To be an elite-level fighter in MMA, you need to have a wide range of skills. While there are many different martial arts that can be used, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is one of the most effective. This brutal art form has been responsible for countless submissions in the UFC.
With it being so effective, it does make you wonder who are the best Jiu-Jitsu fighters in UFC history? Well, that’s what we’re going to find out right here. We countdown 20 of the best and look at why they are so good. Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
- 20 Best Jiu-Jitsu in UFC History
- 20. Gilbert Burns
- 19. Antonio Nogueira
- 18. Tony Ferguson
- 17. Kron Gracie
- 16. Gunnar Nelson
- 15. Gabriel Gonzaga
- 14. Frank Mir
- 13. Fabricio Werdum
- 12. Brian Ortega
- 11. Rodolfo Vieira
- 10. Glover Teixeira
- 9. Nick Diaz
- 8. Nate Diaz
- 7. Mackenzie Dern
- 6. BJ Penn
- 5. Ronaldo Souza
- 4. Anderson Silva
- 3. Charles Oliviera
- 2. Demian Maia
- 1. Royce Gracie
- Best Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) Fighters in UFC of All Time – FAQs
20 Best Jiu-Jitsu in UFC History
20. Gilbert Burns
Division: Lightweight, Welterweight
Best Achievement: IBJJF World Champion (2011)
As with many Jiu-Jitsu fighters in this list, Gibert Burns is a world champion in BJJ having won the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation title in 2011. He was also the No-Gi champion in 2013 along with national championships too.
He hasn’t quite managed to take those talents and turn them into dominance in the UFC but he’s still had an excellent career, winning Performance of the Night four times. He’s not managed to win a UFC title yet, having lost in his 2021 title bout vs Kamaru Usman.
Burns has 22 wins in MMA with a few of them coming against other fighters in this list, with perhaps his most impressive victory being against Demian Maia. Burns was able to neutralize Maia’s own elite BJJ skills before eventually winning via TKO.
19. Antonio Nogueira
Record: 34-10-1 (1 NC)
Best Achievement: Interim UFC Heavyweight Champion (Once)
Antonio Nogueira is no doubt one of the best fighters in UFC history. His brilliance as a BJJ artist has been shown by 21 of his 32 victories coming via submission. It’s this dominance that led him to being inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame.
His best achievement in the UFC was becoming the Interim Heavyweight Champion but he also had the honor of being a full champion in Pride FC. Along with Kazushi Sakuraba, he holds the title for most submissions in the organization’s history with 11,
While an excellent grappler, Nogueira was also an excellent boxer, so he was by no means one-dimensional. But with his elite use of armbars and triangle chokes, if he took you down to the floor, there was a good chance that the fight would soon be over.
18. Tony Ferguson
Nickname: El Cucuy
Division: Lightweight, Welterweight
Best Achievement: Interim UFC Lightweight Champion (Once)
Tony Ferguson is one of the most memorable fighters to ever grace a UFC Octagon. His unique personality translated into a dedicated fan following and he was known to practice a wide variety of martial arts, including BJJ.
His record in UFC has been made worse in recent years with five consecutive losses but at his peak, he was a ferocious fighter. He knew how to win a fight by any method with 8 of his wins coming via submission but 12 of them with knockouts.
Despite his excellence, he was not able to win a Championship, coming closest by being an interim champion in 2017 when he beat Kevin Lee. His most memorable submissions have to be his three D’Arche chokes which showed he elite he was in the art of BJJ.
17. Kron Gracie
Nickname: Ice Cream Kron
Best Achievement: IBJJF European Champion (2009)
Kron Gracie is from the legendary Gracie family. Kron’s grandfather Hélio (along with three of his brothers) founded the martial art system and taught it to the generations that followed, including Kron’s father, Rickson.
If this was a list of the best BJJ MMA fighters then Rickson would no doubt be in the list as he had a perfect record of 11-0, with 9 of them coming via submission. However, unlike Kron, Rickson never competed in the UFC.
Kron received his BJJ black belt at just 19 and has used his skills with all 5 of his wins coming via submission. Sadly he hasn’t fought as much in MMA as many would have hoped but he was still able to show just how effective BJJ can be in the octagon. No doubt we’ll see even more Gracie’s in the octagon in the future.
16. Gunnar Nelson
Best Achievement: NAGA Middleweight Champion (Once)
Another black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Gunnar Nelson has used those skills to have an excellent submission in MMA. To date, he’s had 19 wins in the sport with 13 of them coming via submission and just four of them by KO.
As it stands he has the seventh most submissions in UFC as 8 of those 13 submissions finished have come in the organization. He’s yet to have a title fight but his performances have earned him the Performance of the #Night bonus five times.
What’s impressive about Nelson is the variety of his BJJ finishes which have included the rear-naked and guillotine chokes along with armbar and neck crank finishes. His ability to finish a fight in many ways has made him such a dangerous opponent.
15. Gabriel Gonzaga
Best Achievement: 2006 CBJJO World Cup Super Heavyweight Champion
Gabriel Gonzaga never had the most impressive record in UFC history but his skills helped to give the sport of MMA authority along with many other fighters in the early noughties. He won 17 bouts, with 7 of them coming by submission.
His most impressive victory came via a stunning head kick vs Mirko Cro Cop but this disguises how effective he was when the fight went to the floor. The BJJ black belt had many great achievements in BJJ with four gold medals in various championships.
In MMA he loved to grapple in the top position and was able to use his size and physicality to dominate many of his opponents. Sadly he was never able to win a belt, with the closest he came being a championship loss vs Randy Couture.
14. Frank Mir
Best Achievement: UFC Heavyweight Champion (Once)
There are a few fighters who are probably underappreciated for how good they were at BJJ and Frank Mir is probably one of them. Having, competed at BJJ tournaments, he successfully transferred those skills to MMA.
A great all-around competitor who was still fighting up until 2019, Mir was one of a few men who won the UFC Heavyweight Championship. He did so in 2004 vs Tim Sylvia but had to give up the belt due to being injured in a motorcycle accident. He won that title with a technically brilliant armbar submission.
He had a few title fights following that but was never able to reclaim his belt. Over the latter part of his career he started to win more fights via knockout but 9 of his 19 wins were by submission. His most devastating win was against Antônio Nogueira where he won with a kimura, breaking Nogueira’s arm.
13. Fabricio Werdum
Nickname: Vai Cavalo
Record: 24-9-1 (1 NC)
Best Achievement: UFC Heavyweight Champion (Once)
As with Mir, Fabricio Werdum is another one-time winner of the UFC Heavyweight Championship. Werdum’s win came in 2015 when he beat Cain Velasquez via guillotine choke but would later lose his title to Stipe Miocic.
While his MMA career was impressive, Werdum also had huge success in various BJJ tournaments. Overall he won 10 gold medals, which included being a four-time world champion. His talent in the martial art was clear to anyone that watched him.
The blackbelt won 24 bouts in his career, with 12 of them by submission. One of his most infamous uses of the art form was when he beat Fedor Emelianenko via a triangle armbar, who had not lost in 10 years. His ability to be a submission expert in a division dominated by knockouts was hugely impressive.
12. Brian Ortega
Division: Featherweight, Lightweight
Record: 15-3 (1 NC)
Best Achievement: Fight of the Night (Five times)
Until recently, Brian Ortega looked like he was going to be one of the most dominant forces in UFC as he had a 14-0 record. That has since slipped, partly due to some unfortunate stoppages but there is no doubting his BJJ qualities.
Out of his 15 wins so far, 7 of them are submission victories and that’s no surprise given that he has trained with the Gracie fighting academy. This has led him to being a black belt and we’ve continuously seen these skills in the octagon.
Specifically, Ortega has shown himself to be a master of the choke finish. He’s beaten many great opponents which led him to a title challenge against Max Holloway. He lost that, and also fell short again vs Alexander Volkanovski. However, you wouldn’t be surprised if he is able to claim a championship belt further down the line.
11. Rodolfo Vieira
Nickname: The Black Belt Hunter
Best Achievement: 4 x IBJJF World Champion
Many of the fighters in this list have a great all-around skill set but Viera is simply a BJJ master. He tries to take down his opponents as quickly as possible and when he does, a submission win usually follows.
Along with his technical expertise, he has great stamina that allows him to commit to his moves without ever getting tired. He has 9 wins so far in his short career but an incredible 8 of those have been by submission.
The four-time world BJJ champion hasn’t had a world title shot yet but that would well change in the near future. Along with those submission wins, he’s also won Performance of the Night in two of his last three fights which shows he’s a great entertainer too.
10. Glover Teixeira
Division: Light Heavyweight
Best Achievement: UFC Light Heavyweight Champion (Once)
Glover Teixeira is just one of 12 Brazilian fighters on this list, which is no surprise given that martial art was founded in the country. Teixeira is another man who doesn’t get a lot of credit for his BJJ skills, mainly because he was also brilliant at knocking people out.
Out of his 33 wins, 19 have come by knockout but his 10 submission wins are still impressive. His biggest achievement was winning the Light Heavyweight title, which he did in 2021 after a rear-naked choke win over Jan Błachowicz.
It was a memorable win after many years of trying to get his hands on a belt. He was 42 at the time which made him the oldest first-time champion in UFC history and the second-oldest champion of all time. It was an incredible achievement from a legend of the sport.
9. Nick Diaz
Division: Lightweight, Welterweight, Middleweight
Record: 26-10 (2 NC)
Best Achievement: Strikeforce Welterweight Championship
Nick Diaz is another fighter who has been taught by the Gracie family, specifically at the Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu gym in California. He used those teachings to great effect in his career as he won the Strikeforce Welterweight Championship.
He wasn’t able to win a world title in the UFC but still had a very successful career with the organization. He has an impressive 38 fights, winning 26 of them and 8 via submission. Along with those achievements he was a Purple Belt Gold Medalist at the 2004 US Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Open.
Diaz eventually became a 3rd-degree jiu-jitsu black belt and is accomplished in both gi and no-gi jiu-jitsu. Along with his great striking ability, he was notoriously difficult to face in the octagon and loved using kimuras and armbars.
8. Nate Diaz
Division: Lightweight, Welterweight
Best Achievement: The Ultimate Fighter 5 winner
While Nick was a brilliant exponent of BJJ, as was his brother, Nate. As well as being an elite striker and one of the best boxers in the UFC, Nate was able to use his BJJ skills to win 12 of his 21 wins by submission. One of those victories was a memorable performance vs Conor McGregor.
He was never quite able to win a UFC Championship belt but he did win one of the UFC’s early tournaments, The Ultimate Fighter 5. His last fight in the UFC was a brilliant victory against another man on this list, Tony Ferguson via a guillotine choke.
He and his brother have opened their own Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu school in California, called the Nick Diaz Academy. It showcases how good they were in the art form and one of the few non-Brazilians who were able to perform it in the UFC at an elite level.
7. Mackenzie Dern
Best Achievement: 3 x Performance of the Night
Mackenzie Dern is the best exponent of BJJ in the history of women’s UFC and the only female in this list. While born in America, she has a Brazilian father and stepmother, and has spent much of her life in the country.
She started practicing BJJ at the age of three and became a black belt. She had an impressive record in BJJ competitions and has translated that into MMA. Her incredible ability led her to winning a mind-blowing 20 gold medals across various Jiu-Jitsu competitions.
It’s no surprise that she’s won 7 of her 13 wins via submission, with the over 6 all coming by decision. She’s able to dominate her opponents on the floor and has never been on the receiving end of a submission loss. She’s not had a title shot yet, but hopefully that’ll change in the future.
6. BJ Penn
Nickname: The Prodigy
Division: Featherweight, Lightweight, Welterweight, Middleweight, Openweight
Best Achievement: UFC Lightweight Champion (Once)
BJ Penn is the last American on our list as it’s all Brazilians after this. He deserves to be this high up, especially when you consider that he was the first non-Brazilian to win the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship at black belt level.
While he has no Brazilian roots, it’s no surprise that there was some Gracie family tutoring along the way, as he was taught at the Ralph Gracie BJJ academy. It led him to be one of the most dominant grapplers in UFC history and earned him a spot in the UFC Hall of Fame.
While his record doesn’t look great, it’s made to look worse as he carried on a little too long, one time boasting a record of 15-5-1. The 5th-degree black belt won 6 of his fights via submission, with many of his other wins coming off dominant performances on the floor.
5. Ronaldo Souza
Division: Light Heavyweight, Middleweight
Record: 26-10 (1 NC)
Best Achievement: 8 x BJJ Gold Medalist
It’s all Brazilians from here, starting with the brilliant Ronaldo Souza. The 4th-degree black belt was a submission artist, winning 14 of his 26 victories via the method. His 8 KO’s also show that he had great power to go along with his BJJ skill.
While he’s never won a UFC Championship himself, he has beat three former UFC champions in Robbie Lawler, Chris Weidman, and Vitor Belfort. While he didn’t get a belt in the UFC, he did win the Strikeforce Middleweight Championship.
In BJJ tournaments he was highly successful, winning 8 gold medals in total. He was an incredibly dangerous grappler and was one of many fighters who showed how effective BJJ can be in the octagon.
4. Anderson Silva
Nickname: The Spider
Division: Middleweight, Light Heavyweight
Record: 34-11 (1 NC)
Best Achievement: UFC Middleweight Champion (Once)
It’s fair to say that Anderson Silva had all the tools, including elite-level BJJ skills. His best achievement of being a Middleweight Champion doesn’t tell the whole story as he defended the belt an incredible 10 times over the course of 2,457 days.
Many see him as the greatest UFC fighter ever and that was helped by him being a 3rd-degree BJJ black belt. Amazingly he was mostly a stand-up fighter but he used his Jiu-Jitsu skills to protect against takedowns and win fights when they did go to the floor.
It’s due to this that his ground game is underrated but he’s had plenty of notable wins, including submitting fellow BJJ black belt Travis Lutter. Anderson showed a wide range of elite skills in the octagon, including using his brilliant Jiu-Jitsu technique when he needed to.
3. Charles Oliviera
Nickname: do Bronx
Division: Featherweight, Lightweight, Welterweight
Record: 34-9 (1 NC)
Best Achievement: UFC Lightweight Championship (Once)
Charles Oliviera is a true submission artist. The 3rd-degree black belt has won an incredible 21 fights via submission. 16 of those 21 submissions were in the UFC, which is the most ever in the history of the organization.
What’s more incredible about Oliviera is that 10 of his wins have come via knockout, which means that only 3 of his 34 wins have been via decision. It’s this incredible entertainment that has seen him win the most post-fight bonuses in UFC history at 19.
He used his incredible talents to win the Lightweight Championship in 2021 when he beat Michael Chandler. What makes him so difficult to face, and such a great BJJ exponent, is the variety of his finishes as he’s won by rear-naked choke, inverted triangle armbar, reverse calf slicer, triangle choke, guillotine choke, anaconda choke, and a kneebar.
2. Demian Maia
Division: Middleweight, Welterweight
Best Achievement: 5 x BJJ Gold Medalist
It takes a lot for anyone to be better than Charles Oliviera, but we think Demian Maia just about manages it. He was an incredible grappler and won many of his fights against elite-level opponents using his BJJ skill.
The 4th-degree black belt was never quite able to win the UFC Championship, having fought for it twice. However, he had an excellent career in the UFC and before that he was a five-time BJJ gold medalist across various competitions.
He’d always look for any way to take the fight to the ground and if he wasn’t able to win by submission, he’d grind his opponents down to win by decision. An excellent exponent of the back position, he choked many opponents out, winning Submission of the Night four times. These talents put him as our second best BJJ fighter in UFC.
1. Royce Gracie
Division: Welterweight, Middleweight, Light heavyweight
Best Achievement: 3 x UFC Tournament Winner
The best Jiu-Jitsu fighter has to be Royce Gracie. We’ve mentioned the Gracie family many times already but it was Royce who took those BJJ talents and showed the world how effective they can be in MMA.
Along the way, he also helped to develop the popularity of the UFC and along with Ken Shamrock, was the first-ever inductee into its Hall of Fame. He competed back before the UFC had standardized rules, weight classes, or clothing, often beating bigger men in his traditional Jiu-Jitsu Gi.
There are many reasons that he’s such a legend, with one of them being that he had the longest light in UFC history against the aforementioned Ken Shamrock, which lasted for 36 minutes. He won 11 of his 15 fights via submission, with a variety of finishes from smother and rear-naked chokes to armbars.
He’ll forever remain a key figure in the history of BJJ and MMA. He gave respect to the ground game and showed that mixed martial arts were about a lot more than blood and gore.
Best Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) Fighters in UFC of All Time – FAQs
How many UFC fighters were Jiu-Jitsu?
There have been countless fighters who have used BJJ in UFC. It’s very common as it’s a highly effective way of dominating your opponent on the ground. While many have used BJJ, the best Jiu-Jitsu in MMA has to be Royce Gracie.
Is Jiu-Jitsu good for UFC 4?
Yes, Jiu-Jitsu moves can be highly effective in UFC 4 and should allow you to win plenty of fights. If you wanted to control an elite-level BJJ fighter then it would be a great idea to use the likes of Demian Maia or Brian Ortega.
What BJJ belt is Conor McGregor?
Conor McGregor has never been known for his ground game but he is still well-practiced in the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under his coach John Kavanagh. This allowed him to get to the level of brown belt, however, he’s only ever won 1 of his 28 fights via submission.
Where did Nate Diaz learn BJJ?
Unsurprisingly, the answer is that he learned it from Gracie. More specifically, it was from Cesar Gracie in his California gym. Carlos is the grandchild of one of the four founders of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Carlos Gracie Sr.
What belt is Khabib in BJJ?
Despite being one of the best grapplers in UFC history, Khabib is only a white belt in BJJ. The reason is that his elite skills come from other martial arts, mainly being a black belt in judo along with a master of Sambo.