The UFC is clearly the largest stage in the world of mixed martial arts. As men and women rise to prominence within the Octagon, other fighters build their craft on “smaller” circuits. On such individual is Kron Gracie, who has continued to grow in his transition from grappling to MMA. His recent performance against UFC and Strikeforce veteran Tatsuya Kawajiri should open eyes beyond those just interested in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and show that he has the potential to be a threat in the sport.
Just two years into his professional career, Gracie has done a stellar job flying under radar for the most part. He’s put together a 4-0 record fighting for the RIZIN promotion. While many will question the validity of the organization that puts on “freak show” fights akin to the early days of MMA, Gracie has used the company to gain valuable experience outside the public eye. On New Year’s Eve, Gracie earned the biggest win of his two-year professional career as he submitted Kawajiri and put forth a dominant performance of technical BJJ.
From a grappling standpoint there was a lot to digest from this fight, but it can’t be ignored that Gracie was willing to spend an extended amount of time on his feet; fighting in the clinch early and doing damage to Kawajiri.
Halfway through the first round Gracie pulled guard in a move that’s very rare throughout all of MMA. Whether it’s due to a lack of trust in a judge’s ability to score a fighter on his back, or an inability to play the guard game – the majority of fighters will not take such a risk. He would jump guard a second time in the first round and kept Kawajiri in danger. His control and isolation took over into a failed armbar attempt, but Gracie found his way to his opponent’s back to threaten with the rear naked choke.
Gracie stayed aggressive with his grappling in the second as he pulled guard less than 30 seconds after the bell. He threw a variety of strikes from his back to force Kawajiri to open up, but Kawajiri got too wild and turned his back to Gracie, giving him the opening needed to take Kawajiri’s back again. Gracie continued to slap Kawajiri in the head, forcing him to defend the strikes while Gracie’s arm slowly slid into place for the choke. In a matter of moments Kawajiri was tapping out to the tight rear naked choke.
What Gracie showed was an aggressive application of grappling that is slowly growing in mixed martial arts. Demian Maia is perhaps the best example of a fighter who uses control and pressure to control or create openings. What’s interesting is that Gracie created that same type of offense from his back, rather than from the top position as many of his contemporaries.
This win over Kawajiri cannot go unnoticed within both the grappling and MMA spaces. As Gracie continues to acclimate his BJJ abilities into MMA, he’s becoming more of an attraction to catch the attention of grappling enthusiasts whenever he steps into the ring.