The opportunity to make a living as a professional BJJ athlete has improved significantly in recent years. More promotions and more sponsorship means that it is no longer necessary for grapplers to pursue an MMA career in order to make a decent living.
However the lure of the bigger paydays combined with the chance to test their skills means that many grapplers still choose to try their hand at MMA. Here are some of the top grappling prospects that we could potentially see in the UFC in the next couple of years.
Rodolfo Vieira is one of the most decorated BJJ competitors in the world. The powerful 28 year old black belt is a four time BJJ world champion and has won a number of BJJ world cups and an ADCC title.
In 2016 he chose to pursue an MMA career and began training at American top team in Florida. Since then he has gone 4-0 and is currently signed with the ACB promotion.
He has an excellent all round BJJ game and is also a strong wrestler which has already served him well in his young MMA career.
His striking has significantly improved since his first two outings and will surely continue to get better through his training at ATT. If he continues on this current trajectory, it will not be long until we see him in the UFC middleweight division.
Rafael Lovato Jr.
Rafael Lovato Jr. is one of only four Americans to win a world BJJ championship and was the first American to win a national Brazilian BJJ title. A lifelong martial artist, it was through his fathers Jeet Kune Do background that Lovato Jr discovered BJJ.
Despite his advanced age, the 36 year old grappler has looked superb in all of his MMA bouts to date. He is currently 6-0 and in his recent bout at Bellator 198, he impressively dispatched UFC veteran Gerald Harris with an armbar finish in the first round. That victory has put him in the discussion for a shot at the middleweight title in what is arguably Bellators most stacked division.
Garry Tonon is one of the most prominent members of the John Danaher Death Squad who train out of the famous blue basement at the Renzo Gracie academy in NYC. Tonon is primarily a nogi grappler that specializes in leg locks and has won numerous high profile superfights and tournaments such as the Eddie Bravo invitational.
He is currently signed with One Championship and has made quick work of his first 2 opponents. Impressively in his last match, he used the opportunity to test out his striking game by choosing to keep the match on the feet. In that match he showcased an impressive array of kicks and boxing before expertly finishing his opponent with a RNC. At just 26 years old he is perfectly placed to become an elite MMA fighter.
Bruno Malfacine is a nine-time jiu-jitsu world champion that also trains out of ATT in Florida. He is one of the most decorated BJJ competitors of all time and now seems to be looking for a new challenge in MMA.
What is most impressive about Bruno is that he does not seem to have interrupted his BJJ career while pursuing MMA, as he once again claimed a world title at the 2018 world championships despite having two MMA fights in the same year.
He has looked very imressive in his two bouts to date, winning both by armbar in the first round. If he can string a few more wins together he should be picked up by the UFC who may be keen to bolster the thinner flyweight division.
Dillon Danis is 26 year grappler that received his black belt from the legendary Marcelo Garcia.
He is already known to many MMA fans through his association with Conor McGregor. In 2016 he became the main grappling partner for McGregor while the Irishman prepared for Nate Diaz at UFC 202 and has since began training himself as SBG Ireland.
The 25 year old has already had two fights at Bellator winning both by submission in R1.
Danis is an extremely well rounded grappler and has a good mix of wrestling and submission skills which should serve him well in MMA. In his last match we saw him pulling half guard which then allowed him to set up his leg attacks. This is the same strategy we have seen Ryan Hall and Demian Maia use previously in the UFC.
His relationship with McGregor combined with his social media activity has made him one of the most sought after opponents in Bellator.