Certain moments in life mark significant historical events that remind us there is still magic left in our mundane existences, and we are blessed to be lucky enough to witness them.
In 2017, Roger Gracie had a rematch against Marcus “Buchecha” Almedia in Rio De Janeiro to see who the greatest grappler was of the 21st century. The result transcended the art of jiu-jitsu to become a particular moment in time every athlete dreams of.
In the last three years, the explosion of professional jiu-jitsu has changed the landscape for today’s grapplers to shine. Now, highly marketed grappling events with superb production value and wide distribution are weekly events. This renaissance has caused the emergence of stars in the BJJ world to explode onto the scene. Names like Jones, Barbossa, Rocha, and Ryan are idolized in every academy these days.
But ten years ago, there was a lack of meaningful competitors to hold the same level of stardom. Legendary practitioners still garnered attention, but they were more like ancient historical figures than flesh and bone grapplers we could relate to. Marcello Garcia had already retired from competing, and Andre Galvo was still unknown to the mainstream as the colossal force he would become.
But from 2004 to 2010, one competitor was consistently recognized as the greatest grappler of that era, and his name was Gracie.
Roger Gracie dominated the jiu-jitsu circuit like a supernatural force during that span. He won the Super Heavyweight World Championship every year from 2004 to 2010 (double gold in ’07, ’09, and ’10), double gold at the ADCC championships in ’05, remarkably submitting every opponent (first time in history), and the Mudails a record 14 times.
After 2010’s performance, though, Roger decided to focus on his MMA career, which meant grappling competitions would take a backseat. It was the perfect timing needed for the next decade of dominance to be born.
If Roger owned the first ten years of 2000, the second ten was Buchecha’s. From 2012 to 2019, he won double gold at the IBJJF World Championships every year but in ’18, the ADCC +99kg division in 2013 and 2017, and was considered almost unbeatable during that span particularly in his area of expertise, the gi.
In 2012, Relik Gracie set out to capitalize on the drama of a super fight between his cousin Roger and Buchecha on the now infamous Metamoris stage he created. But an odd scoring format led to a draw, and Roger, still weakened due to recovering from a staph infection, was obviously not up to the challenge of the younger wrecking ball Buchecha was at that time. So, the fans in the jiu-jitsu community were still left with unanswered questions concerning which grappler stood alone on top in the new century.
Five years went by, and Buchecha continued to destroy everyone in his path, securing his place in history. On the other hand, Roger’s name was spoken less and less.
His MMA career, while not unpraiseworthy, never equaled his unparalleled accomplishments on the BJJ mats. So, he started to drift into the past as many athletes do when passing the torch. He was now a former legend, just another figure from his era. This generation will have its own, and the next will have theirs.
But, in 2017, at the request of his cousin, longtime coach, and mentor Renzo Gracie, he decided to return to the mat one more time, determined to prove his greatness to the world.
A 15 min point match was created for the Gracie Pro event at Olympic Hall to feature the long-awaited rematch between Roger and Buchecha. At the time, it was the most significant event in BJJ history.
Most people didn’t give Roger much of a chance without the benefit of focusing on his competitive jiu-jitsu game, and Buchecha was considered unbeatable in the gi, so the pundits believed Roger would be in for a long night.
But Roger is a genuinely mythical animal in all regards. Not only were his competition accomplishments otherworldly, but his pedigree comes directly from the source. Being the grandson of Grandmaster Carlos Sr meant his destiny was to become one with the Gracie mythology by winning, and the BJJ world was eager to see if he could.
Renzo sat in Roger’s corner the night of the event while he calmly strode to the center to shake hands with the explosive Buchecha, pacing and jumping around like a caged animal to warm up. Roger has a different demeanor. His style is precise and methodical. It was impossible not to feel the confidence of his presence in the arena.
Both competitors smacked hands, and their contrasting styles were apparent as the match began. Roger, at a towering 6’4”, stood straight and tall. He was taunting his aggressive, younger opponent, unconcerned, while his long albatross arms found grips to create a barrier for Buchecha to breach if he had any plans for a takedown of his own.
Buchecha’s most powerful techniques come from the unstoppable grind of his drive for a takedown. The first few attempts were fended off with Roger’s dynamic grips until Buchecha finally got in deep on a leg, and everyone in the arena or watching on the highly steamed pay-per-view event froze. This turn of events had to be the beginning of the end.
But Roger showed us all his greatness. The mat they fought on was enormous, so his struggle to defend was long-lived. But defend he did to the end of the mat where he finished standing over the collapsed body of Buchecha, who was now, just like the spectators at home and in the stands, slightly bewildered and confused.
Everyone knows that legends are legends for a reason. They achieve greatness through their tremendous skills, and at that moment, shortly after his failed shot, Buchecha realized he was on the mat with a God. Then we all remembered what makes Roger so great.
It didn’t take long for Roger to dismantle the now awe-stricken young competitor in the manner accustomed. He pulled Buchecha into the labyrinth of his guard, and just like so many before him, it was over before it started. A quick sweep, then an even quicker back attack to the cross-collar choke forced the mighty youngster to tap in recognition of defeat, and history was made.
After the match, the Gracie family members hoisted Roger on their shoulders and paraded him around the arena. The picture was beautiful, but the story has more layers than defending the family’s honor.
Roger transcended the mortal world. He became woven into the fabric of our lives, forever remembered in stories from generation to generation long after those who witnessed it have died.
It was an event more significant than jiu-jitsu. It’s a story that shows us that the amazing is still possible, and even gods are made of flesh and bone.
The art of jiu-jitsu is constantly evolving, and there may be better grapplers in the future. Still, it will be hard to replicate what Roger did on that afternoon in July when he proved what greatness is, and anyone looking to take the GOAT title from him has a tough road ahead because of it.