When you think of BJJ representatives in the UFC your mind will probably automatically go to ADCC standouts like Davi Ramos, Gilbert Burns or Demian Maia. While the UFC has a lot of athletes who have great accolades in BJJ namely Jacare and Maia, there are also a lot of solid grapplers who chose to focus on MMA early rather than BJJ, Leading the charge for MMA fighters who could have been elite grapplers is Luke Rockhold.
The American Kickboxing Academy is where wrestlers become MMA champions. Velasquez, Cormier, Fitch and Khabib all came-up on the famed mats, but among the wrestlers a surfer kid with a BJJ base flourished, Through a baptism of fire, Rockhold managed to excel in a training room full of wrestlers.
Before Rockhold was an MMA world champion he was a BJJ world champ. At purple belt he won the nogi worlds in 2007 and it was that year that his focus switched to MMA full-time. Rockhold had the talent to compete against the best at purple belt and that’s a huge indicator of how far he could have went if he focused solely on grappling.
From an MMA perspective, his grappling can best be seen in how he dominated Chris Weidman, an ADCC vet, on the mats. The best testament to how good Rockhold’s grappling is however is the testimonials of some of the best grapplers in the world and what they have to say about Rockhold.
Gordon Ryan is the best nogi grappler in the world. He is the reigning ADCC champion and a weight and absolute world champion. Ryan has trained with Rockhold on a couple of occasions over the last few years and his feedback on the Californian’s grappling acumen is glowing. Ryan has stated that Luke would easily beat ADCC champions.
If Ryan’s recommendation wasn’t enough, multiple time world champion Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida said that Luke is the best MMA grappler he has rolled with and even conceded that Rockhold has submitted him:
“Luke is a very good black belt. He’s legit. He’s the guy I roll with when I go train at AKA. He loves to train without the Gi, and he is against whom I have the hardest time rolling in AKA. He has a different game, dangerous, with footlocks and inverted triangles. When I go training with him I am always aware, because if I lose focus he submits me. In my opinion, he has the best ground game in MMA, out of the athletes I’ve trained with.”
While Rockhold has already been a UFC champion, it seems like many are quick to doubt his abilities following a couple of years littered with injuries and disappointing performances. The truth is Rockhold could be entering his prime now and the light heavyweight division might be where his optimal. One thing remains certain: Rockhold is the most underrated grappler in the UFC.