He’s brash. He’s outspoken. He’s unapologetic. Gordon Ryan doesn’t hide his feelings. He’s unapologetic.
The 27-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt recently inked a seven-figure contract with FloSports to compete in grappling. with his first match under the deal coming against heated rival Felipe Pena on Feb. 25. Gordon long envisioned a day where grapplers could earn a living simply by participating in matches, without needing to teach or run a gym.
“I remember when I started training, in order to win any money grappling you had a win a Grappler’s Quest absolute and it was like three ADCC champions in the bracket, and if you won, you won like $1,000 bucks,” Ryan told MMA Fighting. “Then I remember EBI [Eddie Bravo Invitational] and you had to get submissions in regulation and it was $12,500 per submission and it was like a possible $50,000 grand prize, and everyone was like, ‘That’s crazy!’ That was like five or six years ago.
” We’ve come so far. The sport is growing exponentially, and it’s only getting more popular each year. The sport is becoming more popular, and celebrities are joining the ranks. It is becoming a popular and well-known sport worldwide. It’s been an amazing journey .”
For the longest time, Ryan felt like he was almost fighting a losing battle as he tried to bring more attention to grappling while employing promotional tactics off the mat that felt closer to UFC superstar Conor McGregor than Brazilian jiu-jitsu luminaries who preceded him.
Now that the million-dollar deal is in place and the announcement that the ADCC Submission Fighting World Championship will be moving to UFC Fight Pass, Gordon feels that grappling has finally begun to get the recognition it deserves.
“I think that people are starting to get it now, but for the longest time, I was up against so much resistance,” Gordon said. It’s like I felt before the last ADCC that I was pushing a boulder up mountains all my career and was being stopped by so many people.
“After the ADCC and I beat everybody, it feels like the boulder got to the other side of the hill and it’s rolling down and people are like, ‘Now we get it.’ I think people are starting to catch on now. I’m trying to make more money but that will lead to everybody else making more money. Once these guys get on board with that and they stop hating on me and they take what I’m doing as inspiration rather than confrontation, it will be a lot easier.”
Signing such lucrative deals also places a huge target on Ryan’s back but it’s nothing new for him. As a multi-time grappling champion with a long list of accomplishments on his resume, Ryan already knows every opponent he faces wants to be the one to end his five-year unbeaten streak.
This desire will only grow — Ryan is open to it.
“It’s like everyone watches every match that I play, or even the entire jiu jitsu universe,” he stated. “Every match is the biggest match of my life because I know if I lose, it’s going to be a national news story. Every match I play is a competition and all eyes will be on me. This puts a lot of pressure on me which I enjoy. I always do better under pressure.
“I like the pressure and that’s why submissions are my favorite. It’s becoming serious. It seems that the mainstream more we become, the more people will be watching me. It’s definitely a different feel than it was a year ago or two years ago.”
Ryan admits that his performances will be graded differently and this raises expectations for every competition he enters.
This might seem strange to some, but Ryan is now able to accept it.
” I’m being evaluated and judged differently now,” Ryan stated. “If I don’t go out and submit the guy and absolutely destroy the guy — like I didn’t submit Victor Hugo in the ADCC but I dominated the whole match and people were like, ‘Wow, Gordon didn’t even finish him.’ These guys can’t even win three, four, or five matches in a row. I’m just being judged in a different way. People will be disappointed if I do not go out with the man and smoke. We’re at a point where we are moving to a new level, and I will be judged differently than everyone else.
” I hold myself to the exact same standards as those who do not like me. This makes the process more enjoyable. This makes me more determined, hungry and more committed. I also know that if I do not go out and submit the man, then people will talk trash about me and make fun of my efforts. It just adds an interesting dynamic to this whole thing.”
Ryan’s new deal will keep him busy in 2023,. He has plans to achieve even greater goals, like earning an eight-figure salary in the near future. And he is proud that he can take on the whole grappling industry.
Now he just needs his competition to step up their game to match what he’s doing.
“You need an athlete in a sport that sort of transcends what that sport is and it kind of goes deeper and bigger than what the sport is,” Ryan said. Tony Hawk is a perfect example. Never once did I see a skateboarder. Most of my friends never watched skateboarding, but you still know who Tony Hawk is.
“You need those Tony Hawks, the Michael Jordans, the Muhammad Alis, and you need that one guy that can do it all, that has the persona, that has the charisma and most importantly can win consistently, you need at least one of those guys to really build the sport. You also need rivals, which is my problem right now because I don’t really have any.”