Roger Gracie and Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza are two of the best BJJ competitors to ever set foot on the mats and the pair engaged in an epic rivalry across four matches. Roger Gracie needs no introduction really, as he’s one of the most popular figures in Jiu-Jitsu and he stood out even among the Gracie family as a generational talent and an incredible grappler. He even embarked upon an MMA career at one point and retired with a respectable 8-2 professional record that included a ONE Championship title. Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza was an incredible BJJ competitor in his own right and left the sport a little earlier than Roger to pursue MMA, where he ended up retiring with a 26-10 (1) professional record that included a memorable UFC run and a StrikeForce title.
The Roger Gracie v Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza Rivalry
While Roger Gracie and Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza are household names in the BJJ and MMA world today, this was most definitely not the case before their first match. Roger had Jiu-Jitsu in his blood as a member of the Gracie family and he began training at an incredibly young age, while Jacare only found Judo and BJJ when he was already 17 years old. Roger found fame when he earned a bronze medal at 99kg at ADCC 2003 despite being just a brown belt at the time, while Jacare won a silver medal at 88kg at the same event along with both his weight and absolute division at the IBJJF world championship as a brown belt. Both men were promoted shortly after these achievements and they were regarded as top prospects with bright futures in the sport.
IBJJF World Championship Absolute Division Final 2004
The 2004 edition was the first IBJJF world championship that either man competed in as a black belt and they had both put in fantastic performances over the course of it. Roger had dominated his competition in the under 100kg division while Jacare had to settle for a silver medal at 88kg as Braulio Estima took gold. They each tore through the absolute division and set the stage for an exciting match between two top prospects who had already started to establish their legacies.
There was a short feeling-out process before Roger pulled closed guard and started working on the cross-collar choke that he became known for. Jacare had some trouble initially but eventually managed to stand and pass, although Roger turtled to prevent points being scored. It took quite a while for him to do so, but Jacare managed to break Roger down and take his back to score the first points of the match. With Jacare leading 4-0, he switched to a body-triangle and started to work for the finish. Roger Gracie managed to slip out of back control and hooked a leg on his way out, pulling Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza into outside ashi garami while he stood up.
Roger was attempting to off-balance his opponent but Jacare stood firm and eventually he managed to switch his leg to the other side and stand tall with Roger in 50/50. Roger managed to sit his opponent down and started to come up for the sweep, but Jacare stood up with him and Roger pulled closed guard again. Roger transitioned to a beautiful armbar and that’s when the most famous moment of the match happened. He hipped into it to finish and although he broke his opponent’s arm, Jacare refused to tap. He miraculously escaped to standing but Roger chased after him to hit a quick takedown and score his first 2 points of the match.
The pair had to be reset after going off the mats and Jacare’s left arm appeared completely useless. Roger was aggressive in hunting for the takedown now as he knew that his opponent would struggle to defend it, but Jacare kept disengaging and keeping him at a distance. They repeatedly went out of bounds as Jacare was sticking to the edges of the mat in order to circle his opponent, and Roger was having a hard time chasing him down. Roger pulled guard again and tried to work from reverse De La Riva briefly but Jacare broke free again, causing frustration and complaints from Roger due to his refusal to engage with him. The time wound down and Roger couldn’t get him down, with Jacare winning the match 4-2.
IBJJF European Championship Absolute Division Final 2005
The next time that Roger Gracie and Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza met was at the IBJJF European Championship in 2005. By this time it was clear that they were both truly special competitors and nobody was surprised when they both won gold in their respective weightclasses. They entered the absolute division and once again, found themselves meeting in the final. This match started the same way as their first, with Roger pulling closed guard after spending a minute or so on the feet. Roger came close to a sweep soon after but Jacare countered by wrestling up on a single-leg, forcing Roger to stand up and disengage.
They spent a while on the feet this time, with Jacare switching from Judo throws to shooting in on Roger’s legs without any success. Roger eventually pulled closed guard once again, although Jacare managed to get a knee through to start working for a pass. That eventually worked against him as it gave Roger the opportunity to hit a clean sweep and come up on top to score the first 2 points of the match. Jacare turtled as Roger started to pass and immediately stood up to shake him off, with Roger sliding off his back and landing stood up in front of him as they went out of bounds.
They were reset from standing and after a little time battling for grips, Jacare went for a big throw that exposed his back. Roger jumped at the chance to take his back but slid off and landed on his back, with Jacare immediately looking to pass at an insane pace. He came within inches of doing so when Roger turtled to prevent points being scored and the match ended just a few seconds later. Roger got his revenge and won the match 2-0 on points to take home double gold at the IBJJF European Championship, bringing the personal score between them level.
ADCC World Championship Absolute Division Final 2005
Both of the previous matches between Roger Gracie and Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza were contested in the gi and under IBJJF rules, but this time they would meet at the ADCC world championship later in 2005. Both men were returning medallists from the previous edition of the world’s most prestigious no gi tournament and they were both among the favourites to win gold in their respective divisions. Roger stormed to victory at under 99kg by submitting all four of his opponents, while Jacare submitted three out of his four opponents at 88kg to take home a gold medal from there.
Then the absolute division started and Roger flew through one half of the bracket by submitting three more opponents. Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza won his opening match on points and submitted his next two opponents to book the trilogy match between him and Roger Gracie. Each man had defeated 7 elite grapplers over one weekend leading into the match and everyone in attendance was dying to see the match between them. The pair started out slow by handfighting and engaging with one another in the clinch for the first few minutes.
All of a sudden the match hit a high pace when Roger snapped Jacare into a guillotine and jumped to closed guard to try and finish it. Jacare freed his head and started working to pass, with Roger briefly attempting to set up Williams guard. Roger was using overhooks to control Jacare’s posture and stop him from standing up and breaking his closed guard, before the pair returned to standing. Roger was trying to use the same guillotine set-up but he Jacare was wary to it this time and he refused to be caught again. Jacare secured the bodylock and used a trip to slip around to Roger’s back, lifting him into the air and slamming him down into turtle.
Jacare still had the bodylock and tried to turn Roger over but Roger used that momentum to return to a standing position. There was more battling in the clinch in what was turning out to be a gruelling match, before Jacare shot in and brought Roger down. He was only there for a second though as he immediately bounced back up to standing. Roger shot in this time but his takedown was stuffed easily, forcing him to return to the clinch. Jacare got double-unders but Roger countered with a beautiful throw that almost took Jacare down, although he managed to turn to his knees and stand back up.
Roger Gracie held on to a guillotine grip as he did but Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza escaped once again. Another shot by Roger was stuffed but he chained it with a hip-throw and quickly transitioned to Jacare’s back as he stayed standing. Roger dragged him down to the mat and managed to secure a body-triangle, but Jacare stood up with him on his back. Roger started working much quicker and he managed to slip his hand underneath Jacare’s chin to secure the rear-naked choke, forcing him to tap and moving to 2-1 against him. This win also completed the legendary run of 8 straight submissions that helped earn him a place in the ADCC Hall of Fame.
IBJJF World Championship Absolute Division Final 2005
Roger Gracie had taken the lead in his rivalry with Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza for the first time and he had registered the first submission win between them too. Both men looked absolutely unstoppable leading up to this match, with Roger submitting all but one of his opponents to win the 100kg division and get to the absolute final. Jacare meanwhile was equally impressive at 88kg where he got revenge on Braulio Estima to win gold, before he beat him once again in the absolute division to earn his place in the final.
The pair started off slowly by battling for grips standing for quite a while, with neither one being willing to take any big risks. After a few minutes of this, Roger pulled guard but Jacare reacted quickly to prevent him from closing his legs around him and forcing him to work from open guard instead. Roger was using collar and sleeve guard to try to set something up but Jacare blitzed through it and got within inches of securing a pass. Roger managed to recover back to seated guard and attempted a quick collar-drag, but Jacare bounced back to his feet too quickly.
Roger followed him up to standing and tried to secure the front-headlock, but Jacare fought his way free and they resumed their fight for grips on the feet. Jacare was moving around on the outside too quickly and Roger was clearly getting frustrated by his opponent’s tactics. Roger managed to get decent grips and was using them to lean heavily on Jacare, attempting to tire him out. Jacare was picking up the pace as the match entered the final few minutes and tried to hit a quick footsweep, but Roger adjusted and stayed standing.
Jacare tried another quick footsweep and shot in for a double-leg when it failed, but Roger sprawled hard and Jacare fought his way back to standing again. Jacare pressured his opponent towards the edge of the mat and went for a brilliant throw that almost sent Roger flying, before adjusting and continuing to fight for the takedown as they went out of bounds. Jacare secured it and brought the score to 2-0 before they were reset standing in the centre. There was just a few seconds left and Jacare pulled closed guard, holding on to Roger to wind down the clock and win the fourth match between them.
The Roger Gracie v Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza Rivalry Ends 2-2
That was the last time that they ever crossed paths on the competition mats and the rivalry between them lasted just a few days over one year. It was an epic battle that took centre-stage in the sport for that time, but there never was a clear winner. Despite the fact that they never met in competition again, they both remained at the top of the sport for quite some time after. Both men won virtually everything there was to win in the world of BJJ, taking home multiple ADCC and IBJJF world championships throughout their illustrious careers.
Roger Gracie is almost universally considered to be the greatest BJJ competitor of all time and Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza pushed him to his absolute limit every time that they met. He ended up being one of only four people to ever defeat Roger in competition and the matches that they split with each other are all remembered fondly by fans of the sport.