The Irrelevance Of BJJ Belts In MMA


UFC Fighter, Anthony Pettis

Photo Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports


After the Anthony Pettis (pictured) armbar victory (Which you can read about in my Grapplescope column right over here) this article from Middleeasy.com popped up on my Facebook feed, where Zeus, the author, stated;

“It’s pretty ironic that Ben Henderson was just awarded his black belt, came out to UFC 164 rocking a gi — and he was submitted by a guy that has the same belt as myself. My god this BJJ nonsense. It’s just another way to take your money, folks. Seriously.”

Some people might read it and think, “Wow, this guy has a point! If a blue belt can submit a blackbelt then what are the belts even for? What a ripoff!” Those people should definitely read on for a better explanation.

The belt rankings in BJJ mean exactly one thing, they mean that your instructor feels that you are performing to a particular skill level in Gi Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu. That’s it. They have no bearing on MMA performance or ability, and may match up only vaguely with skill outside of the Gi. Rather than getting excited that a Blue Belt beat a Black Belt, why don’t we took a look at Jon Jones vs Lyoto Machida where a guy who had pretty much zero Gi experience choked out a BJJ Black Belt. On the surface that’s a lot more impressive, right? It’s actually just as meaningless.

Jon Jones has excellent wrestling, and excellent no-gi grappling in general, and more importantly he has excellent MMA grappling. MMA grappling is an entirely different world from Gi or even No-Gi grappling. Top level grapplers have failed miserably in MMA in the past and will again in the future. Marcelo Garcia is one of the best grapplers in the world and his MMA career was less than impressive to say the least.

And finally there’s the issue of how one even gets a belt in BJJ in the first place. You have to actually train BJJ, in the Gi usually, with a BJJ instructor. Anthony Pettis devotes the vast majority of his time to training for MMA. That’s his job. He’s not spending the time in the Gi to be awarded belt ranks even if his overall grappling ability might be excellent. For the same reason that we don’t go around handing D1 wrestlers brown belts, Anthony Pettis has a blue belt (Actually from all available indicators he’s been a purple  belt for at least a year, but who can let facts get in the way of a good diatribe about BJJ belts?). Put Henderson and Pettis in Gis and turn them loose under BJJ rules and Henderson wins that matchup seven out of ten times.

And that is why you shouldn’t necessarily let a BJJ belt colour dictate who you think is going to come out on top in an MMA ground battle, or pay attention to everything you read on the Internet!


About Joshua Wentworth

Josh is the resident purple belt (from Alliance Jiu-Jitsu), and is responsible for many of the outstanding BJJ content at MMAInsider.net like Grapplescope.

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1 Comment

  1. Fred

    June 29, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    Maybe it depends on who's issuing the belts? You know, sort of like how the same degree can mean something different depending on which college you got it from. Really though, you're pretty much 100% right.

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