João Gabriel Rocha and the lessons from fighting Gordon Ryan

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Gordon Ryan attacks João Gabriel with a heel hook. Dan Rod/Kasai

The main superfight of Kasai Super Series, held last weekend at the Bomb Factory in Dallas, Texas, pit two crack BJJ artists against each other: João Gabriel Rocha and Gordon Ryan.

In the end, the scoreboard showed 1-0 in favor of the American — a point that came through a heel hook attempt — and controversy ensued. The fact is the well-matched fight deserves a do-over, given that Ryan walked away limping from his knee and João Gabriel fought with a loose rib, so both may have been unable to put their A-game on display.

João Gabriel disagreed with the score, alleging he also attacked the foot soon after with an Estima lock. In a conversation with, he analyzed the duel, which lasted ten minutes plus five minutes’ overtime.

GRACIEMAG: How do you view the fight?

JOÃO GABRIEL ROCHA: I’m not one to talk about refereeing, but it’s kind of hard to swallow this one. Talking only about the fight, it was a good one and I think the crowd enjoyed it. I knew he was a big challenge, that he talks a lot but is skilled, and that I should be focused, giving it my all, because otherwise he could submit me. He is very dangerous and may be the best I’ve ever fought. But I at least drew in that fight.

Did you have problems with the new rule?

Look, I understood that during overtime it would be IBJJF point-scoring; therefore, I should have won, because I passed his guard and the points weren’t given to me. It went like this: I took him down and we wound up landing outside the fight area; then he came back immediately pulling guard. That was when he swept me and I swept back. In the five minutes of overtime, we were already tired, but I felt I had the better stamina. However, he attacked me with a heel hook and managed to win a point. I contested it because the attack wasn’t taking and I didn’t think it was fair to give him the point. But right after, I attacked via Estima lock and they didn’t give me the point. Then, at the end, I threw everything at him and bombarded him with guard passes until I managed to arrive on the side, but I didn’t get the points then either.

What makes this new generation so dangerous?

The truth is there a positions we don’t have the habit of practicing, and these people basically just practice that for five years now. Heel hooks, attacking with the leg crossing, for example, are techniques he specializes in since he began training — and always without the gi. At my camp, I even gave up on asking the other athletes to try to simulate the attacks and heel hooks, because nobody was attacking with the right level of pressure. Unfortunately, jiu-jitsu people don’t know how to attack well with this type of move — unlike Gordon, a guy who’s a specialist.

He has already talked about fighting you again.

I hope it happens. I’m sure we’ll meet again. I mean, I accepted every demand, like making heel hooks legal from any position, whether crossing the knee or not, and the rule of fighting submission-only for the first ten minutes. I had never fought under this type of submission-only rule, whereas he’s already pretty experienced at it. It was an excellent opportunity to train a lot and evolve in less-honed aspects of my game. But I know I’ll meet him again soon, maybe at the ADCC, and there will be lots of different things that can happen.

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