It's Science: Royler Gracie (Legends Edition)

royler its science

 By: Tyler Bishop
(stats located below)


Thank you for making It’s Science one of the most popular jiu jitsu pieces on the internet and inside our little community. As many of you may already know, the full length articles, stats, etc. of all our competitor profiles are featured in every issue of Jiu Jitsu Style Magazine. This particular one will be released in the upcoming issue of JJS next month.

This particular episode kicks off our new series of statistical breakdowns featuring legends of the sport. Hopefully this new series can help us further paint a picture as to how jiu jitsu is evolving, by taking a closer look at where is has come from – competitively of course. I found no place more fitting to start than with the Gracie families most decorated sport jiu jitsu competitor, Master Royler Gracie.

This piece was of particular interest to me, as I viewed Royler’s style – from the outside to be different from many modern competition approaches, and I thought that an analysis of his game would prove to be a stark contrast to many past studies. I was both right and wrong. While his game does differ from many of past profiles, the results that he achieved were surprising in light of the results. His ability to play the top and achieve success is primarily where my attention goes in this breakdown, but I don’t think we should stop at that. Royler’s game is as clearly defined as any of the others we have observed in times past. I hope you will enjoy observing the results as much as I did collecting them.


All matches observed of Royler Gracie used in this small sample occurred in his respective weight division between 1994 and the present day. The sampling includes a mixture of both gi and nogi competition. Only techniques, occurrences, and outcomes that were recorded are displayed in the data below (i.e. if no butterfly sweeps occurred, there will not be a representation of that in the sample data). Matches were selected at random based on available matches – selected using a random generator from available matches. This is a limited sample, and one without many of our normal controls such as; unified rules, time limits, etc. This makes the data a little more skewed than what we would normally like to see. However, the data collected did end up accurately representing insightful trends that we can use to draw logical and rational conclusions. As jiu jitsu grows, so does that data.


Royler Gracie, his name alone bears a connection to the sport itself. As the most decorated sport jiu jitsu competitor of Helio Gracie, Royler, is known for his flexibility, mysterious pressure, and fierce competitiveness. In fact, Royler recently competed once again at the age of 48 against Eddie Bravo in a thrilling match at Metamoris. It’s hard to deny the strong competitive will Royler possess. In fact, the famous picture above almost encapsulates Roylers mystique in-of-it-self. But, what techniques, strategies, and gameplans makeup the Royler Gracie style?

Let’s begin our review of the statistics below with a breakdown of the start of the match. Royler, like many of his generation, proved to be primarily a top game player. He displays a dynamic and smothering style of passing that he has leaned on heavily throughout his career, and the best way to execute that strategy is to start on top from the start. Roylers initial takedown of choice was the ankle pick and a wrestling style double or single leg attempt. It’s fair to mention that because many of these matches occurred in ADCC that many of these takedowns could have been specifically tailored to that format, thus giving them higher incidence than if this study was of only gi competition. These techniques accounted for approximately 78% of all of his initial takedowns.

Another strategy often used to arrive at the top position was a basic sacrifice throw in which he would drop his opponent down quickly into a butterfly style sweep in an attempt to gain the top position. Even if the throw did not work initially, Royler’s butterfly guard proved to be one of his “go to” assets on bottom. His flexibility, combined with his mastery of the technique, allowed him to secure quite a few sweeps from this position. In fact, nearly 42% of the sweeps we observed in the study were from butterfly guard. The nest most common position that he would sweep from was a simple collar sleeve open guard variation (best way to define it) – in which Royler would use butterfly hooks and scissor style sweeps to overtake his opponent. This style of play accounted for approximately 25% of his sweeping positions.

Once on top, there is a reason why many in the jiu jitsu community still refer to the knee through style of pass as the Royler Pass. Of all the competitors we studied, none averaged a higher pass rate than Royler Gracie. Royler passed the guard on average 1.6 times per match. Our next closest competitor was Gui Mendes with 0.78. Royler passed the guard more than twice as much as many of the modern competitors we have recently studied.

Royler’s guard pass of choice was  his signature knee through (or knee cut) style pass. 11 of the 24 guard passes we observed in the entire study were classified in this style (45.8%). However, Royler also utilized leg drag, torrendo, and reverse sitting half guard style passes with a high degree of success as well. Royler executed the majority of these passing sequences from his knees or from the half guard – which is very much juxtaposition from where we have seen it with the majority of the other competitors we have studied. In fact, no other competitor had the majority of their passes start from a kneeling position.

Royler recorded 88% of the submissions we observed from either the back or mount position. 50% of the submissions were chokes from the back while armbars and collar chokes made up the rest. 53% of the matches we observed ended with Royler finishing his opponent by submission.

In the matches we observed he was victorious in 13 of them. He has shown the type of spirit throughout the course of his career that you would expect from a decorated legend like himself. However, the numbers do reveal something very interesting. The dynamics of his style are unique qualities that – in many cases – we have yet to see replicated by any other competitor. In his last match against Eddie Bravo you could still see architecture of his proprietary game. And, while it’s likely we have seen the last of Royler Gracie in the competitive jiu jitsu world, it’s likely there is still a lot we can learn from the matches and legacy he has left behind. This is only a start.

Notable Stats

  • Highest average pass rate per match of any competitor studied so far (1.6 per match)
    • Passed the guard twice as much as the next closest in this category (Gui Mendes)
  • 88% of submissions came from the back or mount
  • Knee through style of pass was used to pass in 46.8% of successful attempts
  • 1/2 of total submissions he secured were chokes from the back
  • Scored first points (when applicable) in every single victory
  • 45% successful passes started from opponents half guard

royler stats graphic

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