Many Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners report that every time they step on the mat they have a humbling experience. However, simply walking into the legendary “blue basement” (as the gym has been dubbed by its team) at the Renzo Gracie Academy can be described as humbling – and that’s before you even step on the mat!
The birthplace of the legendary Danaher Death Squad, and former home of the champion Gordon Ryan; BJJ practitioners from all over the world travel from far and wide to visit and train at the gym that has produced the best grapplers in the world.
The History of Renzo Gracie Academy
Founded in 1996, the Renzo Gracie Academy was not always in its now famous location. Shockingly, it was formally located above a methadone clinic. This led to many random people stumbling into the gym and then reading the gym’s notice about the “Gracie Challenge!”
The Gracie Challenge
The Gracie Challenge was an open invitation to anyone to try and beat a Gracie Family member in a fight. The purpose of which was to try and prove the effectiveness of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. However if you didn’t have prior martial arts experience though, Renzo would ask you to try and beat one of his blue belts (only the second rank in BJJ).
Today the Gracie challenge is no longer offered; but if you are curious you can go online and watch many of the old matches that were recorded.
One of the greatest BJJ and martial arts coaches of all time got his start at the Renzo Gracie Academy. John Danaher moved to the United States from New Zealand in 1991 to earn his Ph.D in Philosophy. At night he would often work as a bouncer for money. At the age of 28 was introduced to BJJ by one of his students.
Although he earned his black belt in 2002, by some accounts he was already teaching classes at Renzo as a purple belt. John Danaher was never able to compete due to complications with his knees, and hip. However many successful competitors in BJJ and Mixed Martial Arts have had him as their coach.
George St. Pierre, Gordon Ryan, and Craig Jones are just a few examples of the many prodigies John Danaher has produced. If you listen to “The Joe Rogan Experience” (#111), John Danaher recounts the terror his mother expressed to him when she found the name “Danaher Death Squad” online.
To add to his impressive record, John Danaher is accredited with legitimizing leg attacks in BJJ. He also created the “leg lock system” which is a series of positions that will inevitably lead to a leg lock during a roll.
Although John Danaher receives a lot of credit for the massive success of the gym, old school black belts will tell you it was Renzo Gracie himself who is responsible for creating an environment that builds champions. Renzo Gracie is a three time Abu Dhabi Fight Club champion and has won many other prestigious tournaments.
On top of being a notable MMA champion Renzo is accredited with being one of the pioneers of BJJ in America. Renzo is famous for his many quotes about fighting, living, and being a champion. One of his most notable is:
“People see fighting as an ugly thing, as a thing that denigrates the human being. In reality, fighting is EVERYTHING. You wake up in the morning, to get out of bed, is a fight. Fighting the BEST thing a person can have in their soul”Renzo Gracie
Part of the atmosphere of the gym that “fosters champions” is the high number of advanced belts in the class. Many black belts and upper belts attend all the classes at Renzo’s and are known for helping and coaching the lower belts.
Renzo Gracie Academy Top Competitors and Notable Members
Renzo Gracie Academy has created many top competitors. In recent years there has been from the gym as COVID-19 restrictions made training in NYC difficult. The restrictions have lifted in recent months, but several of the most famous RGA members have relocated.
One of the older members of Renzo’s of the Danaher Death Squad, Eddie has a 19-3 record and is one of the first competitors to use leglocks as a major part of his game. Eddie now trains at Unity Jiu-Jitsu.
Garry Tonon- (@garrytonon)
Garry Tonon has a record of 50-19 most of which are submission wins. Gary was also a former Danaher Death Squad member, and now trains with the “B-Team” a group of former Death Squad members that now have their own gym in Texas. They train separately from Gordon Ryan and John Danaher.
Gordon Ryan- (@Gordonlovesjiujitsu)
Self proclaimed “King Ryan” is the biggest competitor Renzo’s gym has ever produced. Ryan is a three time ADCC World champion and has a shocking 84-5 record. Gordon is no stranger to controversy and is known for vitriolic comments on social media, often directed at people he’s competing against.
There is a viral video of Gordon slapping Andre Galvao, who was his biggest competition at the time. Gordon recently returned to the competition scene after battling a gastrointestinal problem.
Nicky Ryan- (@Nickyryanbjj)
Nicky Ryan is Gordon Ryan’s younger brother. While he doesn’t have as many wins as his older brother he still has a very impressive record (22-5). This record is even more impressive when you consider he is only 20 years old. Nicky Ryan is youngest person to compete in the ADCC world championship.
Nicky Rodriguez- (@nickyrod247)
Nicky Rodriguez has a standing record of 24-7 and is known for an aggressive take down and guard passing game. Unlike other members on this list who are black belts, Nicky is a purple belt. However he is very accomplished and has submitted many black belts in tournaments.
Craig Jones- (@craigjonesbjj)
You might recognize him by his unique rash guards that says “Subscribe to my Only Fans” or “Mexican Ground Karate.” Craig Jones has a record of 51-17 and also trains at B-Team Jiu-Jitsu. He recently released a viral video of himself rolling with some of the new members there.
Craig Jones has also accepted a combat Jiu Jitsu superfight against UFC star Donald Cerrone. Unlike IBJJF rules, in combat Jiu Jitsu competitors are allowed to strike each other with slaps and palm strikes. The fight is set for December 19th in Cancun.
Georges St. Pierre
The legendary GSP has trained at several gyms throughout his career and called RGA home prior to his successful fights against BJ Penn in UFC 58 and against Michael Bisping in UFC 217. St. Pierre was awarded his brown belt in BJJ by Renzo in 2006. In addition to Renzo, John Danaher was a common sight in St. Pierre’s corner.
GSP holds a professional MMA record of 28-2, with of his victories by knockout and 6 by submission. GSP held both the UFC welterweight title and the UFC middleweight title and is regarded by many to be one of the greatest MMA competitors to have ever graced the Octagon.
Renzo Gracie Academy Today
Recently the legendary Danaher Death Squad split up, and moved from Puerto Rico to Texas. Currently Gordon and John Danaher are training at the Renzo affiliate gym in Austin while Craig Jones and other members of the DDS have formed “B-Team” Jiu Jitsu. While some of the big names have moved on; the gym is still filled with many high level competitors.
New York is very much a hub for high level Jiu Jitsu gyms and competitors, and the Renzo Gracie Academy is one of the gyms that started it. It’s not uncommon to see current UFC fighters drop in to attend a class, or for Renzo himself to come by and teach. The gym also has an exclusive MMA class that is invite only.
The MMA Class
The Renzo Gracie Academy does offer an MMA class. However this is not available to anybody coming to visit the gym, or even some of the practitioners at the gym. According to the website this class is available to people who have been members of the gym for “a significant amount of time.”
Current Instructors and Champions
The Renzo Gracie Academy has produced successful competitors across all levels of combat sports: Gi, and no-gi, and MMA. The Academy has produced successful competitors in the UFC and even Muay Thai. Many of these competitors have gone on to teach at the academy.
Mike Jaramillo- (mikejaramillo_bjj)
Mike is known for being John Danaher’s first black belt. He also teaches many classes at the Academy today. He is a world champion, European gold medalist, and PanAm silver medalist.
Gregor Gracie- (@gregorgraciejiujitsu)
Gregor Gracie is the 2020 Black Belt World Masters champion. He also has fought several professional MMA fights and holds a record of 7-4. Six of his wins are by submission. He also has enjoyed a successful career in freestyle wrestling.
Igor Gracie- (@igorgracie)
Igor Gracie is another extremely accomplished competitor at all levels. He has won the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu national tournament twice, and captured double gold at the European No-gi Tournament. He has competed in MMA and has a record of 5-4. He has also opened his own gym: https://igorgraciejiujitsu.com/
Robson Gracie Jr.- (@robsongracie)
Not to be confused with Robson Gracie Senior; Robson is Renzo’s brother and competes in Bellator. His current record is 3-1.
Rob Constance- (@blackrob_bjj_boxing)
Rob is known for his wide range of skills and teaches BJJ, boxing, and MMA. He posts many tutorial videos on his Instagram. He is also a former New York city police officer and veteran. On top of being an instructor at Renzo’s he travels and gives seminars around the country.
Neiman Gracie- (@neimangracie)
Neiman Gracie is an extremely successful Bellator competitor with a record of 11-2, with 9 of those victories by submission. Like many of the other coaches at the Renzo Gracie Academy, he has won numerous medals in multiple IBJJF and World Jiu Jitsu tournaments.
FAQs About Renzo Gracie Academy
Who founded the Renzo Gracie Academy?
Renzo Gracie is known for much more than simply founding the famous academy. He is known for being one of the early pioneers of BJJ in the United States. He is also known for being an accomplished competitor and coach.
Where is Renzo Gracie Academy headquartered?
The Renzo Gracie Academy headquarters is located in New York City
However they have affiliate academies all over the world!
When was Renzo Gracie Academy founded?
Renzo Gracie Academy was founded in 1996.
The next time you are in New York, you should absolutely take time to go to a few classes at Renzo’s and see for yourself why the gym
The next time you are in New York, you should absolutely take time to go to a few classes at Renzo’s and see for yourself why the gym has developed such a prestigious reputation. Part of the reason the gym is known for producing so many champions is it lets newer BJJ practitioners train alongside some of the best practitioners in the world. The academy has produced many more champions than just the ones listed above and is sure to produce many more going forward.
If you don’t live in New York but you would still like to know what it’s like to train at the gym, you can go to one of the many affiliate academies that are located around the world. Many of these academies are run by black belts who trained at the headquarters in New York.
Jack is a BJJ blue belt who holds a bachelors degree in English Literature. He enjoys traveling, reading, and the Bow and Arrow choke. One day he hopes to teach English overseas and become a published author.