Picking and ranking the greatest gi and no-gi grapplers of all time is not an easy task. It’s always a challenge to compare athletes and easy to fall victim to try to use grappling math when trying to pinpoint the GOAT. So for the purpose of this list, we’ve primarily looked at results achieved in the two most prestigious and competitive grappling tournaments in gi and no-gi respectively: the World IBJJF Jiu-Jitsu Championship and the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship. We’ve analyzed results achieved in the weight brackets, results in the absolute division, technical innovations and competitor weight, to attempt to pinpoint the most successful and greatest grapplers of all time. So here is the list of the greatest gi and no-gi grapplers of all time:
7 Best Gi BJJ Competitors of All Time
7. Rafael Mendes
The first on our GOAT ranking is Rafael "Rafa" Mendes. Rafa has won 6 IBJJF World Championships, and while other competitors have managed the same (e.g. Lucas Lepri and Leondro Lo), Rafa has been included in this list for his pioneering style and technical innovations. While competitors such as Roger Gracie and Xande Ribeiro became known for employing classical BJJ techniques, Rafa has trailblazed, invented and popularized a range of techniques in his rise to the top. A forerunner of the berimbolo and the leg drag, alongside astounding results and an incredibly successful BJJ school, Rafa has certainly solidified his legacy in BJJ.
Rafael Mendes on the web
6. Bruno Malfacine
Bruno Malfacine’s ten World IBJJF Jiu-Jitsu Championship titles has put him, alongside Roger Gracie, in the spot with the second most golds from worlds only behind Buchecha. The rooster weight has earned gold almost every year the last decade. However, as the Alliance athlete usually doesn’t compete in the absolute division, all his wins have been in his weight class, which is why he isn’t ranked higher on this list. In recent years Malfacine has pursued a career in professional MMA and therefore competed less in BJJ.
5. Michelle Nicolini
A pioneer of BJJ, Michelle Nicolini is the second most successful female BJJ competitor in terms of World IBJJF Jiu-Jitsu Championship titles, behind only Beatriz Mesquita. Primarily fighting at light-featherweight (-53 kg/118 lbs), Nicolini has also competed successfully in the higher weight divisions earning gold twice at Medium Heavy (– 74 kg/163 lbs), as well as a gold in the absolute division. Using her innovative shin-on-shin guard Nicolini has dominated the female division for almost a decade, before retiring from competitive BJJ to focus on MMA.
Michelle Nicolini on the Web:
4. Alexandre "Xande" Ribeiro
Clocking in at spot number four is the legendary Alexandre “Xande” Ribeiro. Xande has competed and placed at the top of the podiums for the better half of the last two decades. In the ten years from 2005 to 2015 Xande won seven World IBJJF Jiu-Jitsu Championships, including two in the absolute division. Throughout his competitive career Xande has only had his guard passed twice at black belt, by Roger Gracie and Braulio Estima respectively. Xande is the younger brother of Saulo Ribeiro, who is himself a legend in his own right. Together the two brothers run the Ribeiro Jiu-Jitsu Association.
3. Beatriz "Bia" Mesquita
The greatest female BJJ competitor of all time holds the third spot on our list. Beatriz Mesquita has won nine World IBJJF Jiu-Jitsu Championships, with two golds from the absolute division, despite usually competing at lightweight (64 kg – 141 lbs). Since receiving her black belt at the hands of the legendary Leticia Ribeiro, Bia has consistently placed at the top of podiums all over the world. The Gracie Humaitá black belt has managed to win numerous titles, and has accumulated more than 23 titles in the four major IBJJF gi Championships.
Beatriz Mesquita on the Web:
2. Marcus "Buchecha" Almeida
Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida is probably the most dominant active BJJ competitor in the gi currently. Often described as a heavyweight that moves as a lightweight, Buchecha combines the pressure that comes with his size with an extremely dynamic and quick style. Buchacha has had a tremendously consistent run since he first blasted onto the scene in the early 2010s and has only had a handful of losses since. The Checkmat representative has won almost every title imaginable and with a record-setting 13 medals from World IBJJF Jiu-Jitsu Championship in both his weightclass and the absolute, he could arguably have held the # 1 spot on this list. However, Roger Gracie and Buchecha have squared up and competed twice. The matchup between the two was long awaited and pitted two competitors from different eras against one another. Following a draw in their first match, Roger Gracie got the better of Buchecha and submitted him in their second, before retiring. To many this solidified Roger Gracie as the greatest of all time, leaving Buchecha a second place on this list.
Buchecha on the Web:
1. Roger Gracie
Widely regarded as the greatest BJJ competitor to ever compete in the gi, it is hard to overstate just how dominant Roger Gracie was during his competitive career. Roger’s style is often highlighted as the epitome of the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fundamentals. Frequently following the traditional approach of taking down the opponent, passing his guard, mounting him and finally submitting him, almost everyone knew Roger’s game-plan, yet few were able to stop him. Roger Gracie’s record boasts an impressive seven gold medals in his weight class, as well as three absolute division golds at the World IBJJF Jiu-Jitsu Championship. In addition Roger has a multitude of other wins across the board. Despite consistently competing against the very best of the era Roger Gracie was never submitted in competition after blue belt.
Roger Gracie on the Web:
7 Best No-Gi BJJ Competitors of All Time
7. Rubens "Cobrina" Charles
As part of their back-and-forth rivalry for the title of number one featherweight, Cobrinha lost twice to Rafa Mendes in 2009 and 2011, before managing to beat Rafa in 2013 to claim his first gold medal at the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship. Winning gold the two following ADCC’s Cobrinha amassed three gold medals and two silvers all in his -66 kg weight class. While there are several others with similar results in the ADCC, Cobinha’s results in other organizations, including having earned four gold medals at the World Jiu-Jitsu No-Gi IBJJF Championship, as well as numerous other achievements secures Cobrinha the last spot on our list of all time no-gi grappling greats.
Rubens "Charles" Cobrinha on the Web:
6. Jose Mario Sperry
Zé Mário comes in as number six on our list. Zé won both his weight class and the absolute division at the very first the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship in 1998. He subsequently had two superfights with Enson Inoue in 1999 and Roberto Traven in 2000, winning both and earning four ADCC golds in the total. In 2011 and 2013 Sperry returned to ADCC for what was called the ADCC's Masters Superfight, where he beat Renzo Gracie and Fabio Gurgel respectively. The founder of the Brazilian Top Team also had an illustrious MMA career, as both a fighter and a coach, where he put his elite grappling skills to good use.
5. Gordan Ryan
BJJ’s enfant terrible exploded onto the BJJ scene with a combination of social media antics, innovative techniques and amazing results. The self-proclaimed king managed to snatch up a wide range of gold medals in smaller tournaments before turning his attention to the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship. To the dismay of many old-schoolers Ryan was extremely successful, earning a gold in his weight class and silver in the absolute in his debut. In his second ADCC showing the Danaher black belt cleaned house and won his division by submission, before also winning the absolute, totaling 3 golds from the ADCC. In spite of having only competed twice at ADCC, Ryan has already earned himself a spot on the greatest no-gi grapplers list, and he certainly has the potential to climb the ranks on this list, if he decides to scrap his recently announced retirement plans.
Gordan Ryan on the Web:
4. Gabi Garcia
The first female on the list of the greatest no-gi grapplers of all time is Gabrielle "Gabi" Garcia. Gabi has earned four gold medals at the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship. As there are currently only two weight divisions at ADCC for women, respectively -60kg and +60kg and no absolute division, Gabi has earned all four golds by winning her brackets in the +60 kg division. Often competing against smaller opponents, Gabi’s size has often been the source of much controversy. However, the Alliance black belt has proved her technical ability numerous times and has only had a handful of losses since the late 2000s. She holds more ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship golds than any other female, in addition to having an extraordinary record in numerous other championships and organizations, which is why she is ranked at number four on this list the all time greatest no-gi grapplers.
3. Ricardo Arona
Number three on the list of greatest no-gi grapplers of all time is Ricardo “Brazilian Tiger” Arona. The Ricardo Libório black belt earned two gold medals in the -99 kg weight class, a gold in the absolute division and a gold in his superfight with Mark Kerr, coming to a total of four golds from the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship. With his wrestling heavy style Arona was extremely dominant during his submission-grappling career. The Brazilian Tiger never lost a match in ADCC, nor even conceded a single point, despite facing former and future ADCC champions – an achievement that no other competitor has managed to duplicate.
Ricardo Aronas on the Web:
2. André Galvao
Andre Galvao has managed to amass six gold medals from the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship in his time competing. He has earned a gold in his weight class, the absolute division, as well as winning four superfights against previous ADCC absolute winners. During the course of these superfights Galvao has beat Braulio Estima, Roberto "Cyborg" Abreu, Claudio Calasans and Felipe “Preguiça” Pena, cementing his position as an all time great. While Galvao arguably has more gold medals from ADCC than Marcelo Garcia, he is ranked second on this list, as winning a single match against a known opponent, which you’ve had two years to prepare for, will undoubtedly be less demanding then beating a world-level competitive bracket.
1. Marcelo Garcia
If you have been a long-time BJJ fan, the number one name should come as no surprise to you. Marcelo “Marcelinho” Garcia is the greatest no-gi competitor of all time. Although having never won the ADCC absolute division, Marcelo still managed to attain both a bronze and a silver medal in the absolute, despite normally competing at middle weight (-77 kg). Marcelo won his weight division four times before retiring. Throughout his career Marcelinho managed to get more submissions in the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship than anyone else, as he has amassed 24 submissions in total. Marcelo Garcia was an innovator introducing new guards, backtake-systems and improving submission when blasting onto the scene. It’s this combination of innovation, repeatedly winning his brackets, and placing in the absolute in spite of his size, which earns Marcelo Garcia the top spot on our list.