On August 10, 2019, four-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Champion and seven-time World Cup champion, Rodolfo Vieira (5-0) will make his UFC debut in a middleweight bout against Oskar Piechota (11-1-1). Since starting MMA in 2015, Rodolfo has amassed an undefeated record following five fights, most recently fighting in ACA (formerly ACB).
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The BJJ world was first introduced to Rodolfo in 2009 after he won the World Cup Brazilian northern trials as a brown belt in a mixed brown and black belt division. After winning, he was given the nickname Cacador dos Faixas Pretas which translates to “Black Belt Hunter.”
In a 2011 documentary by Jits Magazine, Rodolfo said he started BJJ after his cousin introduced him to the sport, stating “he told me it was nice and I was getting fat, so I decided to start.”
Rodolfo quickly grew in the BJJ scene under the instruction of master Julio Cesar Pereira. Competing in the heavyweight and super heavyweight division, he took 13 international BJJ champion titles, including a Gold at ADCC 2015 in the 99kg division. His career was highlighted by his ongoing rivalry with BJJ great Marcus Almeida.
Throughout his years of competing, Rodolfo gained a reputation for extreme pressure and athleticism that gave him a standout skill as a top guard passer.
Transition to MMA and the return of specialists
In 2015, Rodolfo declared his intention to make the shift into MMA. The BJJ expert moved to Florida to train at American Top Team, eventually making a successful MMA debut in 2017 with a win over Zarylbek Daniyar. Despite having previously competed at 99kg, he made the cut down to middleweight for MMA as he was concerned he would be too short for the heavyweight division. In the past three years, Rodolfo has remained undefeated in all five of his fights, with only one of them making it out of the first round.
He joins the new class of BJJ experts entering MMA, such as Neiman Gracie, Kron Gracie, and Garry Tonon. Their expertise on the ground allows for their striking to open-up, which only feeds back into their ground game.
However, Rodolfo’s approach seems to parallel the pressure of a wrestler more than a BJJ player. No imanari rolls or guard pulling, he moves in like Khabib, with explosive double-leg takedowns, body locks, and leg trips. From there, he implements an intense pressure and top game that allows plenty of time for working the submission.
Rodolfo is also distinct in his patience on the feet, using good footwork to test range and work a jab before entering for a takedown. This approach served him well in his last fight against Vitaliy Nemchinov, who was on a nine-fight win streak going into their bout.
He is currently training at Fusion X-Cel Performance in Florida. In a recent Anatomy of a Fighter video, Fusion’s coach and MMA fighter Julian Williams said, “I want to say two years, he’ll be middleweight champ.”
Facing Oskar Piechota in UFC debut
Piechota’s multiple wins in the UFC put him into a higher level of competition than Rodolfo’s previous fights. He also brings a strong BJJ pedigree, with a black belt under Robert Drysdale. He was submitted by Gerald Meerschaert, however, possibly undermining the likelihood of him being a challenge on the ground.
Ultimately, Rodolfo’s advantage is going to be in pressure. He will continue to work out distance with a pawing lead hand until he finds the time to shoot in. At this point, his top pressure will be overwhelming, and he will slowly work a position for submission as he applies intense ground and pound.
The UFC middleweight division is going to be wide open for Rodolfo following this fight. Apart from Ronaldo Souza, who will soon be 40-years-old, he will be the most decorated BJJ fighter in the division, which will prove a unique challenge for all the fighters in the top ten.
Ahmad Tahriri is a Contributing Writer at The Body Lock.