Gordon Ryan unsure about future in MMA: ‘I feel like it’s kind of my job to push jiu-jitsu over the hump’

Gordon Ryan isn’t planning to jump to MMA anytime soon.

Widely considered the best grappler alive today and one of the best of all time, Ryan is, in many ways, the face of competitive jiu-jitsu today. As such, many MMA fans have wondered what it would look like for the 27-year-old champion, to follow in the path of so many grapplers before him and jump into the cage. Unfortunately for MMA fans, “King” Ryan appears to be too focused on building up the sport he reigns over instead.

“I don’t know,” Ryan told Ariel Helwani The MMA Hour when asked about MMA. “John [Danaher] has never been wrong, our coach, has never been wrong about anything. He’s never been wrong. He’s told me things and whether it be five years or three years or seven years later, he always ends up being right, and John is like, ‘Absolutely do not go into MMA. You already make a ton of money doing this, you’re considered the greatest of all time already, and jiu-jitsu is about to become main stream, and once it becomes main stream everyone is going to get paid more and jiu-jitsu is going to be a real sport. You’re the forefront of that and if you move to MMA now, that could be lost.’ So I don’t know. Maybe if one of the other guys from the team wins an ADCC Absolute or something.

“I’ve always wanted to fight MMA, but I’m in such a good position now and I feel like it’s kind of my job to push jiu-jitsu over the hump into the mainstream. So I’m not totally ruling it out but I’m pretty comfortable with just grappling right now.”

That was not always the case for Ryan though. While speaking with Helwani, Ryan revealed that he first got into jiu-jitsu after watching old videos of Royce Gracie in the UFC, saying that he wanted to become an MMA fighter but that he had such early success with grappling, he decided to pursue it fully instead. Even still though, Ryan admits that the siren song of MMA still appeals to him, such that a few years ago he had made plans for his MMA debut, until fate intervened.

“I was actually going to start fighting in 2019,” Ryan said. “I was actually getting ready, I was sparring. I went to a Bellator event and I was talking to some guys from Bellator, I was talking to some guys from ONE [Championship] about fighting MMA, and then 2019, right in the beginning of the year, I fought João Gabriel Rocha and I tore my LCL and I had to have surgery on my LCL. So the second I came back from LCL surgery, the focus wasn’t on MMA anymore, I was hoping into camp for ADCC… So that was the focus and then I won the Absolutes, so now I’m looking forward to 2021 ADCC where I have to fight André [Galvão], which ended up being 2022, and I ended up just getting roped back into jiu-jitsu. Like, ‘Oh, there’s something more I have to do in jiu-jitsu before I can leave.’ And now I’m at a point where I don’t have to leave. I make more money than most UFC champions and there’s no reason for me to get punched in the head every day and have to fight.”

The decision makes sense for Ryan. On top of being one of the most accomplished athletes in the sport, he’s also one of the most highly paid. The five-time ADCC World Champion says he makes over $1 million a year from competition, on top of what he makes from seminars and instructional videos, and that part of the reason he is staying away from MMA for the moment is a desire to lift the rest of the sport of jiu-jitsu up so more fighters can claim the same.

“I’m like the Mayweather or McGregor of jiu-jitsu,” Ryan said. “I don’t make nearly as much money as them, but in proportion to the rest of the guys. But my goal in the next five to 10 years is to have athletes, at least with purses — most of my money comes from instructionals. Most of my jiu-jitsu money comes from instructional videos, so I don’t think anyone is going to make as much money teaching as I do, because I think I’m a much better teacher, but I do think that in the next five to 10 years, athletes could be making similar money to what I’m making now just through competition purses. I think that an athlete in jiu-jitsu in the next five to 10 years should be making over $1 million a year just competing. And if we can do that, I think we’ll have something going for us.”

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