Catching Up With the Champ: Kade Ruotolo Teases Upcoming War With Fellow ADCC Vet Tommy Langaker

Kade Ruotolo may only be twenty years old, but he’s proven – with ruthless efficiency – that he’s the man to beat in his division. Between taking his rightful throne atop ONE Championship’s submission grappling lightweights, and cementing his spot as history’s youngest ADCC champion back in 2022, he looks near untouchable. The target on his back is undeniable – and while some athletes might crumple under the psychological pressure of it all, Kade’s a different animal.

“I love it,” he tells me, laughing. “I’m always looking for the toughest fight possible, and like I’ve said before, what motivates me to fight people are people who want to fight me […] If someone’s calling me out, it motivates me.”

On June 9, that motivation arrives in the form of Tommy Langaker, who hopes to unseat Kade Ruotolo from the top spot in ONE Championship’s submission grappling roster. And in many ways, the Norwegian phenom is an ideal challenger for Kade Ruotolo’s crown. Widely considered the most dangerous submission grappler out of Europe, Langaker was also Ruotolo’s bracket-mate at the talent-stacked men’s 77kg division at ADCC 2022.

In many ways, Langaker versus Ruotolo is ONE Championship’s way of asking, “What if?” After all, these two never got the chance to scrap on the ADCC mats, so what happens if they match up now – and how do the ruleset differences between ADCC and ONE Championship change the game?

“The main thing is, when preparing for ADCC, you might have an idea of who you might be going against at some point, but there’s no way to train specifically for one person – because you might not get that person,” explains Kade thoughtfully. The way he sees it, you can’t really plan further than your next match at a tournament like ADCC.

“With that being said, with ADCC, there’s points, so you’ve got to practice really stabilizing the positions,” he adds. “With ONE, there’s no points – it’s all about submissions – so I’m just going to be practicing submission hunting and finishing.”

In some ways, ONE’s highly submission-focused ruleset is perfect for Kade, who in the past, has playfully alluded to his affection for turning classical jiu-jitsu wisdom upside down by hunting for submission over position, rather than vice versa.

“I love it because I can just take all those strategic elements [about racking up points] out, and just focus on getting that tap,” he explains.

He and his brother Tye, young as they are, have also adapted their grappling styles to accommodate growing bodies. Where previously, as teenagers, they had to rely on scrambles to secure certain positions, the twins now boast the advantage of a more settled adult physicality.

“Now we’ve got more muscle on us – we’re getting a bit stronger, a bit more weight on us,” Kade tells me. “There are even some things – positions that we maybe would have had to ditch before, or positions that didn’t really work well for us, where we would have had to switch to something else – that are starting to work a bit more because we have more of that man strength.”

While Kade remains confident in his ability to retain the belt, he’s also well aware of the threats that a jiu-jitsu athlete of Langaker’s caliber presents. “He’s got an extremely flexible guard – probably the most flexible guard that I’ve seen,” observes Kade. “But he’s also very physically strong. He’s got that kind of classic bodybuilder-esque figure.” He grins. “That Viking strength! And strong and flexible is a tough combination to deal with – kind of like in my last match, with Matheus Gabriel. It makes it more difficult to get past that hip line and find windows for that submission.”

“I think the biggest threats he poses to me are probably his back takes – he’s got great back takes off that K guard, off that matrix guard,” adds Kade. “I think he’s probably going to be looking to get to my back, the same way he did in his last match against [Renato] Canuto. That’s where his best chance lies. Or, the leg locks – he got a leg lock finish on Uali [Kurzhev], so I could see him going for some leg locks on me.

“However, I’ve fought every type of guard in jiu-jitsu for the most part – so I’m more than ready for whatever he throws at me in the guard aspect, and same for the leg lock aspect. I’m very confident going in there, and I don’t think he’s going to surprise me with too much.” Here, Kade grins. “He’s super strong, super flexible, and he’s been throwing that matrix a lot – but as long as I don’t make any dumb errors and give up my back, I should get the win.”

Title defense aside, Kade’s also looking to expand his repertoire as an athlete by developing his coaching skills and preparing for an eventual MMA debut. We caught a glimpse of Kade in the coach’s seat during ONE Championship’s wildly popular US debut, where the lightweight king cornered his Atos teammate Osamah Almarwai against current flyweight champ Mikey Musumeci.

“I always love being there for my teammates […] our teammates are really the only people helping us improve on a daily basis,” Kade says of the experience. “Iron sharpens iron, right? So to be there for my teammates is always huge for me, and I love it.

“[Osamah] didn’t get the win, but he put on a great performance, and Mikey’s an animal. But I was proud of his performance, and he put in a really solid camp.”

Kade’s hopeful that he and Almarwai will make a reappearance as a coach-and-athlete duo on future ONE Championship events. “Osa’s so fired up,” Kade enthuses. “I know the division’s still pretty small, so I was thinking of who he would fight – maybe [the opponent from] one of Mikey’s last matches, you know? Taking on Cleber Sousa could be a good one […] I’d love to see that on the ONE platform for sure.”

As for his own cage fighting dreams, Kade remains eager to don a pair of MMA gloves – though he’s also treading cautiously. “I’ve been falling more and more in love with MMA every single day,” he tells me. “It’s just newer to me – I’m feeling like a white belt again, and it’s refreshing to have something new to learn every day.”

He hesitates to commit to a 2023 debut in the gloves, however. “My heart wants to, for sure,” he confesses. “I definitely want to, more than anything – but I also want to listen to my coaches.” He laughs. “I want to do it tomorrow, but everyone behind me wants me to focus and do it right, so I’m trying to listen. I need to make sure my hands reach the point where I don’t have to rely on my jiu-jitsu – even if jiu-jitsu is gonna be plan A for every fight.”

With an MMA debut still up in the air for ONE submission grappling’s reigning lightweight champ, what’s next on the agenda, after taking on Tommy Langaker?

“Our gym [in Costa Rica] is almost done,” reveals Kade, speaking on the passion project he and his brother have been working on for years. “We’re getting the last steps taken care of – we’re getting the mats sent out there, which is gonna take a couple months – but the dream’s coming alive. We’re excited for everyone tuning in [to the title defense] to hopefully meet us out at the gym in Costa Rica, surf, train, and enjoy that pura vida lifestyle out there – and come train with us when it’s up.”

Don’t miss Kade Ruotolo vs. Tommy Langaker at ONE Fight Night 11 on Friday, June 9.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here