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Is Gordon Ryan the best ever? Yes, and Here’s Why

Photo Credit: IG @gordonlovesjiujitsu

Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author.

If you’re even somewhat of a regular MMA fan, the chances are you’ve heard of Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) player Gordon Ryan. Whether he’s frequently advertised on UFC Fight Pass, pictured alongside prominent UFC fighters, or simply training with them, Gordon is slowly but surely entering the radar of many MMA fans these days.

Gordon Ryan’s popularity has notably skyrocketed following his victory over fellow BJJ legend Andre Galvao at the 2022 ADCC World Championship, despite being just 27 years old at the time. But, more importantly, this monumental win has made many people think of Gordon as the best of all time.

Gordon Ryan’s coach thinks that what sets Ryan apart is his natural ability to solve any problem and his uncanny ability to remain calm under stressful situations. 

Let’s dig deeper into Gordon Ryan’s BJJ credentials and see why people say he is the best.

When did Gordon Ryan start BJJ?

Ryan began grappling in 2010 when he was just 15 years old. He first started training under Miguel Benitez before eventually making the switch to the team of John Danaher, Tom DeBlass, and Garry Tonon, otherwise known as the Danaher Death Squad. He would eventually become a brown belt in 2015 before being awarded his black belt by Tonon in February 2016. So in essence, it took him six years to become a black belt in jiu-jitsu.

As far as BJJ lineages go, Gordon actually has two of them as his black belt was a shared responsibility between Danaher, Tonon, and DeBlass. You can see the two lineages below:

Lineage 1: Carlos Gracie > Helio Gracie > Carlos Gracie > Renzo Gracie > Ricardo Almeida > Tom DeBlass > Garry Tonon > Gordon Ryan

Lineage 2: Carlos Gracie > Helio Gracie > Carlos Gracie > Renzo Gracie > John Danaher > Gordon Ryan

Is Gordon Ryan the greatest BJJ/grappler of all time?

With so many greats and legends in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, most notably the Gracies, many in the world of combat sports regard Ryan to be the greatest of them all. There’s UFC analyst Joe Rogan, TriStar head coach Firas Zahabi, and MMA analyst Luke Thomas to name a few who have waxed lyrical about the American, especially after his win over Galvao.

Gordon Ryan vs Andre Galvao Highlight

“Gordon is, undeniably, the best pound-for-pound jiu-jitsu player on Earth. Not just the best, but the best ever.”

Joe Rogan

“Right now he’s at the top, top of the jiu-jitsu world. He’s arguably the greatest jiu-jitsu guy ever, Gordon Ryan. And I think he could cement that and just be that legend of the sport.”

Firas Zahabi
MMA analyst Luke Thomas discusses why Gordon Ryan is the GOAT

Let’s take a look at some of his notable accolades and accomplishments:

  • Ryan is a five-time ADCC world champion, while he also holds accolades such as being a two-time IBJJF no-gi world champion and a four-time winner of the Eddie Bravo Invitational.
  • Ryan is the first athlete ever to win the super-fight and his own weight division in the same year when he accomplished the feat at the 2022 ADCC World Championship.
  • Ryan is currently undefeated in grappling dating back to 2018 following his points defeat to Vinny Magalhães. Ryan has not suffered a defeat in 54 matches since and currently holds a 152-9-3 record at the time of reporting.
  • Ryan holds the record for the fastest submission in ADCC history with his 11-second victory over Roosevelt Sousa via a heel hook.

With such accolades at the age of 27 along with his ever-evolving game and overall dominance, it’s not really crazy to regard Ryan as the greatest BJJ player of all time.

What makes Gordon Ryan the best?

What actually makes Gordon Ryan so good? One major factor is his coaching staff. His BJJ coach is a sixth-degree black belt and, arguably, the greatest instructor of all time, John Danaher, who is essentially a jiu-jitsu computer that teaches BJJ scientifically and systematically. Danaher’s coaching style is unlike any other traditional method. He has developed new methods for teaching students to dramatically improve their skill set, which Gordon has greatly benefited from. 

Not to mention elite grapplers like Garry Tonon and Tom DeBlass, who worked with Gordon Ryan to help him improve his game. With that said, there are many who train under Danaher who haven’t scratched the surface of reaching the level of Ryan.

Additionally, his back attack to the rear naked choke system helped him win double gold at the 2019 ADCC World Championship. In recent times, he’s been crushing half-guards and using a wide variety of mounted techniques, which only further showcases his constant development and innovative skills.

Here are some excerpts from what Danaher himself had to say about what makes Ryan stand out:

“He has an extraordinary memory. On more than a few occasions, Gordon would come to me after class and ask: “Hey John, do you remember that thing you showed me back in 2018, when the guy is on the left Ashi Garami and you’ve told me to turn in the opposite direction… And I’m looking at him, like, what? He has to jog back my memory so I can then report it back to him. So, he has an incredible ability to recall information.

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“Secondly, he has an incredible ability to stay calm under stress. Problem-solving is difficult enough as it is and you make it more difficult when you stress yourself. And so, athletes who can cope with stress, or downplay stress, always perform better. And he is truly extraordinary in this regard.

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Here’s a full video interview of John Danaher talking about Gordon Ryan.

Has Gordon Ryan lost?

Ryan has suffered defeat nine times in his grappling career, but as aforementioned, he hasn’t taken a loss since 2018. His most notable losses, however, have come to Felipe Pena who defeated him with a rear naked choke in a 2016 super fight. Pena would beat him again on points at the 2017 ADCC World Championship, this time on points. Gordon would exact revenge on Pena in a super fight earlier in 2022 to put the score at 2-1 while another rematch is set for February 2023.

Gordon, at the time of reporting, is currently set to face Vinny Magalhães at the UFC Fight Pass Invitational 3. Magalhães is notably the last competitor to inflict defeat on Ryan.

Who is the GOAT of jiu-jitsu?

G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time) rankings are subjective, but as you may have deciphered, many already regard Ryan to be the GOAT of no-gi jiu-jitsu. So with that said, who is below him? Here is our ranking of the top five greatest jiu-jitsu players.

1. Gordon Ryan

2. Marcelo Garcia – Fourth-degree jiu-jitsu black belt with five world jiu-jitsu championships and four ADCC championships. He is also a member of the IBJJF and ADCC Hall of Fame.

3. Roger Gracie – The grandson of BJJ founder Carlos Gracie and winner of 10 IBJJF world championships. He is also an ADCC champion, being the only athlete to win gold in his own weight class along with the open weight division with an unparalleled 100% submission rate. He notably has zero defeats by submission with all his losses coming by points. Gracie is also a member of the IBJJF and ADCC Halls of Fame, with Ryan regarding him as the “GOAT” of jiu-jitsu as you see below.

4. Andre Galvao – Fourth-degree jiu-jitsu black belt and multiple-time world champion who is the co-founder and head coach of one of the most successful BJJ gyms in the world in Atos Jiu Jitsu. He holds the most ADCC titles with six and is also a member of the IBJJF Hall of Fame.

5. Marcus Almeida (Buchecha) – First-degree jiu-jitsu black belt and multiple-time jiu-jitsu world champion. A member of the IBJJF Hall of Fame, Almeida currently competes in the heavyweight division of ONE Championship.

Honorable mention: Mikey Musumeci

Is Gordon Ryan interested in becoming an MMA fighter?

Ryan was initially interested in becoming an MMA fighter. However, Danaher convinced him to remain in jiu-jitsu because he believed the sport was about to explode and that it needed a superstar like Ryan to reach that level.

“…Grappling is at a pivotal point in its history. There is a chance that submission grappling could expand to a remarkable degree over the next 10 years.”

John Danaher, 2020 interview

That said, the closest Ryan did come to becoming an MMA fighter was with the Singapore-based MMA promotion ONE Championship. In 2021, ONE chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong revealed Ryan had signed a contract to compete in grappling. At the same time, MMA was also an option if the latter was interested in pursuing it.

However, Ryan never made his scheduled grappling debut against Shinya Aoki later that year as he had to retire temporarily due to his Gastroparesis condition. He is now longer under a ONE Championship contract.

Gordon Ryan vs. Rickson Gracie: Who is better and who would win?

Rickson Gracie is a ninth-degree jiu-jitsu black belt and, for many, is considered to be the greatest BJJ fighter from the Gracie family. That led many to ponder how a match between him and Ryan would go and whether the latter could be considered greater.

As far as accomplishments in the sport of jiu-jitsu go, Gordon is undeniably superior. Gordon would also likely win a matchup due to his imposing size and superior skill set honed from competing against elite grapplers on the world stage, which Rickson did not do.

Here’s what Royce Gracie told Chael Sonnen about what he thinks of Rickson vs. Gordon under Abu Dhabi rules:

“Royce told him that he doesn’t think that Rickson would be likely to submit Gordon and that, of the two, Gordon would be more likely to do so… But that he also doesn’t think that Gordon would submit Rickson – in simple terms, he just wanted to aknowledge that he’d be more likely to do so.”

A closer matchup would be with Roger Gracie instead of Rickson, where there is an argument to be made that Ryan could lose. All things considered, however, Ryan would most likely come out on top against him as well.

Final thought: What separates Gordon Ryan from the rest?

As aforementioned, Ryan separates himself from the pack due to his high level of professionalism, the fact that he trains every day, and the fact that he is always adapting. Unlike most black belts in jiu-jitsu, he doesn’t do seminars either, as he feels it takes time away from him getting better in the gym. Instead, he releases instructional DVDs, which also serve as his main source of income and allow him to continually train and get better.

Aside from that, his extraordinary lineages and coaches, as well as his unwavering confidence, set him apart. As an example, he bet $10,000 on a match when he only had $10,400 in his bank account back in 2016—and he ended up winning the match.

He now has a lot more money in the bank. Given how he continues to revolutionize the sport, he can only expect his balance and popularity to grow even further.