sport clean, because I don’t even know if it’s possible, but it’s about showing the next generation that you don’t have to do it to get the results and to get to the number one spot. That’s what we’ve been trying to do as hard as we can. Stay natural and it’s all about integrity for us and not cheating. 

“And if we were to go take steroids and go win, it wouldn’t feel like we won because we cheated. Some people don’t feel that way, obviously. But that’s just the way we’ve kind of always looked at things.”

Beyond that, Ruotolo is concerned about the detrimental health effects of prolonged steroid use.

While PEDs might literally enhance one’s performance in professional jiu-jitsu, he says they cause countless other harms and unintended consequences.

“You really don’t know how dangerous it can be. I’ve watched teammates, friends, and people go on steroids. And within a couple of months, just lose all their hair. I’ve seen crazy things happen. And it’s pretty wild. It’s just obviously not good for you, it can’t be healthy.”

Ruotolo has a message for competitors on TRT

Many grapplers might not take traditional anabolic steroids like trenbolone. Instead, perhaps the most common form of PED usage is testosterone replacement therapy (TRT), touted by many older grapplers as a way of leveling the playing field. According to them, the dip in testosterone that often happens later in life should be remedied by taking exogenous testosterone.

Notably, in a recent slew of USADA sanctions issued against IBJJF competitors, every athlete that tested and accepted penalties was taking testosterone. Vagner Rocha – who refused to test – has openly admitted that he undergoes TRT.

Ruotolo has a message for those athletes who claim TRT is necessary to make competition fairer. He says that he and his brother recently had their testosterone levels tested, and he tested around 400 nanograms per deciliter and Tye tested in the high 300s of nanograms per deciliter. The typical range for healthy adult males is 300 to 1,000.

“What do I say to those guys, if they got to get their T levels up? I just won the ADCC and the ONE Championship belt this year and my test levels are 400 something and my brother’s are I think high 300 something. We just got them checked. So our testosterone levels are, as far as I know, I thought that was super low. I was almost concerned. But I guess those are my levels. I don’t know what that even means. 

“As far as your testosterone levels to performance. I don’t know how relevant it can possibly be. I don’t think you need to get those testosterone levels to 1500. I mean, mine are 400 and I feel just fine.”

How to watch: ONE Fight Night 11: Eersel vs. Menshikov takes place on Friday, June 9 and will air live on Prime Video (free with Amazon Prime subscription) beginning at 8 PM ET.

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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