The Biggest Team Switches & Break Ups In Jiu-Jitsu History

The Biggest Team Switches & Break Ups In Jiu-Jitsu History

“jiu-jitsu é a única arte marcial que tem família” (Jiu-Jitsu is the only martial art that has a family)

Team switching in Jiu-Jitsu is a very controversial topic that will always provoke different points of views and arguments among the BJJ community. Throughout Jiu-Jitsu history, there have always been individuals that have gone their own way, leaving their initial team or master, to either join another team or create their own. This is what many people know as “Creontes”. If you think about it, the majority of BJJ players and competitors could be considered “creontes” unless they were with just one academy their whole lives. When it comes to switching teams, everybody has their own reasons for doing so. It can be because of a disagreement on teaching style, involve money, location etc.. One thing that history has taught us is that whenever small teams break off, eventually more new teams will break off from that new team (for ex:Alliance> Brasa> Checkmat…). This list does not accuse anybody of dishonesty or being a traitor. It serves to document famous team switches in Jiu-Jitsu history. 

A big thank you to BJJheroes.com which is a gold mine for BJJ history

1. George Gracie


George Gracie (check out his full bio) was part of the original ‘Gracie brothers’ (Carlos, George, Gastao, Oswaldo and Helio) back in the 1920‘s and 1930‘s. George Gracie was taught Jiu Jitsu techniques by his older brother Carlos Gracie and carried the Gracie flag all over Brazil fighting in different styles such as Jiu Jitsu, Luta Livre, Wrestling and Vale Tudo (No-Holds-Barred) having had one of the best unbeaten runs of his time. In the mid 1930’s George started spending more time with the Luta Livre fighters (a form of No-Gi Grappling very common in Brazil) and roaming further away from Carlos’s way of life. When George accepted another fight in luta livre rules, Carlos was very upset (as he believed George should stop fighting other styles and concentrate on BJJ), he told the press that George was no longer a representative of the Gracie way. George replied with some harsh words in a letter to the press, he wrote:

“My brother Carlos is nothing when it comes to fighting. Carlos does not have the authority nor the competence to speak about Jiu Jitsu… Who created the sporting tradition of my family if not me, in all honesty, with my career?”

George even accepted a fight promoter’s offer to fight his younger brother Helio. More disagreements occured between George and his brothers all throughout the 50’s. All in all George Gracie was the first break away in BJJ history.

2. Guanair Vial

429_1749-foto 2Guanair Vial was one of Helio Gracie’s top students in the 50’s. He was involved in a submission only gi fight with George Gracie’s best student Nahum Rabay. The fight was very important for both gyms as George Gracie (Nahum’s coach) and Helio did not get along (despite being brothers), and had severed ties a while back. Guanair Vial was considered the heavy favourite, much more experienced then Rabay. Eventhough the fight was a draw, Nahum had dominated.  Guanair Vial was so impressed by Nahum Rabay’s technique that he decided to switch from Helio Gracie’s gym and move to George Gracie’s academy.

3. The Carlson Gracie Team to BTT/ATT/Team Nogeira/ Blackzilians

carlson6qjCarlson Gracie Jiu Jitsu Team was considered one of the most successful teams in Jiu-Jitsu history. lead by the charismatic Carlson Gracie, they had fighters such as Ricardo Liborio, Amauri Bitetti, Paulo Filho, Murilo Bustamante, Ze Mario Sperry, Cassio Cardoso, Fernando Pinduka, Walid Ismail, De La Riva, Ricardo Arona, Ari Galo, Sergio Bolão etc..

In 2000, things fell apart at Team Carlson Gracie. Carlson Gracie had moved to the USA in the 90’s and the students left behind still had to pay the academy a percentage of their fight purse when competing. Murilo Bustamante, Ricardo Liborio, Mario Sperry and Luis Roberto Duarte left the gym to form their own school, focused completely on training fighters for MMA. Brazilian Top Team was born. Ricardo Arona, Vitor Belfort and both the Nogueira brothers joined BTT. In 2003, there was another break up as Liborio left Brazil for Florida and established American Top Team. In 2007, the Nogueria brothers would leave BTT and form their own gym. Their students include champions like Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida, Paulo Filho and Rafael Cavalcante. An offshoot of ATT is the Blackzilians.

4. Alliance break up to Brasa, Atos, checkmat etc

imagesThe most successful Jiu Jitsu team in recent history, Alliance Jiu-Jitsu has 6 successive World team titles (from 2008 to 2013) as well as in 1990’s (98 & 99). in the early 2000’s the team suffered from internal turmoil as most of it’s competitors left to form rival smaller teams. Brasa and TT were born which later led to further break ups with the forming of Atos and Checkmat. Alliance had some hard times in the next few years but with the guidance of the “General” Fabio Gurgel in Sao Paulo, Alexandre Paiva in Rio de Janiro and Romero Cavalcanti in the US they were able to rise from the ashes.


5. Mario Reis from BTT to Behring to Gracie Barra to Alliance

images (1)Mario Reis is a top Jiu Jitsu competitor in the featherweight division. He started training under Mario Sperry, but then he switched to Behring where he got his black belt. He then switched back to BTT and then to Gracie Barra. He is currently under Alliance.




6. Dean Lister

Dean-ListerAccording to BJJ Heroes:

“Dean Lister spent 8 years training with the gi, competing and winning tournaments for his instructor Fabio Santos, but he ended up splitting from Santos before receiving his black belt. There is a lot of speculation regarding how Lister got his black belt, but the main story circling in the BJJ forums is that Dean always had the idea of one day becoming an MMA fighter, he saw Jiu Jitsu as a way to progress towards that, though his master Fabio Santos completely disagreed and did not want him to proceed through that route, they disagreed so much that Dean left the gym. One of Lister’s training partners at the academy, Jeffrey Higgs (who is a black belt under Fabio Santos) decided to award Lister his black belt, Santos was against this decision and expelled Higgs from the academy. Lister ended up proving he belonged amongst the black belt elite winning the ADCC in the open weight division that year.”

7. Ary Farias Atos (Formerly Checkmat and ASLE)

ary-farias-2Ary Farias started training Jiu Jitsu at the famous ASLE academy when he was 11 years old. After a argument with the Asle coach, he left the team and settled at Fightzone (checkmat) where he got his brown belt under Ricardo Vieira. He then moved to Atos where he received his black belt from Ramon Lemos. In 2013, Ary Farias turned his focus to MMA (mixed martial arts).



8. Jordon Schultz (De La Riva, Alliance, Team Lloyd Irvin, Atos)

jordonJordon Scultz started out with Team de La Riva before moving to Alliance. At Alliance, he had his best years where he won the worlds at Purple and brown belt. After a well publicized disagreement with Jacare Cavalcabte which shocked the BJJ community, he left Team Alliance in early 2012 Schultz relocated to Team Lloyd Irvin, and joined the ranks of the Medal Chasers, one of the most feared and nationally acclaimed teams at the time. After a year there he left the team because of the sexual scandal allegations against 2 team members. Schultz also published an open letter where he accused Lloyd Irvin of sexually molesting a female team mate. He left TLI together with Keenan Cornelius and JT Torres for Atos in San Diego where he currently trains.

9. Fernando Margarida: Yamasaki, Fabio Santos, Nino Schembri, Rickson, Godoi, BTT

Margarida-InterviewFernando Pontes known as “Margarida” by the jiu jitsu community, is a former World BJJ Champion in both his weight category and the open weight division. During his BJJ journey he has represented many flags: Yamasaki, then  when he moved to California he got his purple and brown belt from Fabio Santos, he then spent some time under Nino Schembri and Rickson Gracie, he returned to Sao Paulo where he trained under Roberto Godoi and Otavio de Almeida, where he achieved his black belt in 2000. He then joined BTT for a while. Currently he is based in the US.


10. Gabriel Vella: Ryan Gracie > Alliance > Ryan Gracie

VellaGabriel Vella received his black belt from Ryan Gracie and won everything in BJJ there.  He wenton to switch to Sao Paulo rivals, Alliance. This move was very criticized by the Jiu-Jitsu community. After a few years at Alliance, he went back to his home and rejoined  the Ryan Gracie academy, now led by Celso Vinicius after the death of Ryan Gracie.



11. Gianni Grippo: Renzo Gracie > Marcelo Garcia

gianni grippo

Back in 2013, brown belt world champ Gianni Grippo joined Alliance NYC under Marcelo Garcia. He had spent his whole career at Renzo Gracie’s until then.

His statement regarding the move:

“I’ve been training at Renzo’s for ten years and since I was ten years old, so the decision to leave was definitely one of the hardest decisions I ever made in my life. But now I’m looking forward to the great opportunities I have at Marcelo’s and in the Alliance family, and I can’t wait to compete with my team at the upcoming Pans.”

Gianni Grippo was a 5 time World Champion at lower belts and 7 time Pan champion (Yes you’ve read right). Gianni started Jiu-Jitsu at 10 years old as the sole member of Renzo Gracie kid’s program. In 2014, he received his black belt from Marcelo Garcia and won the Pan at black belt two years in a row.


12. Erberth Santos: Pedro Freitas> Marcio Rodrigues> Guigo > Team Lloyd Irvin > Ryan Gracie> Atos>Own team


The Bad Boy of Jiu-Jitsu, Erberth Santos announced late last year that he would be representing Atos in 2017 at the Worlds in place of his current team Ryan Gracie. Erberth Santos has switched teams a staggering 6 times. From white to purple belt, Erberth was under Pedro Freitas. As a purple belt, he moved to Rio de Janeiro and joined Equipe Marcio Rodrigues. He was kicked off the team for bad behaviour and joined Guigo in Sao Paulo. Guigo gave Erberth his brown belt and also spent some time training under Team Lloyd Irvin in the US.
The partnership with Lloyd Irvin was approved by Guigo. He then left Guigo to join team Ryan Gracie.He know has his own team.

13. Gracie Barra to ZR Team

zr team

Back in mid 2016, José Olimpio, more known as “Zé Radiola”,  a former leader of the Gracie Barra organisation, officially left GB to form his own team: ZR Team.

Ze Radiola is one of the most respected and successful BJJ instructors in the world, from his Gracie Barra Pernambuco academy, he had formed world champions such as Braulio Estima, Victor Estima, Otavio Sousa, Lucas Rocha and many others. Last year at the Worlds, he lead the Gracie Barra team.

Ze Radiola and his students that are joining him at ZR Team control around 120 Gracie Barra schools in Brazil, around 15 in the US and over 56 in Europe. More teams are also expected to join in them in few days and weeks. On Gracie Barra’s website they say that they have 300 BJJ schools worldwide but the correct figure is now around 1,000 schools (500 affiliated and 500 non-affiliated) . This would mean losing a big chunk of schools and more importantly many of their champions.

At this point, it is still unclear just how many prominent black belts under Ze Radiola will follow their master in this move but as the days go by, it will be clearer who has chosen whose camp. Ze’s black belts in France Cristiano Rodrigues (ZR Team Nice) and Alessandro Oliveira have joined. Lucas Rocha, Ze’s nephew has joined. The biggest player is Max Carvalho from Hungary, who controls over thirty schools in Central-Eastern Europe + Russia and Asia.

All in all, the following countries will have ZR Team schools and all together over 190 schools and counting:

Austria, Australia, Brazil,Cyprus, Croatia, France, England, Slovakia, Kazakhstan, Portugal, Russia,
Ukaine, Hungary, U.S.A and Romania.

14. Leandro Lo: Cicero Costha> New Team NS Brotherhood

leandro lo

Back in Spetember 2015 the famous black belt 5x world champion Leandro Lo the gym that had brought him to the forefront of jiu jitsu: PSLPB Cicero Costha (Social Project Fighting For Good). Lo formed his own team, taking with him some of the most important talents of the Sao Paulo academy. “New School Brotherhood”



15. Dominyka Obelenyte: Marcelo Garcia > Marcelo Alonso


Dominyka Obelenyte is 21 years old. In that time she’s accomplished becoming a world champion several times at different levels including being world champ at the black belt level for both her weight category and absolute in 2015.
Her accomplishments don’t stop there, she conquered Pans, Europeans and various other stages. She got her black belt from Marcelo Garcia on 15th January 2015.
Obelenyte became part of Fabio Clemente’s team late last year.

She explains the rationale for leaving to flograppling:

“I’m no longer under Marcelo Garcia. I’m not under team Fabio Clemente.I’m not gonna delve too deep into why I switched but there were certain circumstances that arose in my time there and I kind of saw my time there running its course just needing something else that I couldn’t find there that I happened to find here. ”  Dominyka added “At this academy I feel a different level of support and a different type of family.”

16. Checkmat> Zenith


In October of 2013, Rodrigo Cavaca announced that he was leaving Checkmat to found a new team with his friend Robert Drysdale. Together they created Zenith BJJ team.

He told Tatame:

“The team is being launched gradually in competitions and we are already starting to appear with some good results, such as the Paulista championship of 2013, when we were only behind Alliance, and now in Europe. We entered with only 30 athletes, did not put pressure on anyone, because we are in stage adaptations and prioritizing other things at the moment, but for Pan, Brazilian and World, will get stronger, since our leading academies are located near our championships. Zenith BJJ is working from behind the scenes. The team was created with the intention of being a business and not just a Jiu-Jitsu team. Robert and I have thought facing the growth and development of our members, and this system is being created to help everyone manage their gym as a company, give all necessary support to affiliated academies, so that our instructors do not need to have a regular job and be able to live from Jiu-Jitsu.”