Rickson Gracie remains one of the most popular and easily recognizable figures in BJJ history, but many people may not be aware that he actually competed in Sambo tournaments at several times throughout his competitive career. This was back in the 80s and 90s when BJJ competition was nowhere near as frequent as it is today, where the most athletes could find a dozen or more tournaments within driving distance every year and there are several promotions putting on superfight or grand prix events every month.
Further back into history, the earliest members of the Gracie family didn’t actually need organized tournaments because they had managed to cultivate an entire competitive outlet for themselves. They hosted visiting competitors in ‘Gracie Challenge’ matches where elite grapplers would challenge members of the family in public fights with limited rules. By the time that the 80s came around, other martial arts had begun to formalise rulesets and had more competitive outlets for their own students so there was much less appetite for the limited rules grudge matches against the Gracies.
As a result, members of the Gracie family and any of their students were in a difficult position at the time. They were fantastic grapplers who knew that they were capable of defeating plenty of others, but had very few avenues to prove this. That’s when Rickson Gracie and several of his family members decided to branch out and compete in other grappling arts, like Sambo or Freestyle wrestling. As time moved on, the Gracies would create both the UFC in order to give themselves an opportunity to compete in fights reminiscent of their forefather’s Gracie Challenges, and the IBJJF in order to give Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu it’s own competitive arena.
The footage of Rickson Gracie competing in a Sambo tournament was uploaded to the official YouTube channel of Jiu Jitsu World:
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