What is a rival? Well, according to dictionary.com, a rival is defined as, “a person or thing competing with another for the same objective or for superiority in the same field of activity.” Rivals like these can be found in almost any sport or any line of work. They are found in opposing clothing companies, magazines, restaurants and, of course, sports.

Today, the modern sports world glorifies the rivalries between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, the universities of Michigan and Ohio State, and between boxers Micky Ward and Arturo Gatti. But what makes those rivalries so memorable and so popular in modern sports culture today? It is how they would raise their game to a whole new level for when they faced off with each other, knowing the intensity was far greater than in any other match or game. The same can be said for rivals in jiu-jitsu, and we can all be very thankful for the power of rivals.

At the same time, those who were involved in such rivalries can be thankful for their opponent. The rivalry not only raised their game, but helped them gain a greater and more respected following. Would Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza or Roger Gracie be as popular as they are in the jiu-jitsu community without their memorable battles at the ADCC and Worlds? Without each other, perhaps their legacy wouldn’t be the same as it is today.

Jacare’s greatest moment came because of the Gracie’s infamous armbar. He was forced to fight and survive with a dislocated elbow to win the 2004 World absolute title. On the other hand, Gracie’s greatest moment came when he submitted Jacare in the 2005 ADCC final to cap off a perfect championship, winning all of his fights by submission. Would it have been as memorable if it were against someone of a lesser stature than Jacare? I don’t really think so.

Would Rafael Mendes be as highly touted if he never fought and defeated the legend Rubens “Cobrinha” Charles? Mendes can thank Charles for their great duels because his legacy has practically been built off his thrilling successes and defeats against the four-time World champion. On the other hand, Cobrinha had resurrected himself thanks to Mendes, an amazing competitor. Cobrinha, for years, has still been so hard to beat, but not until he finally captured the ADCC title this past October by defeating Mendes in the final did it really feel like Cobrinha was back. If it were anyone else other than Mendes that he beat in the final, would it really have been as big of a conquest for Cobrinha? Perhaps not. Mendes needs Charles as much as Charles needs Mendes. Whether they love or hate each other, they know that their opposition is what makes them as great as they are today. Just give their fourth encounter back in 2009 at the Worlds (Mendes’ first as a black belt) a watch.

The same can be said for when Rodolfo Vieira takes on Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida. No matter who wins the matches, both only gain more respect from the crowd and from their fans. They always find a way to bring their best to the table. The presence of Vieira has certainly made Buchecha a legend in a very short time. Meanwhile, although Vieira has lost to Almeida in the previous three matches, he is respected amongst the entire jiu-jitsu world for how much he puts into each match. The two World champions only help each other become better.

Rivalries in sports are what keeps things exciting, and what brings the best out of those involved. Rivalries bring an extra intensity that is hard to explain, and it brings out yet another level in athletes when such a thing was thought to be impossible.

Do you, the reader, feel it is important for there to be rivals in our sport? What do you believe are the benefits of having rivalries in jiu-jitsu? Comment below! Osss!

Photo: Rafael Mendes (blue gi) submits Cobrinha by armbar (Gracie Mag)

About The Author

Gianni Grippo
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Contributor

Gianni Grippo is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Marcelo Garcia and trains at the Marcelo Garcia Academy in New York City. Besides being a big fan of the sport, Gianni is also an avid competitor and has ranked among the best in the World from blue to brown belt winning 6 IBJJF World titles and 7 Pan Championships. Still at 21, Gianni looks to continue to compete for many years to come as his main goals are to win the World championships at black belt and win the ADCC title.

  • Rich Lam

    Definitely good for the sport. Even at the lower levels, you had miyaos/keenan (purp and brown), marcio andre/edwin najmi/jacob sandoval/michael liera (purp).