Fighters.com fourth-ranked light heavyweight “Sugar” Rashad Evans (14-1-1) received his black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu from Rolles Gracie (2-0) Saturday before UFC 108. The awarding of black belts today in mixed martial arts (MMA) is becoming homogenized as many fighters seem to be able to get them as easy as a Big Mac. It is a disgrace to the fighting style of Jiu Jitsu, the black belt lineage and to Helio Gracie himself.
Having trained in jiu jitsu myself I am well aware of the hard work and dedication it takes to make your way up to the different belts. Reaching the status of black belt is one that, in the past, had been reserved for those that truly dedicated themselves to the style and that embodied all that jiu jitsu stood for as a fighting style. The belt system in jiu jitsu, for those that are not familiar with the style, starts at white belt. The lineage is as follows: white, blue, purple, brown and black. Most people who study jiu jitsu work at least 8 years to get to the level of black belt. Rashad started training in MMA in 2004 with Dan Severn before he made it to The Ultimate Fighter 2 on Spike TV in 2005. During his time on the show Rashad showed off his wrestling and not much else. His lack of a top game and lack of stand up was eveident on the show. We can infer from this that he had not trained in much jiu jitsu, if any at all at this point. Now he receives his black belt in just over 4 years which would lead some to believe that his jiu jitsu is on par with Fighters.com and UFC Lightweight Champion “Prodigy” BJ Penn (15-5-1) who received his black belt in three years.
Rashad has shown none of the attributes of a true black belt in jiu jitsu. The sheer amount of technical knowledge a brown belt has to have in order to become a black belt is vast. I have never seen Evans, or some of the other fighters that are supposed black belts, actually show us a glimpse of this technical ability. The ability to pass guard and set up submissions is something we have never seen from Rashad. He has two submissions on his record and those are his first two pro fights, one of which was a submission due to strikes and then other is only listed as a submission. After that he has never even come close to pulling off a submission, or even looking for one from what I can remember.
This brings up the topic of training in a gi. A gi is the required uniform in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ). The only way to get a BJJ black belt it to train in the gi. I know there are videos circulating on the internet with Rashad training in a gi. Does this make him a black belt? I do not think it does. BJJ black belts also need to compete. It is part of the process of learning and demonstrating the knowledge you are supposed to have obtained. This does not mean competing in MMA but rather in gi and no gi tournaments. I know Rashad rolls with many high level BJJ guys but this alone does not make him a black belt. If Rolles was a Lute Livre instructor than I could understand the promotion he just received. Is there another reason for belt promotions we are seeing today?
I will not go into the list of fighters that are supposed to be BJJ black belts but have shown everything but high level jiu jitsu. Instead let’s look why we could possibly see a Gracie or someone of equal value give a black belt to someone who does not compete in tournaments and has shown little in the way of true BJJ skill. Rolles Gracie has recently been training in MMA under Renzo Gracie in Holmdel, NJ and Greg Jackson in Albuquerque, NM. Notice I said Greg Jackson. The same place that Rashad trains. There is now a tie between the two fighters. This is something we have seen numerous times. Fighters get into a camp where there is a true black belt and we see them issued these belts. Could it be that Rashad has helped Rolles out with his wrestling or striking and in order to pay him back Rolles felt it would be nice to award him with a black belt? It is something to consider as many camps have issued black belts under similar circumstances while guys like Nate Diaz (10-5) just recently was awarded his black belt despite showing far superior ground skills than someone like Rashad.
How about the days of Pride when fighters from Chute Boxe were being rewarded with black belts despite avoiding the ground and once there looking very average? I believe we are seeing the true BJJ black belt become watered down. I feel the style of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu should remain pure as should the lineage of black belts. In all fairness, maybe someone should start issuing black belts in MMA so we would see fewer guys feeling the need to bestow a once proud and labor intensive achievement on men who simply do not have the skill required.
Many will say I am not a black belt so how can I sit here and question the word of a black belt, specifically a Gracie. I say it is my job and duty as a fan and practitioner of the sport to hold it to the highest standards and if that means questioning a Gracie than so be it. I refuse to sit back and say nothing while the country becomes littered with McDojos and McBlackbelts. Helio Gracie would have wanted someone to speak up for his fighting style.
As always if you feel the need to yell at me or pat me on the back you can do so live on MMA Gospel Radio which airs Wednesdays from 8-10 PM EST at www.blogtalkradio.com/mmagospel You can join us in the Cageside Chatroom or call into the show by dialing 347-857-1337. Hope to see you there.