Best BJJ Fighters in UFC (Past and Present)

BJJ is a key component in modern MMA fighting and it has been like that since day 1 and Royce Gracie dominating over other styles. In this day and age, BJJ skills are so important that each fighter must have solid ground skills if they want to succeed in cage fighting. Naturally, some of them are more skilled than others, and throughout history, there have been many elite-level black belts competing and reaching the pinnacle of the game.

Let’s see take a closer look at the best BJJ fighters in MMA from the past and the present day.

Best BJJ fighters in UFC history

10. Ronda Rousey

Ronda Rousey in cage ready to fight

BJJ rank: none
UFC submission wins: 3
Career submission wins: 9

Rousey is a pioneer of women’s MMA, and one of the most vicious BJJ finishers in history. She is a 5th-degree black belt in Judo, a martial art that is the precursor to BJJ so her grappling game was exceptional. She is the first female UFC champ, and during her prime, she was the most dominant fighter on the roster with six straight title defenses. In fact, she had that aura of invisibility that only the true greats have.

9. Frank Mir

Frank Mir

BJJ rank: Black belt under Ricardo Pires
UFC submission wins: 8
Career submission wins: 9

The former UFC heavyweight champ, Frank Mir, is known for his all-around skill set and high level BJJ skills. He holds a record for the fastest submission win (45 seconds against Tank Abbott) and most submission wins in the heavyweight division. His finest BJJ performance came against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, a fight Mir finished by breaking Nogueira’s arm with a kimura.

Notable BJJ achievements:

  • Pan American Jiu-Jitsu Champion (2001)

8. Demian Maia

Demian Maia

BJJ rank: 5th-degree black belt
UFC submission wins: 6
Career submission wins: 14

The former UFC 170-pound title challenger, Demian Maia, is one of the best BJJ fighters to ever compete in MMA. On top of that, he is also one of the very few one-dimensional fighters to succeed in modern times. He never bothered too much about developing all-around skills by adding striking to his game. But on the other side, why would he? He is one of those fighters who need to grab just a single part of your body to get you in trouble.

Notable BJJ achievements:

  • ADCC World Champion (2007)
  • World Jiu-Jitsu Champion (2000 and 2006)
  • Brazilian National Champion (2001)

7. Ronaldo Souza

Ronaldo Souza

BJJ rank: 4th-degree black belt under Henrique Machado
UFC Submission wins: 4
Career submission wins: 14

Souza remains one of the best 185-pound fighters who never won the UFC gold. Back in his prime, he was very athletic, strong, well versed in all areas of the game, and a tough matchup for anyone. Still, he had a very good career in which he won the Strikeforce middleweight title and many memorable UFC fights. He used to be a very exciting fighter to watch, which his seven post-fight UFC bonuses clearly confirm.

Notable BJJ achievements:

  • Two-time ADCC World Champion (2005 and 2009)
  • Eight-time World Jiu-Jitsu champion (2001; 2001; 2002; 2003; 2003; 2004; 2005; 2005)

6. BJ Penn

BJ Penn

UFC rank: 5th-degree black belt under Andre Pederneiras
UFC submission wins: 4
Career submission wins: 6

It’s really hard to put into words how good BJ Penn was back in his prime. He was very skillful, fast, aggressive, intimidating, and exciting to watch. In his career, he managed to win titles in two separate weight classes and finish all of his title fights. Or in other words, he was a champ-champ before it was cool.

Notable BJJ achievements:

  • World Jiu-Jitsu champion (2000)

5. Antonio Minotauro Nogueira

Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira weighs in during the UFC 153 weigh in

BJJ rank: 5th-degree black belt under Ricardo De la Riva
UFC submission wins: 2
Career submission wins: 21

Don’t let his 2 submission wins in the UFC fool you, Nogueira is one of the best BJJ fighters to compete inside the cage/ring. During the glory days of PRIDE FC, he dominated the competition by submitting people left and right. He left PRIDE in 2006 with 10 submission wins on his record, and as a heavyweight champ. His arrival in the UFC was gigantic, but at the same time, he was already way out of his athletic prime.

Notable BJJ achievements:

  • Two time Pan American Champion (1999)
  • Two time Brazilian National Champ (1996 and 1998)

4. Kenny Florian

Kenny Florian

BJJ rank: 4th-degree black belt under Roberto Maia
UFC submission wins: 7
Career submission wins: 8

Florian is one of the most underrated fighters in UFC history, so much so that people tend to forget how good his grappling was. Back in the late 2000s, Florian was a huge name in the 155-pound division, and he even fought for the title but lost to BJ Penn at UFC 101. The other interesting fact about him is that all of his UFC submission wins were rear-naked chokes.

3. Murilo Bustamante

Murilo Bustamante vs Dave Menne

BJJ rank: 7th-degree black belt under Carlson Gracie
UFC submission wins: 2
Career submission wins: 5

Bustamante is the first-ever Brazilian UFC titleholder and the former middleweight champ. He actually never lost the UFC title as he left the company as a champion to sign with the PRIDE FC where he enjoyed solid success. He retired from the sport in 2012 with 5 submission wins on his record.

Notable BJJ achievements:

  • World Jiu-Jitsu champion (1999)
  • Brazil National Champion (1999)

2. Fabricio Werdum

Promotional shoot for MMA fighter Fabricio Werdum

BJJ rank:
2nd-degree black belt under Octavio “Ratinho” Couto
UFC submission wins: 
Career submission wins: 12

As a former UFC and Strikeforce heavyweight champ who has beat some of the legends of the sport, there is a strong argument that Werdum is among the best fighters of all time. Known for his elite BJJ skills, Werdum was very dangerous on the ground where he was moving like a fish in the water. He was fast, agile, flexible, and capable of setting up a submission in a blink of an eye.

Notable BJJ achievements:

  • Two-time ADCC World Champion (2007 and 2009)
  • Four-time World Jiu-Jitsu Champion (2000; 2000; 2003; 2004)
  • Four-time Pan American Jiu-Jitsu Champion (2000; 2001; 2001; 2002)

1. Royce Gracie

Royce Gracie demonstrating the omoplata.

BJJ rank: 7th-degree black belt under Rickson Gracie
UFC Submission wins: 11
Career submission wins: 11

Royce Gracie is the most important figure in UFC history when it comes to athletes. In his career, he won the UFC 1, 2, and 4 tournaments, and with that, he cemented BJJ as the most effective style of them all. Back in those wild days without the rules, Royce often fought and beat fighters twice as big as he was, and he changed the sport forever. Seeing such a physically small fighter dominating jacked monsters was nothing but spectacular.

Best BJJ fighters in the UFC (2022)

10. Islam Makhachev

Islam Makhachev

BJJ rank: none
UFC submission wins: 5
Career submission wins: 10

Makhachev is a highly skilled grappler who has a strong background in Sambo, which is a mix of wrestling, judo, and BJJ. He is often seen as an improved version of his best friend Khabib Nurmagomedov, but he is yet to prove that. What they both share in common is relentless grappling, strong top control, and vicious finishing instincts on the ground.

9. Paul Craig

 UFC Fight Night - Jan Blachowicz x Ronaldo Jacaré. : Mauricio Shogun x Paul Craig.

BJJ rank: black belt under Brian Gallagher
UFC submission wins: 6
Career submission wins: 13

Paul Craig is a UFC middleweight contender who has built his entire UFC success on utilizing high-level BJJ skills. Thus far, he has shown an amazing ability to deal with any threat on the feet and impose his will inside the octagon. He is very athletic, agile, and flexible for a man his size, and has a strong mind and big heart which he showed by submitting Magomed Ankalaev in the last second of the fight he was losing.

Notable BJJ achievements:

  • British Pro Champion (2015)

8. Alexey Oleynik

Alexey Oleynik

BJJ rank: black belt under Ricardo Liborio; 4th black belt in jujutsu
UFC submission wins: 7
Career submission wins: 47

Despite being deep in his 40s, Oleynik is still more than capable of taking the younger and more athletic fighters down to the ground and submitting them. What sets him above the rest and allows him to be competitive despite being way out of his prime is his insane level of experience.

7. Gilbert Burns

Gilbert Burns

BJJ rank: 3rd-degree black belt under Rafael Barros
UFC submission wins: 4
Career submission wins: 8

Gilbert Burns is a UFC veteran known for powerful boxing skills and slick BJJ game on the ground. He is one of those tricky fighters that have the ability to shut your lights out on the feet and catch into submission in a blink of an eye. You can’t play it safe with Burns, which is one of the reasons why he has been through so many wars inside the octagon.

Notable BJJ achievements:

  • World Jiu-Jitsu Champion (2011)
  • Two time World No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu champion (2010 and 2013)
  • World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Cup winner (2010)

6. Tony Ferguson

Tony Ferguson

BJJ rank: Black belt in 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu under Eddie Bravo
UFC Submission wins: 6
Career submission wins: 8

The former interim lightweight champ and TUF 13 winner is a fan favorite fighter who has left nothing but carnage in just about every fight he has stepped in to compete. Each of his fights includes high pace action, a lot of blood, and both striking and grappling exchanges. But unlike some other fighters on this list, Ferguson is very, very dangerous off his back and he doesn’t need a dominant position to set up a choke or joint lock. His guard game is very good, which he clearly showed when he submitted Kevin Lee.

5. Mackenzie Dern

Mackenzie Dern practicing bjj

BJJ rank: black belt under Wellington Dias
UFC submission wins: 4
Career submission wins: 7

Dern is one of the hottest prospects in the women’s strawweight division and a vicious finisher on the ground. Although she is yet to build her legacy, Dern has already shown that she belongs at the top. She has been into BJJ her entire life, and it is fair to say that she made her first footsteps on the mat. Her father, a decorated grappler himself, is her main BJJ coach and together they won the following:

Notable BJJ achievements:

  • World Jiu-Jitsu Champion (2016)
  • Pan Jiu-Jitsu Champion (2016)
  • Two time European champion (2016 and 2017)
  • World Cup Winner (2016)
  • Two time Asian Open Champion (2016)

4. Brian Ortega

Brian Ortega #UFC214

BJJ rank: 1st-degree black belt under Rener Gracie
UFC submission wins: 3
Career submission wins: 7

The former two-time UFC title challenger, Brian Ortega, started training in BJJ when he was 13 years old at the Gracie Academy. After four years, he would start cross training in kickboxing to prepare for MMA where he is known as a well-rounded fighter. However, it’s his top-level grappling base that brought him the most success inside the octagon. He is one of those fighters no one, regardless of how confident they are in their BJJ skills, wants to mess around with on the ground.

3. Nate Diaz

Nate Diaz fight with Conor McGregor

BJJ rank: 3rd-degree black belt under Cesar Gracie
UFC Submission wins: 9
Career submission wins: 11

Nate Diaz has been into BJJ ever since his older brother, Nick, brought him into the gym to keep him away from the streets. Although they also have top boxing skills, the Diaz brothers are primarily known as grapplers, notably Nate who is tied for most submission finishes in the lightweight division (7). Despite being one of the most famous people on the planet, Nate is still actively teaching BJJ classes.

2. Glover Teixeira

Glover Teixeira weight in

BJJ rank: 2nd-degree black belt under Luigi Mondelli
UFC submission wins: 7
Career submission wins: 10

The UFC light heavyweight champ does not need any introduction here. Apart from having superhuman power in both of his hands, Teixeira is known as one of the best finishers on the ground, which he proved on many occasions. In the early stages of his career, he would accept to brawl on the feet and often knock his opponents out. But as he got into his 40s, Teixeira started to avoid damage on the feet by wisely utilizing his elite ground game which, in the end, brought him the title.

1. Charles Oliveira

Charles Oliveira vs. Christos Giagos

BJJ rank: 3rd-degree black belt under Jorge Patino and Ericson Cardoso
UFC submission wins: 16
Career submission wins: 21

The UFC lightweight champion, Charles Oliveira holds a record for most UFC submission wins, 16 out of 21 wins in total. He is, by far, the most skilled BJJ fighter in modern MMA who, after developing a strong standup game, has become the scariest fighter on the roster. Whether it is a fight on the feet or on the ground, Oliveira is lethal which his 90% finishing rate is clearly showing.

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