The rapid expansion of bjj also means facing some controversies but there were always a select few who are almost universally admired and respected. Whether it’s about talents, contributions or a unique combination of these two, these men and women have our deepest gratitude:
Kyra Gracie is the first female black belt in the Gracie family. Jiu-jitsu has helped Kyra become very renowned and successful and in return she has proven that women can practice bjj as well as anyone. Her interest in women’s self-defense as well as competitive training camps opened up a whole new world for a number of practitioners.
One of the nicest guys around is largely responsible for popularizing bjj in the UK. A run in with the Diaz brothers a couple of years ago stands to prove how much of a class act he is even in a charged situation. His knowledge and charisma make him one of the best ambassadors of bjj in the world.
Mackenzie Dern is a second generation black belt. She has trained since the age of 3 and as such she is a perfect example for one of core principles of jiu-jitsu, the belief that superior technique can overcome all other things. Her triumph over Gabi Garcia in 2015 Abu Dhabi World Pro serves as a motivational poster to many people who face much bigger opponents not only in competition but also in training. She is always smiling and has a warm and friendly personality.
Bad boy of bjj is nothing if not temperamental but his good heart and his never-ending legacy make him both loved and feared. For Renzo, anything less than a submission is unsatisfactory. It’s no secret that Renzo is also an amazing coach. His students include John Danaher, Matt Serra and Gunnar Nelson, to name a few.
Many consider Rickson one of the greatest BJJ practitioners of all time. Son of Grand Master Helio Gracie proved his value through several Vale-Tudo bouts in Brazil and Japan. He competed for years in hundreds of matches in several different disciplines. In spite of being involved in the birth of MMA, he’s always considered himself a jiu-jitsu player. Countless legends surround every mention of him. Click here to see him demonstrate his infamous concept of invisible jiu-jitsu
Back when Carlson Gracie (Son of Carlos Gracie) decided to leave the Gracie Academy in Rio de Janiero and to teach Jiu-Jitsu to common people, a rivalry started with his uncle Helio. He started the famous Carlson Gracie Academy and for the first time in BJJ, he was teaching group classes open to all including lower classes. Helio had previously only taught private classes at a high price and reserved for the higher classes. Carlson also allowed some poor students to train without paying but demanded full commitment in exchange. Carlson was know for his generosity, and kind heart.
Helio Gracie was against Carlson’s decision to teach Jiu-Jitsu to common people. As a reaction, Carlson said that he would train his fighters to defeat Helio’s sons. The famous Wallid Ismail vs Royce Gracie match was the most famous example.
One of the greatest competitors of all time is also the face of Europe’s possibly strongest bjj scene – United Kingdom. Grandson of Carlos Gracie is a tremendous competitor but he doesn’t let the success go to his head. He is known as a level-headed, positive and humble.
Marcelo Garcia is another outstanding competitor. There are many who consider him best pound-for-pound Jiu-Jitsu practitioner on the planet today. His athletic accomplishments are paired with a positive friendly outlook as well as serious teaching credits.
He is a perfect example of a competitor that transcends his victories with contributions to bjj. Saulo Ribeiro has a humble approach that is clearly reflected in everything he does. The book he co-authored “Jiu-Jitsu University” remains one of the most useful tools for every jiu-jiteiro.
Helio Gracie is one of the most important figures in history of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. His lineage and legacy are undisputed and unparalleled. He is the person most responsible for popularizing and spreading bjj all over the globe. Helio believed superior technique could overcome all other disadvantages.
Worth mentioning: Tom Deblass.
If you liked this, you might also want to review our list of Most hated people in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.