Roger Gracie & The Run That Inspired Danaher, New Wave, And A Generation

Roger Gracie & The Run That Inspired Danaher, New Wave, And A Generation

The best run in ADCC history inspired a generation of athletes to emulate the Roger Gracie style. Here are some of the most important takeaways.

Jun 27, 2023 by Matthew Gioia
Roger Gracie & The Run That Inspired Danaher, New Wave, And A Generation

Eight matches. Eight victories. Eight submissions. Roger Gracie’s 2005 ADCC tournament run is considered the greatest feat ever achieved in submission grappling. Roger did not only dominate great grapplers, he was able to submit three multiple-time ADCC champions in Xande Ribeiro, Fabricio Werdum, and the great Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Sousa.

This performance was not only dominant. It also set the blueprint for how the next generation of grapplers could achieve similar heights; and it was instrumental in the development of both Gordon Ryan and Nicholas Meregali.

The only apparent flaw in Roger’s 2005 run was his double leg takedown. Throughout the tournament, he was routinely sprawled on by larger opponents, sometimes conceding a front headlock or even back exposure. 

The traditional and blast variations of double leg takedowns are extremely high risk in submission grappling. Based on Roger’s pedigree in other takedown styles, his double-leg attempts does not seem to be worth the risk. That may be the reason that the New Wave team — headed by Roger Gracie admirer John Danaher — seems to eschew them entirely. 

While the double leg might be too high risk for New Wave’s taste, the single leg takedown is the team’s bread and butter. Roger showed the single leg’s effectiveness in his legendary contest against Fabricio Werdum, as after multiple failed double leg shots, Roger finally converted a takedown once he switched to a single leg approach.

There’s an innate strategy in utilizing singles instead of doubles, highlighted by the ADCC ruleset. In ADCC, an opponent has to be completely pinned for a three-second count for points to be scored. 

This incentivizes opponents to scramble and show their backs in order not to concede points. The issue with this strategy is that it exposes the back, creating a catch-22 scenario for opponents — especially when matched up against back attack experts like Roger Gracie and Gordon Ryan. This has made singles and knee taps more favorable than double legs; and we’ve seen grapplers like Gordon Ryan abandon the traditional double in favor of single legs and knee taps in his standing approach. For example, look no further than his 2019 ADCC 99kg final against Vinícius Ferreira.

The value of the single leg does not end at the initial entry. It is perhaps even more effective as a means to get behind an opponent with a standing rear waist lock. This may be the most advantageous standing position a grappler can establish; and it’s the position that both Roger and Gordon sought to use against each of their toughest opponents: Jacare for Gracie and Andre Galvao for Ryan.

The rear waist lock offers a high finishing percentage, as the grappler with the lock is privy to an entire arsenal of throws, footsweeps, and other takedowns with little to no risk of reprisal while also having direct access to their opponents back. 

However, what happens when an opponent refuses to allow a grappler to control their hips? Roger’s solution was the guillotine-uchi mata combination that was best shown in his rematch against ADCC all-time great Xande Riberio.   

The beauty of this combination is that the uchi mata may be used with an overhook grip at any angle, in any direction regardless of position or height differential. It can be used as an offensive maneuver when an opponent is hell bent on keeping their hips back, as shown by Nicholas Meregali. 

While the uchi mata is an adequate defensive maneuver against a deep shot, the throw is also useful against a sprawling opponent as shown by Roger against Alexandre “Cacareco” Ferreira.

The uchi mata is an extremely low-risk move that is effective even when the attacker can’t finish the throw. The uchi mata forces the opponent's weight forward, often exposing their necks, leading directly into the final piece of Roger’s stand up game: the guillotine.

Although Roger did not finish the guillotine in any of his matches at the 2005 ADCC, he repeatedly used it to pull guard without penalty and to dictate where the match took place: primarily in his closed guard. Gordon Ryan showed the full power of the guillotine however, in his 2017 ADCC finals match against Keenan Cornelius. 

Roger Gracie’s style has greatly shaped the way that Danaher-taught athletes have attacked the standing position, most notably in the last edition of ADCC. Yet, Roger might have been even more of a luminary in an unexpected way: leg entanglements. 

When we think of ADCC leg entanglement pioneers, names like Dean Lister and Rousimar Palhares come to mind, yet Roger Gracie demonstrated the effectiveness of leg attacks from the single leg X position — years before Lister or Palhares competed at ADCC — against Shinya Aoki. 

However, the most shocking part of Roger’s ADCC run was his introduction of what might be onethe first saddle-esque prototype position in his match against Fabricio Werdum.

The sequence perfectly encapsulates a lesson the jiu-jitsu community would largely learn 12 years later: leg locks are the ultimate equalizer.

Despite being in a disadvantageous position against a larger opponent in Fabricio Werdum — a two time 99+ kg ADCC champion — Roger was able to relieve the passing pressure, sweep the passer, and initiate an attack all in one sequence. While many consider Roger the ultimate gi competitor, his influence can be seen in the work of athletes like Diego “Pato” Oliveria in his use of the false reap. 

John Danaher once said “the foundation in the classical jiu-jitsu game however, will always be that between positional pressure and submission, utilized by almost all top athletes and exemplified best by Roger Gracie, who did it better than anyone else in my experience.” Despite being viewed as a traditional gi player, Roger Gracie’s 2005 ADCC Championship performance is as instructive as it is iconic. A performance, which almost 20 years later, is the blueprint for how some of the most dominant athletes today routinely disarm their opponents. It was a performance that showed why exactly Roger Gracie is the greatest.