Kade Ruotolo Talks ADCC, Longtime Rivalries, and Upcoming Takedown War With Russian Sambo Champ

Kade Ruotolo seems unstoppable these days. From catapulting himself off the cage wall in his ONE debut against MMA legend Shinya Aoki, to submitting his way through four opponents to claim ADCC gold as the youngest champion in the event’s history, he’s taking the combat sports world by storm – and doing it in style.

“ADCC was a massive accomplishment for me,” Kade tells the Jiu-Jitsu Times. Avenging twin brother Tye’s loss in the finals of the 2022 Mundials to longtime rival Mica Galvão – by submission, no less – felt particularly sweet to Kade. “Leading into that final, from a physical standpoint, I felt so broken,” he admits. “I had a pinched nerve and a rib injury, and I knew the match would be twenty minutes long – and I did not want to fight for twenty minutes, especially with those injuries!”

“I’ve got to put him out,” Kade remembers telling Tye, before going out to face Mica. “No way I’m fighting for twenty minutes.” 

What many don’t know is that Tye has also submitted Mica before – back when they were just green belts fighting their way through the juvenile divisions. “In their first match [as green belts], Tye caught him with a kimura,” Kade reveals. “We were kids, it was our green belt days, so it’s not on our records, and I don’t think there’s even any footage or anything, but they’ve had those three matches – and this was only my first match [against Mica], so there was a bit of anticipation, for sure.” 

“Tye definitely gave me some good pointers,” adds Kade. “I don’t think Mica did anything that surprised me – Mica’s guard was similar to Lachlan [Giles]’s, in my first match. They both have a very strong core. In positions where most guys will crumble two to three minutes in, they can actually sit there for almost the whole match – which also shows extreme cardio endurance. It’s a different type of cardio, retaining guard that way, and it comes from years of training really specifically.

Kade also learned from his brother’s previous errors in matchups with Mica. “We kind of knew Mica’s guard, and how he tends to play. One mistake that I think Tye made the last time he faced Mica was kind of going in with head and hands first. We made that adjustment, with me entering at the legs first.”

Did any of Kade’s choices seem to surprise Mica? At the very least, the inherent differences between the twins’ grappling styles quickly made themselves evident. “Tye is so good at keeping a consistent pace to break his opponents,” says Kade. “That’s kind of the same mindset he took against Mica when they faced off in the finals of Who’s Number One. But my style is a bit more counter-reactive. I love to counterattack. I’m always attacking off my opponents’ attacks. 

“So, leading into my match with Mica, I don’t think he was ready for all my counters – I didn’t think he was respecting my whizzers and different head-and-arm stuff. It offered more opportunities for me, and kind of made him overcommit in the end.”

Kade also credits his victory in part to smart pacing. “One thing we don’t really take into account is how dry the air is – it was out in Vegas, and the air just seemed really thin, and you can definitely get pretty tired pretty quickly,” he observes. “So, I just made sure to keep a good pace, while still throwing every attack I could. And I felt him just mentally slowing down a lot, becoming weaker and weaker.”

The last time we spoke, back in May, the Ruotolo twins were still game planning for superfights against, respectively, Shinya Aoki and Garry Tonon. While Tonon would ultimately suffer a defeat at Tye’s hands, Kade’s still hoping for his own shot at the Lion Killer – especially after hearing Garry compare him unfavorably to his twin. “If he wants the smoke, he can get it as well,” says Kade with a laugh. “I’m more than open to that matchup, and whenever he’s ready, we’ll definitely run that one. I’d be super stoked, and I think it would be an epic match.”

He’d also love more matchups in the ONE Circle against his fellow ADCC 2022 alumni, such as Tommy Langaker and Renato Canuto. “There’s all this talent that’s coming into ONE, and it’s beautiful to see,” says Kade. It creates a lot of interesting possibilities for ONE’s grappling product – including, perhaps, an open weight class belt for submission grappling. After all, Kade’s own twin Tye earned a bronze medal in ADCC’s absolute class, nearly submitting super-heavyweight Nicholas Meregali in the semis with a D’Arce choke, and only losing on a controversial judges’ decision. 

 “Anything’s possible,” Kade tells me. “That would be for the guys at ONE – for Chatri, Léo [Vieira], and that whole team – to go over, but I think [an open weight title fight] would be an amazing idea. After this latest ADCC, Tye proved he could hang with the biggest, strongest guys – he took out Felipe Pena, Pedro Marinho, and took that L against Meregali in a really close match that could have gone either way. Tye’s an animal, and I think he’d be open to doing any weight [at ONE], really.” 

Right now, though, Kade’s got his own eyes fixed on his next prize – and that prize is a ONE title belt at lightweight, come Friday, October 21. “I’m super excited for this one,” Kade tells me. “My opponent is a sambo champ, so it’s a bit of a clash of styles for sure.” 

Last month, fellow jiu-jitsu superstar Mikey Musumeci earned the promotion’s first ever title belt for grappling, setting a precedent for future title shots within ONE’s talent-stacked grappling roster. However, Kade anticipates a very different-looking scrap in his own title match.

Much of that comes down to the style matchup. Both Ruotolo twins favor a grappling game that’s almost the polar opposite of Musumeci’s jiu-jitsu. Where Darth Rigatoni is famous for an intricately dangerous guard game, and tends to find his deadliest submission entries from the bottom, Kade and Tye are both primarily top players who love to wrestle and pass guard. 

“I love the guard, and you need to know the guard,” acknowledges Kade. “There’s going to be positions where you get taken down, and you have to use the guard. But personally, I’m not a huge fan of pulling to the guard unless I need to – and I’m always trying to get the guy to the ground, and dominate. I’m always trying to keep the match as realistic to a real fight as possible – and in a real fight, I’m not going to pull guard, so I always try to keep that mindset.” 

What’s more, Musumeci won his title against Cleber Sousa – a fellow jiu-jitsu ace also known for playing guard. Kade, on the other hand, has been matched up against a fellow takedown artist in Russian sambo and judo champion Uali Kurzhev – and quite a well-decorated one, at that.

In previous submission grappling matchups between jiu-jitsu specialists and sambo and judo competitors, we’ve typically seen success from jiu-jitsu players due to their ability to weaponize bottom positions after pulling guard. It’s worth noting, though, that sambo players and judoka tend to outmatch jiu-jitsu players on the feet, where the former’s well-honed takedown arsenal truly shines.

Kade Ruotolo, however, isn’t most jiu-jitsu players, and he fully intends to meet Uali Kurzhev in the sambo champ’s native element: a good old-fashioned takedown war. “Traditional sambo guys don’t take as many double legs as traditional wrestlers,” observes Kade. “They do a lot of trips, inside trips, maybe ankle pics, and some Greco-Roman stuff and upper body throws. So I think he’s going to be attacking all of those, and I’m going to be attacking all of those right back, and also trying to shoot in.” In fact, Kade anticipates just as much time battling for a takedown as he does battling for a submission.

“I think it’s going to make for a more exciting match,” says Kade. “Obviously, with his sambo background, he’s going to be very talented as a wrestler. I’ve seen some tape, and he has some good takedowns, some good trips – and some good leg attacks as well, so that will be really interesting.” 

Nonetheless, Kade will be a heavy favorite for the title, particularly given his history-making ADCC performance – but he won’t be letting overconfidence get the better of him. “I always keep the same mindset, where I think, ‘This guy is trying to take what I want away from me,’” he explains. “You hear a lot of guys say this, but at the end of the day, it’s true – you’ve got to make it a little bit personal. You can’t have all love and respect for your opponent, because that’s going to make it hard to cover his mouth and make him tired and do all those little things you have to do to really capitalize and win that match.” 

Kade grins at me. “Nothing personal against [Uali], but I’m going to be coming into our match at one hundred percent.” 

Don’t miss this explosive grappling matchup! Kade Ruotolo versus Uali Kurzhev will be taking place at ONE on Prime Video 3, streaming from Amazon Prime Video on Friday, October 21, at 8 PM EST. 


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