Kade Ruotolo: ‘If I were to roll with Gordon, I don’t think he can heel hook me’

Kade Ruotolo recently spoke about his upcoming match at ONE on Prime Video 3, his ADCC run, leg lock defense, steroids in jiu-jitsu, and more.

Undefeated as a black belt and fresh off a gold medal performance at his first-ever ADCC World Championships, Kade Ruotolo is enjoying one of the better runs in submission grappling history. 

On October 21, he’ll look to extend his winning streak when he takes on Sambo world champion Uali Kurzhev at ONE on Prime Video 3 for the inaugural ONE lightweight submission grappling world title. Ruotolo is a massive favorite over the relatively unknown and inexperienced (in this rule set) Russian judo and Sambo competitor.

Although Ruotolo has little personal experience with Sambo, he has a general idea of what the art specializes in: takedowns and leg locks. Those two skills are extremely valuable under the ADCC rule set, which Ruotolo has been practicing for a full year.

In an interview with ONE Championship, Ruotolo spoke about what he expects Kurzhev to bring to the table.

“So it’ll be definitely interesting to see what he throws at me,” he said. “I know [Sambo specialists are] basically like wrestlers with leg locks. So it’s intriguing because I feel like those are kind of the main pillars, the main things you need in the ADCC… Wrestling is so important in the ADCC, and then you see a lot of the wrestlers’ kryptonite being leg locks. So that would definitely be pretty interesting to see where his weakness will lie in and where I’m going to find that window.”

Knowing that a Sambo player like Kurzhev is probably well versed in leg locks and that might be his only potential path to victory, some might expect Ruotolo to avoid leg entanglements in their submission-only contest.

But after collecting two heel hooks in his four-submission run at ADCC, Ruotolo is plenty confident in his leg game. He even thinks his leg lock defense would hold up against multiple-time ADCC champion and current Who’s Number One heavyweight champion Gordon Ryan.

“I think any part of grappling, and any part of the match, no matter where it goes, I’m always going to feel confident in my abilities to hold my own. Personally, I feel like my brother [Tye Ruotolo] and I have, in the most humble way possible, we have some of the best leglock defense out there.

“And, of course, Sambo guys are tricky. They do some things more. A lot more straight ankle locks, toeholds, kneebars, and things like that. Not as many heel hooks, but they do dabble with them. So I’m very excited to see what he throws at me…

“Personally, I’m very confident in my leg locks and my counter abilities, and I don’t think anyone can really leg lock us out there. At least heel hook us out there, for sure. You know, even if I were to roll with Gordon [Ryan], I don’t think he can heel hook me. So mentally, I feel very confident in my heel hook defense. You know, there are other leg locks out there that you can always catch people with. But I’m ready for it. And I think I’ll get the better of it.”

Making ADCC history

Ruotolo’s performance at the ADCC World Championships was sensational not only because he submitted each of his four opponents, but also because he set the record for the youngest-ever competitor to win gold.

Surprisingly, the 19-year-old Ruotolo wasn’t even aware that he was eligible to own this record until he was told he had broken it. 

“To be honest, I didn’t even know that I was eligible for that, going into it… I think they were talking about Mica [Galvao] and Cole [Abate], right? They were the two that they were saying who could have been the youngest. And they had never really mentioned me in this, so I just figured that I was out of the picture. And it just so happened I had turned out to be the youngest after the wins. So my team said as they’re filming, you know, you’re the youngest, right? I was like, I am? Really?”

And while he’s proud of the record, Ruotolo doesn’t expect to hold it forever.

“I guess the one thing that really changes is that my name will kind of be in history as far as I guess until someone breaks that record,” he said. “And, you know, every two years, we have so much talent, so much new talent… So we never know who’s going to be the next step, or the next person having that break, that breakthrough performance. So it will probably get broken at some point, but it’s really cool, a really cool record to hold in the meantime.”

Ruotolo is leading the charge for a steroid-free sport

Ruotolo is perhaps even more proud of the fact that he conquered ADCC without the use of steroids or other performance enhancing drugs.

In a sport were PED usage is rampant and essentially openly condoned, Ruotolo, along with his brother, see their crusade against steroids in jiu-jitsu as their most important role.

“Yeah, man, that’s what means the most to me. The reason why we are natural, in a world where literally everybody’s on steroids, pretty much at this point, it’s because we’re trying to break the cycle. Jiujitsu, it’s been this way since I’ve been in the sport, at least, since I can remember. You kind of see the stronger, more physical guys always standing up on top, and it’s very rare that you see guys up on top that is natural. There’s really no testing, there’s really no anything in jiu-jitsu. So if we’re going to ever see any change or anything, any difference in the future, I think it’s going to take athletes to be natural, and you kind of need to speak on it… 

“I think that my brother did a great job of showing that in his ADCC run. He didn’t get the result he wanted in his division, but he came back in the absolute and, you know, took out a couple of giants, and of course, naturally as well. So, the main reason we do it is to spread not so much awareness, but just to kind of inspire the youth and other kids that you don’t necessarily need it.”

In so many ways, the Ruotolo brothers are leading the youth movement in jiu-jitsu, proving that PEDs aren’t entirely necessary to compete at the highest levels of grappling.

Indeed, beginning in September of 2021, Kade Ruotolo has arguably had the best calendar year of any active competitor in the world. He submitted two opponents on his way to winning the Who’s Number One lightweight title, defeated seven to win the ADCC East Coast Trials, won his ONE Championship debut against Shinya Aoki, then captured gold at the ADCC World Championships.

With those accomplishments, it’s hard to dispute that he’s been more successful than any other elite competitor – steroids or not – over that time frame.

Ruotolo says he’s staying all-natural to set an example for up-and-coming competitors.

“That’s the main thing, man because growing up, we really have zero clue,” he added. “And I think so many people still have zero clue about it. And it really takes you competing at the highest levels to really truly understand that because it’s not the colored belts, not everyone’s on steroids at the colored belts. It’s really once you get to the top, it’s really 98% of the competition. There are going to be people, of course, saying they’re not, but it’s almost proven at this point. It’s pretty obvious.”

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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