Jacob Rodriguez is now a little over a week removed from one of the most spectacular tournament wins in memory. At the ADCC West Coast Trials, the B-Team blue belt submitted seven opponents, capped off by an improbable buggy choke in the final, to punch his ticket to the 2022 ADCC World Championships.
“A few days ago, it him me and I was like, ‘Woah I really did that,'” Rodriguez told Grappling Insider.
It makes sense that Rodriguez’s accomplishment hasn’t fully sunken in. He is, after all, just 18 months into his jiu-jitsu journey.
But as new to jiu-jitsu as Rodriguez may be, this isn’t the first time he’s seen a relatively inexperienced blue belt march his way through the ADCC Trials. His older brother, Nick Rodriguez, did exactly that in 2019, winning the same West Coast Trials that Jacob just did. Nick would go on to win second at the ADCC World Championships.
Naturally, Jacob took his brother’s lead and hatched a plan to become a full-time jiu-jitsu and grappling competitor.
“[Nick] was successful in wrestling, so I’m like, I want to follow in his footsteps. I see how successful he can be, and me being competitive, I’m like, I can do that. We’re at the same club, we’re learning from the same people…
“I was a junior or senior and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life– go to college or whatever. I saw him, he’s blowing up in jiu-jitsu, he’s starting to make money, he’s making a living. I’m like, ‘this looks like fun, why don’t I do this?’ The plan was, immediately, right after wrestling season my senior year, I would immediately jump into jiu-jitsu and train every day, full blown, everything.”
After he graduated from high school, COVID restrictions put Rodriguez’s plan on hold for a few months. But in October 2020, he started training in earnest.
With zero jiu-jitsu experience whatsoever, Rodriguez immediately threw himself into the deep end. He joined Studio 84 in New Jersey, where his first and main training partner was 2019 ADCC veteran — and fellow West Coast Trials winner — John Combs. A few months later, they were joined by another West Coast Trials winner, Keith Krikorian.
“The moment I started, it was every single day, no breaks,” Rodriguez said. “[Combs] was murdering me every day. [My brother and I] have the mentality for this. A lot of people just break. Most people get their blue belt and quit after that. We’re not gonna quit. It’s very demoralizing getting f***** up every day, getting guillotined by John Combs every f****** day. But I’m not gonna quit.”
It’s that never-give-up attitude that Rodriguez says is what sets his brother and him apart from other jiu-jitsu competitors. Because while countless talented and athletic wrestlers have transitioned to jiu-jitsu and submission grappling, none have seen as much success in such a short period of time as the Rodriguez brothers.
“We’re not gonna quit on the mat. You saw me not doing the best in two or three of my matches. I got my back taken. Most people think, ‘Oh it’s five minutes in, this guy has my back, I’m gonna lose.’ I’m not gonna f****** stop when someone takes my back. A lot of people break mentally. We don’t break mentally.”
They have also set themselves up for success, training with elite competitors from the start.
“We’re fortunate enough, early on in our careers, to be surrounded by some of the best grapplers in the world,” he said. “[Nick] was with DDS and when I was at Studio, I was with Keith Krikorian… also with John Combs. I was training with those guys every day so immediately I was surrounded by very good, very talented grapplers.”
Rodriguez’s run through the West Coast Trials was truly remarkable and, by a wide margin, the most significant accomplishment of his still-infant grappling career. With his lack of experience in jiu-jitsu, Rodriguez has a very stripped-down, simplified game. That simplified approach helped him throughout the weekend.
“This tournament I just took it match by match,” he said. “I didn’t really know who I’m going against. I like to keep the same gameplan no matter what. No matter who it is, I’m only gonna be able to do what I’m best at either way so it doesn’t really matter who I’m going against.”
Keeping that mentality, Rodriguez submitted his first six opponents on his way to the final where he met BJJ black belt and undefeated MMA fighter Hunter Colvin.
In one of the most stunning and dramatic finishes in Trials history, Rodriguez submitted Colvin with a buggy choke in the final minutes of the match. Rodriguez had capped an impressive all-submission run with one of the most improbable submissions.
Like many other grapplers, Rodriguez first became aware of the buggy choke by way of Kade Ruotolo and his success with the submission in 2021.
“I started playing around with the buggy choke back when I was training in Jersey at Studio 84. I just watched a couple videos of the Ruotolo brothers hitting it in competition. I was like ‘Wow, I need to learn this. This is awesome.'”
With his admittedly “terrible guard,” Rodriguez developed the technique as a go-to move from bottom position. He further refined that technique when he moved to Austin, TX to join his brother at The B-Team in the fall of 2021. B-Team co-founder Craig Jones showed Rodriguez the variation of the buggy choke that Rodriguez used to submit Colvin.
“Normally, with a normal buggy choke, you grab your other hand. I grabbed my shin… We were hand-fighitng for a few seconds and then once I passed his hand I was able to take my knuckles and dig it into his neck. Then, after a few seconds, he started moving around and trying to get out and I ended up submitting him.”
Rodriguez’s Trials win throws him into the deepest end of competitive grappling — the ADCC World Championships. His relative lack of experience and overall accomplishments may make him an underdog against more established competitors. But in reality, Rodriguez just submitted all of his opponents in one of the most stacked divisions in the largest ADCC Trials event ever. What’s more, Rodriguez is closely following the path set by his older brother, who found the ADCC podium as a blue belt after winning the West Coast Trials.
Ultimately, while Rodriguez’s West Coast Trials run may have been surprising or even shocking, don’t be surprised if he finds similar success at the ADCC World Championships.