Being a BJJ black belt is a monumental achievement in itself but being able to do so in under three years is truly remarkable and to date, only five men have managed to meet that requirement to be come the fastest black belts in history. As time has gone on, it became easier to achieve this feat at a faster rate thanks to gyms being open more often and more competitions being staged for athletes to develop and prove themselves. Since the explosion of popularity that BJJ experienced in the 90s however, the IBJJF time restrictions now stand in the way of many coaches promoting their students as fast as they may want to.
Of course, if you have no intention of competing in IBJJF competition then there is nothing stopping you really, and the following five men were promoted to black belt in three years or less either with the IBJJF’s permission or without worrying about what they’d think:
Terra will go down in history as one of the greatest competitors in BJJ history and it’s rather fitting that he’s also one of the fastest black belts. Terra started training Jiu-Jitsu in 2003 at the age of 17 and quickly started to dominate competition in the Brazilian scene, moving up the belt ranks as he continued to succeed. In 2006 he was promoted to black belt by Reyson Gracie and Paulo Strauch in the very same year that the IBJJF instituted their minimum time requirements. As a result he was banned from competing from in the 2007 Brazilian Nationals but after much deliberation, he was given the only exemption in IBJJF history to allow him to compete in the world championships that year. Although he didn’t medal in 2007, the following year was the start of his incredible reign over lighter weightclasses that saw him win twelve IBJJF world championships and six silver medals.
Penn is a UFC Hall of Famer was actually known throughout his MMA career as ‘the prodigy’ for his status as the one of the fastest BJJ black belts in history. He started training in 1997 under Ralph Gracie and eventually earned his purple belt under him before moving over to Nova Uniao. It was there under Andre Pederneiras that he received his black belt in 2000 before attending the IBJJF world championships in that same year and becoming the first non-Brazilian to win a gold medal at the event.
Martinez is one of the most popular competitors to ever step on the mats representing Eddie Bravo’s 10th Planet team, and for good reason. He’s an exciting competitor with a background in breakdancing that has meant that his movement was on a whole different level to your average white belt when he first started. That and a dedication towards development and training is what led to Eddie Bravo awarding Martinez with his black belt in 2014, just three years after he first stepped on the mats.
Burnell is another MMA fighter and he even had a short stint in the UFC before being released by the promotion and moving to Cage Warriors, and eventually Bellator. At the age of 18 in 2012, Burnell decided to undertake an intense Jiu-Jitsu training regime under the legendary Chris Haueter prior to starting his MMA career. After three years training under Haueter and several submission wins, Burnell was promoted to black belt and remains the only European to make the list of the fastest BJJ black belts.
Out of all of the athletes who have received their BJJ black belts in the fastest time, Stevens stands out as the one who has done so even quicker than the rest. He was promoted to black belt by John Danaher after just 18 months of training Jiu-Jitsu, but obviously his background as an Olympic silver medalist in Judo helped quite a bit. Stevens has never competed in Jiu-Jitsu but is well known as an incredibly tough roll and was promoted to blue belt after just a matter of weeks. He was a blue belt for around a month and a purple belt for a few months before spending an entire year as brown belt, when Danaher gave him his final belt promotion.
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