Rolls Gracie - The Unforgettable BJJ Legend

Rolls Gracie - The Unforgettable BJJ Legend

1. Rolls Gracie’s Details

 Name Rolls Gracie
 Nickname  N/A
Born Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Date of Birth March 28, 1951.
Died  June 6, 1982
Reason of Death  Hang gliding accident
College/University N/A
Last Fight C.Zone Norte SPF
Weight Class Weight Class
Weight 160 lbs.
Height 5 ft 10 in.
Career Disclosed Earnings $ 0
Fighting out of  N/A
Foundational style  Gracie Jiu-jitsu, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ,Judo & Wrestling.
Favorite Position N/A
Rank  9th Degree Red Belt in BJJ
Awarded By  Helio Gracie
Foundation Style Guard Passing
Lineage Mitsuyo Maeda -> Carlos Gracie -> Helio Gracie -> Rolls Gracie
Team/Association Academia Gracie
Other Affiliations  Georges Mehdi
Bob Anderson (Wrestler)
Carlos Gracie

2. Rolls Gracie’s Biography

Rolls Gracie’s Biography
Photo credit: rollsgracie

“There is an era before and another one after Rolls.”

(Royler Gracie’s famous quote about Rolls Gracie)

Some names never die. Rolls Gracie is such a name. Born to the pioneer of jiu-jitsu, Rolls Gracie had Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in his blood. Only a few had the courage to fight him. He fought to win and surrendered to none except the one opponent no one could beat - death. Today, his struggle against death is considered a draw because though his body was conquered, his spirit and his jiu-jitsu still prevail today!

2.1. Rolls Gracie’s Early Life & Amateur Fighting

Succinct and spectacular. These two words best describe Gracie’s life when he was born on March 28, 1951, in Rio de Janeiro or “Cidade Maravilhosa” - “The Wonderful City.”

However, unlike the city, Gracie did not enjoy a childhood brimming with joy and color.  But it all changed after he found the purpose of his life in Jit-Jitsu.

Rolls was Carlos Gracie’s illegitimate son, hence his stepmother, Geny, refused to raise him. Carlos entrusted Helio Gracie with the task of raising his talented son.  

Jiu-Jitsu Training

Still a toddler, Rolls began the Jiu-Jitsu training. Within no time, it became evident that he was gifted. He shared the athletic streak that ran in the family and earned the title of best Jiu-Jitsu player, not just among the Gracie family but also of that era.
Young Rolls developed extraordinary grappling skills to win almost every junior competition out there.

Growth of Jiu-Jitsu Skills

Rolls’ biological mother, Claudia, worked for an airline, and therefore he enjoyed free travel. In 1962, she moved to the USA. This move opened a floodgate of opportunities for Rolls who broadened his jiu-jitsu exposure by traveling back and forth between Brazil and the USA.

Eventually, he visited other countries to learn martial arts from a new perspective. He learned different grappling techniques that were unknown to him before. His newfound knowledge changed the course of modern jiu-jitsu forever.

The Evolution of Jiu-Jitsu

The Evolution of Jiu-Jitsu
Photo credit: historyofbjj

Rolls’ unorthodox techniques were frowned upon by his uncle, Helio Gracie. The man who brought up Rolls had little patience for his improvisations. Oblivious to the future, Helio couldn’t predict that his nephew would become the bridge between the traditional, methodical jiu-jitsu and the aggressive, modern BJJ system.

Rolls felt dejected and left Helio’s gym to join Carlson Academy. He enjoyed absolute creative and athletic freedom thereat, incorporating all of his learnings in his training sessions.

He started his wrestling training with the most influential Brazilian judoka, Osvaldo Alves. One fateful encounter with the 5-time US Wrestling Champion Bob Anderson further broadened his horizons.

Meeting Bob Anderson

Rolls met Anderson in the Colombian Wrestling Federation through a mutual connection and invited Bob to visit Rio de Janeiro and teach him wrestling.

Bob accepted the invite, stayed at Rolls’ place in Rio, and taught his most favored wrestling techniques for two months.

Under the meticulous instructions of his mentor and would-be life-long friend, Rolls successfully worked on his no-gi grappling stand-up technique and began competing in freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling. Soon he added Sambo, a Russian form of judo, to his schedules.

Incorporation of Wrestling Techniques in Jiu-Jitsu

Jiu-jitsu training mainly involved defensive grappling, but Gracie started to improvise by adding techniques from other martial arts into his jiu-jitsu style. Gracie admired wrestlers and reflected their attitude in his technique.
He believed that draining an opponent’s stamina by applying submission holds and locks is not enough to meet the challenges of jiu-jitsu in Vale Tudo.

A Show of Invincibility

Moreover, there were few competitions at the time when Gracie was busy soaking up all these grappling techniques. Gracie realized that the lack of formal BJJ competitions hindered the true potential of grapplers. He began to compete and promote competitions to increase the popularity of Jiu-Jitsu among the masses.

A Friendly Fight

His fighting experience after participating in multiple competitions grew manifolds. It reached a point, where no Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu athlete based in Rio de Janeiro was ready to compete against Gracie. Driven by competitions, Gracie had to look for tournaments in the USA. The fact that his mother resided in New York helped. This search for competitions led him to Bob Anderson too.

Though the two were great friends, Anderson found it difficult to accept that Gracie was truly invincible. Perhaps it was because the two never practiced together. Anderson  finally began believing in the implausible notion after inviting Gracie to the practice.

Gracie was much smaller in stature, but he had no trouble dominating Anderson. Frustrated, Anderson removed his gi and challenged Gracie to fight his way, only to face  defeat again.

2.2. Rolls Gracie's Pro BJJ Combat

The 1979 Pan American Wrestling Championship

 In 1979, Anderson invited Gracie to the USA to compete in the San Diego Pan American Wrestling Championship in California. Before the match, Gracie stayed at Anderson’s place and rehearsed the techniques he would apply to win yet another gold medal at the tournament.

A Golden Opportunity

The FILA (International Federation of Amateur Fights) was also present at the event to observe Gracie and his unrivaled game. Gracie easily defeated the favored sambo players of the event. Impressed by his performance, the committee insisted that he stay one more day and fight.

The next night, Gracie ruthlessly killed the game of eight fighters of varying fighting styles and weight classes. He hardly took any rest intervals in between the fight. This left the FILA committee members awe-struck. His achievement immediately created a lucrative opportunity, when Rolls was invited to stay in America and teach at the American Fighting Institute.

A Great Sacrifice for Jiu-Jitsu

He discussed the matter with Helio Gracie who wanted Rolls to stay in Brazil and support the sport with his presence and accomplishments. Rolls immediately agreed and turned down an excellent salary and career path, much to his wife’s dismay.

Conquering Pan American Sambo Championship

In 1979, Rolls also participated in the Pan American competition in Sambo. He won two gold medals. One in his weight class and the other in the absolute division.
In 1980, Rolls put together a Gracie Team for the Pan American Championship only to win a bronze medal.

2.3. Rolls Gracie's Historic Fights  

Rolls Gracie vs Mauricio Robbe

In 1973, Gracie faced Mauricio Robbe, a Pedro Hemeterio black belt who hailed from Sao Paulo. With unmatchable quickness and techniques, Gracie submitted Robbe and won the Guanabara State Championship.

Year Event  Opponent W/L/D Method Stage Weight Class Location
1973 Guanabara State Championship Mauricio Robbe W Submission F ABS Brazil

Rolls Gracie vs Paulo Baco

In 1977, Osvaldo Alves asked Gracie to fight against his student, Paulo Baco. Baco was 90 kg and held the title of Brazilian National Judo Champion. Alves was quite sure that Baco would be victorious at the end of the match. He couldn’t be more wrong.

The two fighters confronted each other at the Mello Tenis Club. They both tried to take each other down but failed. After several minutes of this, Gracie successfully adopted an aggressive guard position. Baco in this instant pinned him to the ground. Rolls was completely immobilized and could not pass the guard. Judges were impressed by Gracie’s aggressive stance and announced him the winner. This was the first match where Gracie did not submit his opponent to win.

Year Event  Opponent W/L/D Method Stage Weight Class Location
1977 C.Zone Norte Paulo Baco W Referee Decision SPF ABS Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

2.4. Rolls Gracie’s BJJ Instructorship  

Rolls’ Establishment

After a few years at Carlson’s Academy, Gracie felt that his game was not growing as much as he would like. He wanted his  jiu-jitsu to expand. His brother, understanding Rolls’ need to expand his jiu-jitsu, allowed him to leave Carlson’s Academy. With his younger brother beside him, Rolls established his own academy, Rua Figueiredo Magalhaes. 

As an instructor Rolls frequently encouraged his students to branch out and train in judo, wrestling, and other forms of martial arts.

To improve his athleticism, Rolls also trained in Olympic gymnastics and surfing. He became the first member of the Gracie family to own a surfboard.

Notable Students

Rolls’ academy became the star-studded hub of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighters. He taught many athletes who made a name in their own right.

  • Rickson Gracie
  • Carlos Gracie, Jr.
  • Rigan Machado
  • Royler Gracie

Roll’s Black Belts - The Famous Five

Rolls promoted six of his students to the black belt level before his untimely death. Ironically, they are known as the Famous Five.

  • Marcio Stambowsky
  • Mauricio Motta Gomes
  • Romero Cavalcanti
  • Nicin Azulay
  • Paulo Conde
  • Mario Claudio Tallarico

The Final Round - Tragic Death

The tragic hand-gliding accident on June 6th, 1983 marked the end of this spectacular journey as death claimed the legendary Jiu-Jitsu champion and instructor. Rolls left too soon. He was only 31 when he fought the final round of his life. The Jiu-Jitsu world mourns his death even today.

2.5. Rolls Gracie’s Championships & Accomplishments  


  • Brazilian National Wrestling Championship (Freestyle)


  • Pan American Wrestling Championship (Freestyle)
  • Pan American Championship (Sambo)


  • Pan American Sambo Champion

Year Medals
1979 2 Gold Medals
1980 1 Bronze Medal

    • Pan American Freestyle Wrestling Champion

Year Medals
1979 1 Gold Medals

  • Guanabara State Champion
  • (Campeonato de Jiu-Jitsu da Guanabara)

3. Rolls Gracie’s Main Achievements

Campeonato de Jiu-Jitsu da Guanabara
Position  Year Weight Class
Champion 1973 & 1974 Absolute

Pan American Sambo
Position  Year Weight Class
3rd 1980 68 kg
1st 1979 68 kg
1st 1979 Absolute

Pan American Wrestling Championship (Freestyle)
Position  Year Weight Class
1st 1979 68 kg
Champion 1975 ------

4. Rolls Gracie’s Professional Record Breakdown

Professional Record Breakdown
4 Matches 4 Wins 0 Loss
By Submission 3 0
By Decision 1 0

Submission Methods W/L

Submission Method 3 Wins 0 Loss
Armbar 1 0
Submission 2 0

5. Rolls Gracie’s Fight History

Year Event  Opponent W/L/D Method Stage Weight Class
1977 C. Zone Norte Paulo Boca W Referee Decision SPF ABS
1976 C. Interno Sergio Iris W Submission SPF ABS
1975 Mello Champ. Edir da Silva W Armbar F ABS
1973 Guanabara S. Mauricio Robbe W Submission F ABS

6. Rolls Gracie’s Top Fights (Video Links)

Rolls Gracie vs Alvaro Romano

Rolls Gracie vs Karate

Rolls Gracie vs Rickson Gracie

Photo credit: pinterest

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