The BJJ black belt is a very prized possession in the martial arts community. It is arguably the most difficult belt to achieve in martial arts. The road to a black belt is usually a long and hard one full of ups and downs. The average time to get promoted to black belt is from 8 to 14 years. The following individuals did not go through the ranks like the rest of us. They went straight to black belt.
Many of them had years, even decades of grappling experience in similar arts (Wrestling, Sambo, Judo, Luta Livre, Catch Wrestling, Japanese Ju Jitsu) and a BJJ instructor deemed them ready for the BJJ black belt.
16. Kimo Leopoldo
UFC fighter from the early days, Kimo Leopoldo was promoted by Joe Moreira straight to BJJ black belt. Kimo lost to Royce Gracie by armlock at UFC 3 after giving him a very tough fight.
The interesting story of how Kimo met Joe Moreira, according to BJJ Heroes:
The two met on the backstage of UFC 8, in a day when Allan Goes and “Tank” Abbot fell out with each exchanging harsh words. The next day in the lobby of the hotel, Moreira and Goes were checking out and coincidently so was Kimo and his manager. Suddenly Tank Abbot comes in with Tito Ortiz and a group of 8 more men wanting to cause a fight with the pair of Brazilians. Kimo thought this was unfair and took Allan Goes’s side together with his manager, making Abbot and his men back out. Kimo then asked Moreira if he could learn BJJ from him as he was very interested in the martial art, a request immediately accepted by Joe. The two maintained a student/instructor relationship for years.
15. Chuck Norris
Chuck Norris was partly responsible for bringing over some Gracies to the USA. He was promoted by Carlos Machado straight to black belt in BJJ. Norris kept training and now at 75 years old, he is a 3rd degree BJJ black belt. He is also a 10th dan black belt in Chun Kuk Do, 9th dan black belt in Tang Soo Do, an 8th dan black belt in Taekwand0, a 3rd degree BJJ black belt and a black belt in Judo
14. Kazushi Sakuraba
Japanese MMA legend Sakuraba trained catch wrestling with the legendary Billy Robinson and muay thay with Bovy Chowaikung. Later in his career, he also learned Brazilian jiujitsu with the Gi under Cristiano Marcello in Chute Boxe and Sergio Penha in the Takada Dojo, but he never got ranked in Jiu-Jitsu. Saku was presented with a honorific BJJ black belt by Cristiano Marcello, which he humorously would confess in an interview that he never learned quite how to tie.
13. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, is instrumental in the growth of Jiu-Jitsu on a local and worldwide level. He developed the plan of of having Jiu-Jitsu taught at all UAE schools. Although he was training Jiu-Jitsu on a regular basis, he was presented an honorary BJJ black belt by Carlos Santos. The Sheikh never asked to be promoted but was offered the promotion by Santos as you can see in the video HERE.
12. Rashad Evans
UFC fighter Rashad Evans received his black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu from Rolles Gracie before UFC 108. Rolles Gracie stated that even though Rashad has not trained in a Gi, that he considered him at ‘No Gi black belt level’
11. Josh Barnett
UFC fighter and catch wrestler Josh Barnett was awarded a BJJ black belt from Erik Paulson without having ever worn a Gi or trained any BJJ… In 2009 Erik Paulson, endorsed by Rigan Machado, presented him with a Black Belt in BJJ. Barnett talks about the whole story HEREE.
10. Arvin Widder
Bosnian 4th degree BJJ black belt Arvin Widder was a Yugoslavian national Judo champion and started training BJJ in 1998 at the urging of his friend Fred from America. In the beginning he practiced a combination of judo and jiu-jitsu, or more precisely – kosen judo. Two years later, thanks to Fred, he went to the U.S. (New Jersey) in the club where he was then practicing BJJ: Team Edson Carvalho. He met Edson Carvalho, a master of judo and a 5th degree black belt in BJJ. In 2001, he went back to the U.S and trained more with Sensei Edson, and actually started to understand the concept of BJJ as a whole (stand up, ground game). In 2003, he organized the first BJJ seminar (gi and no gi) in Sarajevo, Bosnia with Sensei Edson, who promoted hi directly to BJJ black belt, thus becoming the first Bjj black belt in Bosnia and after Jovan Žerjal (Serbia) the second in the territory of former Yugoslavia. Read more about Arvin winder’s story HERE.
9. John Lewis
John Lewis was a Gene Lebell black belt who was promoted straight to BJJ Black Belt by Andres Pederneiras between EFC 1 and EFC 2.
8. Stanislav Nedkov
Stanislav Nedkov is a Bulgarian professional mixed martial artist, who formerly competed in the Middleweight and Light Heavyweight divisions of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Nedkov began wrestling when he was 10 years old. A two-time national champion in freestyle wrestling, he has also had first-place finishes in international tournaments in Russia, Moldova, Turkey, and Bulgaria. Nedkov has also studied in sumo under Kotooshu Katsunori and won his first grappling championship a year after he began learning Brazilian jiujitsu. He was promoted straight to BJJ black belt by Bruno Bastos.
7. Ričardas Piepolis
Lithuanian grappler Ricardas Piepolis has years of experience in grappling, and karate. During a trip to Japan, he trained with Japanese MMA/BJJ legend Yuki Nakai. The Japanese was so impressed by Piepolis’ grappling skills that he promoted him directly to black belt in BJJ. Many people in Lithuania didn’t believe him at first, so they even wrote to Nakai asking about the promotion and Nakai confirmed it.
6 and 5. Marco Ruas and Eugenio Tadeu
Two Luta Livre black belts, Marco Ruas and Eugenio Tadeu were promoted straight to BJJ black belt by Joe Moreira. This was met with a lot of criticism at the time, notably from Carlson Gracie.
BJJ Heroes tells the story:
During his time with the UFC Moreira met Marco Ruas, a luta livre (a form of Brazilian Wrestling) fighter who had grown up in the same neighborhood as Joe (Leme in Rio de Janeiro). Ruas asked moreira if he needed training partners and Moreira agreed, from that 28 day training camp, their friendship grew and never broke since.
Marco Ruas also introduced another Luta Livre fighter to Joe Moreira, Eugenio Tadeu. Both Ruas and Tadeu had a long history of rivalry against Jiu Jitsu and it’s fighters in the battle for the dominance of Martial Arts in Brazil in the late 80’s and early 1990’s. Even though that rivalry was still pretty much alive, Moreira (maybe recognizing his friend’s technical hability) handed them their black belts in Jiu Jitsu, causing an uproar of criticism from the BJJ community at the time.
4. Ray Stevens
British Judoka Ray Stevens (silver medalist a Olympics) was promoted from White Belt to Black Belt after 8 years training BJJ.
Simon Hayes (Carlson Gracie London) told BJJEE about Ray’s case:
He was never graded in the coloured belts because he studied his Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at The Budokwai where he was a senior instructor and general manager and as a Judo Olympian in a Judo club, he was never asked by Roger Gracie to wear a coloured belt after a lifetime of Judo and Olympic Silver.
He trained many times over the years with Roger Gracie and he wore his Judo Black Belt and Roger wore his BJJ Belt.
Reciprocally when Roger attended Judo Classes (which was weekly at one point) with many international Judo players on the mat Roger wore his BJJ Black Belt as they deemed it inappropriate to ask a multiple world champion to remove his belt. Basically there was an extremely unique situation at The Budokwai-
Olympic Silver Medallist Ray Stevens and Multiple BJJ World Champion Roger Gracie respected each other’s Black Belts in their own arts respectively.
When Ray did eventually earn his Black Belt in BJJ he had been training in the art for the same amount of time it took me to go from white to black so he didn’t get graded quickly.
I believe this unique respect between two of the Worlds best grapplers is completely removed from others who have not spent their time and paid their dues learning BJJ before being promoted to Black Belt for the wrong reasons.
Anyone who has rolled with Ray Stevens will have no doubt he is an extremely talented BJJ Black Belt.
3. Edgar Kruyning
Dutch Martial artist Edgar Kruyning of Ede Budo Yoseikan (A form of Traditional Japanese Ju-Jitsu) was promoted straight to black belt in BJJ by Carlos Toyota. Kruyning had never formally trained BJJ or held BJJ belts previously, but holds several degrees and black belts in multiple disciplines.
2. Milton Vieira
Milton Vieira is a Luta Livre and BJJ black belt widely credited as the inventor of the anaconda choke. Vieira was promoted straight to BJJ black belt by Murilo Bustamante and competed in several top grappling competitions including Grapplers Quest and appeared at the 2007 ADCC World Championship and also the 2009 ADCC World Championship. In mixed martial arts, he has competed for the UFC, PRIDE, Strikeforce, DEEP, M-1 Global, and Shooto. He is stated to be the inventor of the Anaconda Choke from his days in Luta Livre.
- Promoted straight to ‘No Gi’ black belt
UFC legend, Randy Couture was awarded a ‘No Gi’ black belt following his win over Boxing champion, James Toney at UFC 118 by his grappling instructor Neil Melanson. Many questioned why Couture would get a black belt for a submission against such a novice in grappling as Toney. Neil Melanson explained that he doesn’t train Jiu-Jitsu but is a student of Karo Parisyan and that he has his own belt system that is a copy of the BJJ belt system.