Are All UFC Fighters (BJJ) Black Belts?

Are All UFC Fighters (BJJ) Black Belts?

Watching UFC fights, you can often hear commentator Joe Rogan saying: “[Fighter] is a Jiu-Jitsu black belt specialist.” Hearing it over and over, it’s no strange that you ask yourself if every fighter on the UFC roster has a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu? The answer is simple.

Not all UFC fighters are Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belts. Some of them have a black belt, but a lot of them on the other hand don’t.

Now that you have a simple and precise answer to your question, in the rest of this article we will present you some interesting facts and information about the correlation between best UFC fighters and BJJ belt they have, how fast do they get belts, and also some must known differences between MMA and BJJ and how that translates to belts.

Why Black Belt in Jiu Jitsu Doesn’t Always Translate to MMA?

What exactly do we mean with this question? Let’s say there is a fight scheduled between fighter A and fighter B. Fighter A has a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and fighter B has a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. If a fight goes to the ground, does that mean that fighter A will almost certainly submit fighter B? Well, not exactly.

MMA is a sport that consists of striking, clinching, and grappling. Or to be more precise, MMA takes the best from each martial art; boxing, Muay Thai, wrestling, Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, Taekwondo, etc. Meaning, Jiu-Jitsu is not the only grappling based martial art whose techniques are used in MMA.

To explain it a bit further. Wrestling, Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, Sambo are all combat sports that are grappling based and offer a variety of takedowns, submissions, pins, ground control, etc.

Back to fighter A and B. Although fighter A has a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, fighter B might just be recognized as an International Master of Sambo. If the fight goes to the ground, yes, black belt Jiu-Jitsu specialist is very well familiar with putting the opponent in, let’s say, leg lock. But, on the other hand, a fighter that is a life long sambo practitioner is also very well familiar with how to defend from a leg lock. Jiu-Jitsu is not the only sport that teaches leg locks, sambo does it as well.

One more example is wrestling. Although some MMA fighters that come from the wrestling background don’t have that much experience with submissions, does that mean that experienced BJJ black belt could easily submit them? No. Good luck with taking down a recognized NCAA Division I wrestler to the ground.

To sum this up. MMA is a whole different type of fighting than Jiu-Jitsu. A lot of things that work in Jiu-Jitsu doesn’t work well in MMA. It is not the same being in a guard in BJJ (where there is no striking allowed) and being in a guard in MMA (where you can get your face punched every second you are in a guard).

As great Mike Tyson would say:

Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.

Mike Tyson

Meaning, one thing is to show your submission skills on the mat with friends where there is no punching and the other is when you are constantly getting punched in the face. One punch and a black belt become a brown belt. Two more punches and he is a purple belt. You get the point.

How Can an MMA Fighter Go From White Belt to Black Belt in Just a Few Years?

We probably gave almost half the answer in the latest section. As we said, MMA takes techniques and skills from all different sorts of combat sports, including the grappling based wrestling, Jiu-Jitsu, sambo, judo, etc.

A lot of techniques and skills in those sports overlap. If a fighter has been training sambo for a decade, he probably knows a lot of submissions and moves taught in Jiu-Jitsu. Also, he is really well familiar with the grappling fundamentals so he will probably go through the ranks faster (Jiu-Jitsu belt system explained).

Furthermore, an NCAA Division I wrestler who has a life long experience with takedowns, throws, pins, etc. is clearly to learn and progress faster with BJJ belts than someone who is completely new to the game of martial arts.

Lastly, “classic” Jiu-Jitsu (formally known as Gi Jiu-Jitsu) is practiced with kimono. Contrary, No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu, which is practiced without a Kimono resembles the clothing (or no clothing to be more precise) of a fighter more precisely as MMA fighters wear no upper clothes.

Gi Jiu-Jitsu has a belt system, but No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu doesn’t (some schools do, but most of them don’t. So, a fighter can train Jiu-Jitsu without a Kimono for years, and still actually be a “white belt” when it comes to Gi Jiu-Jitsu although he will have techniques and skills of a higher level belt.

Here is an article written by a portal listing 10 fighters who went straight from white to black belt.

Top UFC Fighters and BJJ Belts They Have

To even better show you that higher BJJ belt doesn’t exactly mean better grappling and submission skills, we took 15 best men’s pound-for-pound fighters and BJJ belts they have:

FighterBJJ Belt Color
Jon JonesPurple
Khabib NurmagomedovNone (White)
Stipe MiocicNone (White)
Israel AdesanyaBlue
Daniel CormierBrown
Kamaru UsmanBlack
Alexander VolkanovskiBrown
Conor McGregorBrown
Max HollowayPurple
Justin GaethjeNone (White)
Dustin PoirierBlack
Tony FergusonBlack
Robbert WhittakerBrown
Francis NgannouBrown
Dominick ReyesBlue

As you can see, only three of the top 15 pound-for-pound UFC fighters have a black belt in Jiu-Jitsu. Does that mean they lack grappling or submission skills? Not at all.

For example, Khabib Nurmagomedov doesn’t do “strict” Gi Jiu-Jitsu, but he is a former Sambo world champion, judo black belt, international master of sport in pankration, and is, we can say, pretty familiar with the art of submissions. Khabib has 10 wins by submission in his MMA career, and his latest win is by rear-naked choke against a world-class BJJ black belt Dustin Poirier. Before submitting Dustin, Khabib escaped a really deep guillotine attempt.

Khabib escapes guillotine attempt by Poirier and proceeds to submit him

Furthermore, Jon Jones is “only” purple belt at BJJ and he has submissions wins over the fighters like Rampage Jackson (rear-naked choke), Lyoto Machida (standing guillotine leaving Lyoto completely unconscious), Vitor Belfort (who was a world-class BJJ black belt).

Jones submitting Rampage Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Vitor Belfort…

On top of that, current heavyweight king Stipe Miocic hardly even does any BJJ. Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya is BJJ blue belt. One of the best ground and pound heavyweight of all time, Daniel Cormier, isn’t black belt also (brown). And the list goes on and on.

The only three fighters in the current top 15 men’s pound-for-pound list are Kamaru Usman (who has only one submission win in MMA), Dustin Poirier, and Tony Ferguson.

For the whole article, we were talking about how higher BJJ belt doesn’t exactly mean better submission and grappling skills (and vice versa), but what when a world-class BJJ practitioner enters the Octagon? Take Tony Ferguson for example and see for yourself:

Having a black belt in BJJ will help a lot to get a submission win or to defend from a submission attempt. So, be sure to check out our article about 15 of the best BJJ specialists in the UFC.

Hope, we gave you a better understanding of the correlation of the BJJ belt and the UFC fighters!

Raffaello Sambiagio, A black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, he is one of the members of Tribe Jiujitsu Roma Nord, one of the most prestigious in the capital.
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Raffaello Sambiagio

Raffaello Sambiagio was born in Rome in eighty-nine. He approached martial arts through his local Judo gym, but everything changed with Brazilian jiu Jitsu. A black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, he is one of the members of Tribe Jiujitsu Roma Nord, one of the most prestigious in the capital. Parallel to his competitive career, Raffaello dedicated himself to teaching discipline first to children and then to adults. Our testing and reviewing method.
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