top of page

5 Notable ADCC Champions to Fight in UFC

To help usher in mixed martial arts to North America, Rorion Gracie and Art Davie created UFC 1 in an eight-man tournament format with the champion receiving $50,000. Within this, we were introduced to the art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Gracie chosen son Royce tore through the competition in just under five minutes of cage time to win the tournament.

This tournament win alone set off the trend of fighters learning some form of grappling, whether offensively or defensively in order to succeed in competition.

Top grapplers would meet biennially in one of the world's leading grappling competitions at Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championship.

As popularity in mixed martial arts grew, so did the profile of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. This led to lucrative opportunities for top submission grapplers to try their hand at mixed martial arts.

We look at five notable ADCC champions to cross over to the UFC.

Fabricio Werdum - 2007 ADCC & 2008 ADCC +99kg Champion

The modern era's most widely known ADCC champion to enter the Octagon would likely go to former UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum.

Werdum was a former two-time ADCC champion winning tournaments in 2007 and 2009 in the +99kg weight division.

Following a loss in his UFC debut against Andrei Arlovski in 2007, 'Vai Cavalo' would enter the ADCC 2007 tournament. Werdum would defeat former UFC light heavyweight title challenger Elvis Sinosic, future KSW heavyweight champion Karol Bedorf and Rolles Gracie, the oldest son of Rolls Gracie, to win his first ADCC title. Werdum would also enter the Absolute division tournament, losing in the quarterfinals against bronze medalist Andre Galvao.

After leaving the UFC and defeating Mike Kyle in Strikeforce, Werdum entered the ADCC 2009 tournament in an attempt to defend his ADCC +99kg title from the previous competition. Werdum would repeat his championship after defeating tough MMA journeymen Rogent Lloret and Tomasz Janiszewski, plus Brazilian jiu-jitsu legends Saulo Ribeiro and Roberto 'Cyborg' Abreu.

Mark Kerr - 1999 ADCC +99kg & 2000 ADCC +99kg/Absolute Champion

Surprisingly, 'The Smashing Machine' was one of the first competitors to become an ADCC champion with a background outside of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

In 1992, Kerr was a former NCAA Division I champion at 190 lbs for Syracuse University. He became an All-American the same year.

In 1993 and 1994, Kerr was selected to represent Team USA at Men's Freestyle World Championships.

Prior to entering the ADCC 1999 tournament, Kerr was undefeated in mixed martial arts winning the World Vale Tudo Championship 3 tournament along with both UFC 14 and UFC 15 heavyweight tournaments. The Toledo-native also went 3-0 fighting for Pride FC in Japan.

Kerr would defeat Pride and UFC vet Carlos Barreto, future UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett, RINGS fighter Ricardo Morais and three-time ADCC silver medalist Sean Alvarez to win the tournament.

The following year, Kerr defeated Barnett, MMA journeyman Anthony Netzler, Carlos Gracie Jr.'s first black belt and BJJ legend Rigan Machado, and another former UFC heavyweight champion in Ricco Rodriguez to win back-to-back ADCC titles.

In the Absolute division, 'The Smashing Machine' defeated CheckMat co-founder Leo Vieira, Mike Van Arsdale, former King of Pancrase Ricardo Almeida, and Alvarez again to win the tournament.

Kerr would be featured in the 2003 HBO documentary 'The Smashing Machine.'

Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza - 2005 ADCC -88kg Champion

The former ADCC champion closest to UFC gold at the moment is Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza who won the 2005 tournament in the -88kg division.

Jacare was a finalist at the 2003 ADCC, losing the championship match against Saulo Ribiero after defeating Ryan Gracie, Matt Lindland and Ricardo Almeida. Jacare would earn his black belt that year.

Two years later, Jacare would return to the ADCC tournament. Souza would capture the championship by defeating Swedish MMA star David Bielkheden, 2004 European Trials champion Robert Sulski, UFC veteran Dennis Hallman, and future UFC middleweight title contender Demian Maia.

Jacare would also become 2005 ADCC Absolute division finalist defeating David Avellan, Alexandre Ferreira and Marcelo Garcio before losing out to Roger Gracie.

Demian Maia - 2007 ADCC -88kg Champion

Demian Maia essentially followed the exact same footsteps in ADCC competition as Ronaldo Souza.

Maia would enter the ADCC 2007 competition with after success in other grappling tournaments, looking to rebound from the loss in the finals from the event prior to Jacare. Maia would also enter the competition with a handful of fights in the local scene.

Maia would defeat fellow UFC middleweight title challenger Yushin Okami, Brazilian national champion Rafael Lovato, plus IBJJF champions Tarsis Humphreys and Flavio Almeida to win the title.

Maia would win his next MMA fight just a couple weeks after winning the ADCC, and earn a contract with the UFC.

Mackenzie Dern

Mackenzie Dern is notable as the only female ADCC champion to enter the UFC's Octagon.

Dern began training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu at the age of three under her father, BJJ legend Wellington "Megaton" Dias, earning a black belt at the age of 19.

Throughout her submission grappling career, Dern has won the World, Nogi, Pan Ams, European and Brazilian National championships.

Before turning into a professional MMA fighter, Dern entered the ADCC 2015 women's -60kg tournament.

Dern defeated Kethe Marie Elgesem Engen, future ADCC champion and 20-time titlist Bia Mesquita, and eight-time IBJJF champion and ONE Championship women's flyweight Michelle Nicolini to become ADCC champion.

Dern would enter the ADCC 2017 tournament and be upset on points to 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu's Elvira Karppinen.


bottom of page