Sambo athletes have been teasing that their form of grappling is superior when compared to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Despite the clear differences between the two arts, a way to determine is Sambo better than BJJ in a ruleset that allows competitors from both to perform to their maximum was not possible… Until now.
There have been three bouts so far featuring multiple Sambo world champions and some of the best Brazilian Jiu Jitsu athletes in the world. The score is currently 3-0, and I am not yet disclosing who is on the winning side of the bracket with a 100% success rate…yet.
What’s the difference between Sambo and Jiu-Jitsu?
Sambo is a Russian martial art that translates as self-defense without weapons. It was created for military needs in the 1920s to improve Soviet soldiers’ hand-to-hand fighting skills. Now, Sambo is a combat sport that has competitive forms of pure grappling (Sport Sambo) and MMA -like matches (Combat Sambo).
In Sambo, leg locks and armlocks are used all the time as submissions, but choke holds are deemed too dangerous and are illegal in competitions.
In BJJ, anything goes, even though it took a long time to get leg locks in the company of arm locks and chokes.
The strengths of Sabmo are in the standing department. In fact, it operates much like Judo, with powerful throws that lead straight into quick and brutal submission holds.
On the other hand, Jiu Jitsu is still struggling with standing, still trying to find its feet (pun intended). However, once the fight hits the ground, there’s nothing better, and it remains the only combat sport that favors the use of guards.
This makes for an interesting clash of styles, and the people at ONE FC have taken it upon themselves to try and answer the question is Sambo better than BJJ?
Is Sambo Better than BJJ ? Not in ONE FC!
So far, three total matches of BJJ champions have faced Sambo world champions in the ONE FC circle as part of their submission grappling competition.
Rodrigo Marello vs Ruslan Bagdasarian
Ruslan is a European and World Sambo champion, and Rodrigo is a BJJ black belt No-Gi World champion and Pans Champion.
In the first match of the sambo vs. BJJ “feud” in October 2022, Rodrigo won in 17 seconds, pulling guard and slapping on an extremely tight Caio Terra ankle lock from the De La Riva guard.
1-0 to BJJ.
Kade Ruotolo vs Uali Kurzhev
ADCC champion and grappling phenom Kade Ruotolo was next, fighting for the ONE Submission Grappling lightweight belt against 4xSambo World champion Uali Kurzhev in late October 2022.
Uali tried some sweeps early, but Kade brilliantly countered one of his throws with a rolling-back take and spent several minutes working from the back. He tried a side guard Darce, transitioned to an RNC as Uali stood up and when Uali managed to turn and slam him went on for triangles and Omoplatas.
Uali got out, disengaged, and after a few snap-down exchanges, Kade jumped guard, only to return to the feet quickly. Kurzhevi tried to counter Kade’s rear body lock entry with a Victor Roll (Sambo rolling kneebar), which was his demise.
Kade quickly found his way into the Inside Senkaku position and finished a belly down inside heel hook.
2-0 Jiu Jitsu.
Danielle Kelly vs. Mariia Molchanova
The latest match that put even more perspective on the answer to the question is Sambo better than BJJ came in November 2022, when Siverfox black belt Danielle Kelly met Mariia Molchanova, another Sambo World Champion, inside the ONE FC circle.
Once again, it was quick work for the BJJ black belt, as Kelly immediately sat to guard, quickly pulling in Molchanova into her closed guard. Mariia went for a can opener, which Danielle easily countered, circling to Molchanova’s back.
Kelly secured a body triangle and went to work, eventually choking out with an RNC Molchanova barely after the two-minute mark.
3-0 to BJJ.
Tye Ruotolo vs. Marat Gafurov
ADCC absolute bronze medalist Tye Ruotolo was the latest to face off against a Sambo specialist when he met Marat Gafurov inside the ONE FC circle at the start of December
Gaafurov is a submission specialist, with 6 submission wins to his name, including the fastest submission to date in ONE FC (41 seconds), and the former ONE FC featherweight MMA world champion.
Tye so a few times, pressing Gafurov to the cage before he tied up with a Whizzer that ended up in the dogfight position, which Ruotolo used to roll and get opportunities for Darce, guillotines, and a buggy choke, neither of which Tye managed to complete.
Tye went from half guard to closed guard and kept attacking until the referee stood the pair up again. Tye completed a modified scissor takedown to enter the legs, which led to a scramble that Ruotolo turned in his favor, going for a Kimura that he turned into a triangle-arm bar. The finish came via an armbar-wrist lock combination.
4-0 to Jiu Jitsu.
Mikey Musumeci vs ?
Current featherweight ONE FC submission grappling champion Mikey Musumeci also extended an open challenge to any Sambo world champion to fight him so that the debate about Sambo vs. BJJ can be settled.
Somehow, I think Mikey’s next ONE opponent is going to be of a Sambo background, as ONE FC CEO Chatri Sityodtong seems very keen on keeping the rivalry alive.
“Sambo Wishes it Was BJJ”
Some time ago, Khabib Nurmagomedov commented, “If Sambo was easy, it would be called BJJ.” This stirred up a lot of commotion in the BJJ and Sambo communities, possibly the initial spark that ignited this feud, which is now inside the ONE circle.
So, is Sambo better than BJJ? Here’s what people from the BJJ community, including champions like the Ruotolo brothers, have to say after the recent Sambo vs. BJJ matches:
“Sambo wishes it was BJJ. I said what I said.” #ONEonPrimeVideo3— SuperBeast MMA (@SuperbeastCraig) October 22, 2022
“BJJ beats sambo! Woah! #ONEonPrimeVideo3— ⚜ WHO DAT Cool Breesy ⚜ (@Steve2duhO) October 22, 2022”
Even Danielle Kelly said before the match, speaking to ONE FC:
“I competed in sambo. Yeah, I have some experience, so when people are like, ‘Oh, you should do sambo, compete in that sport, too,’ and it’s like, ‘Yeah, I did, but I won, too, so what now?’ But yeah, it’s fine, but jiu-jitsu is better.”
The Ruotolo brothers also had their comments to add, seemingly settling the debate:
“The thing is, with jiu-jitsu, there’s thousands of techniques,” said Tye. “And even more getting made up every single day. In pretty much every other sport – Muay Thai, boxing, even Sambo – there’s only so many combinations.
I feel like a high-level jiu-jitsu guy is gonna be able to get the submission just because of all the different routes he can take to the submission.”
What to Expect Next
I think that even though all Jiu Jitsu athletes have won convincingly, by submitting their Sambo counterparts, the debate is Sambo better than BJJ will keep on going in ONE FC. At one point in time, I expect a win might go Sambo’s way, which will fuel the rivalry and keep the fire burning. Fun times!
Ogi is a black belt that does Jiu Jitsu full time and is very passionate about anything grappling-related.
He is also the head coach of Enso Jiu Jitsu in Macedonia and an aspiring Globetrotter.