Brazilian jiu jitsu fans around the globe can rejoice, because another world class black belt has been added to the UFC roster. Robert Drysdale has been shaking things up in BJJ circles since 1998, and three years ago, started fighting mixed martial arts professionally. He boasts a perfect, 6-0 record, with all his fights coming by first round submission.
That highly anticipated phone call that every fighter waits for, the one that gets you into the big leagues, on the world's largest platform, has finally arrived, and Drysdale will be facing Ednaldo Oliveira at UFC 163 on August 3rd. I had the opportunity to speak with Robert, and got his thoughts on a variety of topics. Here's what he had to say:
Here's how it went. After my last fight, my manger wanted to get me in the UFC. He had a chat with them, and the roster was full, but they kept the door open in case someone got injured. They kind of put me on standby, you know, 'Hey, be ready. We might put you in on short notice.' It wasn't anything certain, so I was actually about to schedule another fight with Legacy. That's what I was about to do. I got the call yesterday morning, and I'm not sure who got injured, but the guy that was fighting Ednaldo Oliveira was hurt, and they needed a replacement.
My manager called and said, 'Do you want to take the fight?' I was like, 'Yeah, sure.' It's actually not short notice. It gives me like eight or nine weeks to prepare, so I couldn't say no. This is the opportunity I've been waiting for. That was it. I haven't signed anything, and I kind of didn't want the news to leak, because I'm one of those people that I don't want to be telling people until I physically sign the contract. I don't even know how, but it got out, and I'm getting text messages every five minutes now [laughs]. That's how it came about and I'm super excited. I'm really looking forward to it.
The Fine Folks At Legacy
I initially signed a three fight deal, and then we renewed it. I think I had two more with them, if I'm not mistaken, but I had an out, in case the UFC needed me. That was the agreement, and Mick from Legacy was super cool about it. He wanted me in the UFC, and he was one of the first people to text me and congratulate me, actually. He was really cool about it and let me go, and that was it.
I was kind of taken aback by it all. I wasn't expecting it. We were into talks about getting another fight with Legacy when this came out. It was in the contract, in case the UFC calls, there's a way out, but Mick was still so great about the whole thing.
Confidence In Overall Skills Against the Competition
I'm certainly very confident when the fight goes to the ground, from either the top or the bottom. I think when someone else is training jiu jitsu, like when I'm going up against someone that knows jiu jitsu well, it kind of makes me happier. I prefer it, because I feel that someone being good at jiu jitsu is not going to stop me from doing what I do. Even with some of the best grapplers in the weight class, I'm very confident, and I know I can do well.
On the other hand, the down side of that, I'd be usually predictable. People will know what i want and I don't hide what I do. It's very obvious, so I know exactly how people will prepare to fight me, and I try to work my camps based on what I know that they know. I know that they know I want to take them down, so I prepare based off that. I'm a pretty predictable guy in that sense, but that's changing now. I'm becoming more and more comfortable on my feet, so if the day ever comes that I have to stand and strike with someone, I'll be more than ready.
A guy like Vinny Magalhaes, I feel like we're in the same boat, you know. We have very similar backgrounds and very similar skills. No doubt, he would be the exception there. Look, I don't think about what other people can do so much. I know that there are guys in the UFC that are really good at jiu jitsu, don't get me wrong. In my weight class, you know Jon Jones has been finishing people, and Lyoto Machida and Noguiera are black belts, too. There are a lot of good guys in that weight class, and I wouldn't underestimate anyone in there for a second. I just figure I'll stick to what I know.
Training Other Disciplines
I work on everything. I don't neglect any aspect of the game. I think that a lot of people put more emphasis into one thing more than another, and I've never done that. I still train jiu jitsu with the gi. I wrestle three times a week, and I'm on the pads at least three times a week. There's nothing I neglect, because to me, everything is important. The more complete I am, the better.
Everybody's going to Drysdale's
I'm fortunate enough to be surrounded by great people, and they help me a lot. It absolutely gives me a lot of confidence to know that I'm training with the people that are doing well in the UFC. When I train with those guys, it gives me an idea of what the level is. It's one thing to watch it on TV, but it's something else when you're actually going against someone that's in there. It gives you an idea what the level is - some will be better at some things, and others will be better at other things. It gives me a good idea of where I stand in the grand scheme of things, too. I'm very familiar with the UFC, because I've been surrounded by UFC guys for the last few years. I'm very familiar with what to expect inside the UFC.
Dancing With the One That Brought Ya
I certainly don't train as much as I used to, because there's only so much you can do in a week. I have to put my time and energy into other things, but I don't ever neglect my jiu jitsu. In fact, that's a mistake that a lot of people make. They kind of neglect their background once they get into the UFC, and they put their focus elsewhere.
The reality is, you can lose your skills. No matter how much time you spend training jiu jitsu throughout your life, your jiu jitsu can get worse. I have a saying that I use everyday after class, 'If you're not getting better, you're getting worse.' That's a truism. There's no such thing as staying where you're at. That's a lie that a lot of people believe. They think their jiu jitsu is just going to stay where it's at, and they won't have to worry about it. That's just not true.
I'm more likely to win a fight on the ground than I am anywhere else. I figure I'll keep those tools sharp. I want them to be sharp. I still put a considerable amount of my time into jiu jitsu. It's obviously not exclusive, but I have never neglected my background, and I don't plan on doing so in the future.
Keeping A Good Pace
I like to take one fight at a time. My first fight was an amateur one, and I got criticized for it because people thought I should have gone pro right away. I took the same attitude as I did with my jiu jitsu. I competed as a white belt in the beginning, and I slowly moved up, fighting tougher and tougher opponents until I made it to the top of the sport. I don't think it's different in MMA. Of course I don't plan on that climb being 10 years. I don't want to wait that long, but I don't want to rush either. I want to make it a steady climb.
I'm not thinking about who I'm fighting after this fight. Right now, all I'm thinking about is this fight. After it, we'll see what happens. In the UFC, that's where the toughest competitors are. There aren't any easy fights there. If you're in there, you're one of the best in the world. I take every fight very seriously, and try not to look too far ahead. Frankly, I don't know how it will go. I'm confident I can do well, but there's really no way of knowing until you're actually in there doing it.
I'm just happy I finally made it to the top, to the very pinnacle of the sport. That was always one of my objectives in jiu jitsu. I wanted to be one of the best in the world. I wanted to compete at the highest level, against the best in the world, and I did that. I lost to some of them, I beat some of them. I won some titles, sometimes I took second place, but I was always there with the top guys, both gi and no gi. Now, I'm about to do that in MMA, so that's exciting to me. That tells me I'm one of the top fighters in the world. That's very significant to me, personally.
BJJ Competition Circuit
I haven't actively competed jiu jitsu in about four years now, and I don't plan to. Maybe when I retire, just for fun. I think it's hard enough to be competitive in one sport. To win in one is very difficult, but to win in both is nearly impossible. I've never seen anyone do it, in fact. I'm not a believer in spreading yourself too thin. I want to put all my focus into one thing, and try to make that thing happen. Maybe sometime in the future, I could do it for fun, but right now, I'm not thinking about it.
I think that you're still conditioned, but it's different when you're focusing on certain reactions and you're training your body for certain things, then all the sudden you're switching to something else. Perhaps it's not impossible, but I don't see anyone being super successful in both. I can see you do fairly well in both, and even that would be very unique. I respect people that want to go both routes, but it's not something I want to do personally. It's not the way I think. It's not the way I see things.
Different people have different things that motivate them, and sometimes there's more than one thing motivating them, and it can be similar to what motivates other people. For example, some of the top jiu jitsu players spend their whole life working their way up to being one of the best in the world. Then you get there, and all the sudden you want to do MMA, and you're thrown back to being a white belt. You have to make your way all they way up again, to the top of that ladder. You were already there. It was a different sport, but you were there.
It's a very satisfying feeling to know you're in the top tier of your sport. People give you respect, and there are perks and benefits that being in that position brings you. It's a comfortable position to be in, knowing that you're one of the Top 10 in the world. You compete at the highest level and people are watching you and they know you. To go from that, back down to the lowest level of that ladder, and making your way up all the way again is not a fun journey for a lot of people. It's not an easy thing to do, and I think that's why people stop along the way.
I had a teacher of mine, and he always made this analogy. Fighting is like a shopping mall. You go up to the first story, and you look around and go, 'This is cool, I can stick around here.' Then you see the ladder, and you can climb up higher and go to the second floor. The second floor will be much better than the first, and you can stick around there if you want, or you can go on to the next level, and so on.
I think a lot of people get to a certain level and that's good enough for them. I'm the kind of guy that just wants to keep going up to the next level. I want to find out what's up there. I want to try myself in different arenas. I will not feel complete as a martial artist if I don't make it to the top of the UFC. If I don't compete against the best in the world in the UFC, I will retire and one day look back and think that I failed as a martial artist.
My concept is not one of competition, it's not one of self defense, it's not one of MMA, or gi or no gi. It's everything. I'm only complete if I can do it all. If I can win gi or no gi. If I can win in a real fight. If I can win in MMA. If I can do all of these things, I can tell myself that I am a complete martial artist. That's what motivates me. I want to prove it to myself that I can be that complete martial artist.
You can follow Rovert via his Twitter account, @RobertDrysdale