John Danaher might be the coach to the best current (or ever) no-gi grappler on the planet, Gordon Ryan. However, he’s not calling Ryan the greatest overall jiu-jitsu player ever; that distinction goes to Roger Gracie.
In a recent appearance on the Lex Fridman Podcast, Danaher answered the question of who the greatest jiu-jitsu player of all time is.
At the outset, Danaher makes an important distinction. He sees jiu-jitsu as having four faces: gi competition, no-gi competition, MMA, and self-defense. In Danaher’s opinion, it’s Gracie’s accomplishments in gi, no-gi, and MMA competition that make him the greatest overall player of all time.
“Out of the four faces of jiu-jitsu, he excelled in three, and in two of them in particular he was the best of his generation by a landslide,” Danaher explained.
Indeed, Roger Gracie won an IBJJF world championship at black belt for every year from 2004 to 2010, winning the absolute division in 2007, 2009, and 20010. In 2005, he was an ADCC double-gold medalist, submitting all eight of his opponents. And in MMA, Gracie earned a professional record of 8-2 and made it to the UFC.
He did it all with what many consider a very “basic” approach to jiu-jitsu.
“Roger was probably the living embodiment of someone who played a classical jiu-jitsu game,” Danaher said. “If you took someone who had taken introduction lessons in jiu-jitsu for three months, they would recognize the outlines of Roger’s game with many of the techniques they learn in those three months…
“I never saw anyone in his generation that even came close to his ability both in competition and in the gym.”
Can Danaher’s star pupil, Gordon Ryan, ever surpass Gracie’s accomplishments? In no-gi competition, Ryan is already there with his dominance in ADCC and submission-only competition. However, Ryan will need to find sustained, consistent success in both gi competition and MMA to come close to touching Gracie’s overall jiu-jitsu accolades.