While submission grappling audiences have long vied for the chance to see fan favorites Kade Ruotolo and Mikey “Darth Rigatoni” Musumeci – both currently champions of their respective ONE Championship weight classes – go toe-to-toe in the cage, a significant size imbalance has dashed most hopes. However, in May, we’ll be treated to arguably the next best thing: a title defense by Mikey against the Ruotolos’ up-and-coming Atos teammate, current no-gi world champion Osamah Almarwai.
“The Ruotolos are some of the best passers in the game – and they’ve got some of the best leglock defenses,” Almarwai tells the Jiu-Jitsu Times. For him, the Ruotolo-influenced game plan is the ideal answer to Darth Rigatoni’s notoriously tricky guard work and deadly leg entanglements.
What’s more, Almarwai’s corner will be none other than Kade Ruotolo himself. “Kade is going to be in my corner, and he’s been helping me in the training room,” says Almarwai. “He’s been watching me there, and coaching me from the outside, so I can get used to listening to him – because I’m used to listening to André Galvão in my corner – but I want to get used to Kade. So we’ve been training, and working on strategies.”
A training camp run by the Ruotolo twins is a dream come true for Almarwai, who treasures a genuine sense of camaraderie with Kade and Tye. “They’re some of the nicest people around,” he says.
“We’ve been doing the camp together, especially since Tye is on the same card. So we’re training, and he’s giving me a lot of tips. They’re the best in the world. And it’s so exciting because I’ve never fought in a cage, so it’s very helpful to have teammates who have been there – the Ruotolos, André Galvão – they give you pointers on what to do, depending on where you are, and what’s different between the cage and the mats.”
Moreover, the twins play and coach a highly submission-oriented game – a massive boon under the ONE Championship ruleset, which primarily rewards legitimate submission attempts, known as “catches,” over other criteria such as positional dominance or takedowns. According to Almarwai, the Ruotolo mindset – wherein both brothers are constantly hunting the next submission opportunity – have influenced Almarwai’s grappling style for the better.
What’s remarkable about Almarwai is his humility. He’s the first IBJJF adult black belt world champion to emerge from the Middle East, but he never intended to become a professional combat sports athlete. “Jiu-jitsu was actually a hobby when I started,” he emphasizes when I ask him about the origins of his career. “I was in Saudi the first time I started jiu-jitsu – my family lived in Saudi; my father worked there – so I trained when I was in high school, and took a few classes. And then I stopped because of transportation issues – I couldn’t go to the gym!”
He chuckles. While logistical issues put a temporary stop to his grappling habit, thankfully, they couldn’t keep Almarwai off the mats for long. In 2010, he moved to Orlando, Florida, where he picked the sport back up again. “I started training in my university – I studied English, so I trained at the university where the English institute was,” he remembers. “And then I went back to Saudi to do my undergrad in industrial engineering.”
As an engineer-to-be undergoing the rigors of academia, Almarwai felt like he needed a hobby to fill his spare time. “My brother is actually the one who encouraged me to do jiu-jitsu – he’s a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. So I started doing jiu-jitsu [again]. It was a hobby. I didn’t even really think about competing – I did some local competitions here and there, but it wasn’t anything I took seriously.”
Like so many other adult hobbyists, however, Almarwai slowly fell in love with the sport. “I started dedicating more time to it,” he recalls. “I’d even finish my homework early so I could train!” He grins.
He eventually returned to the US to do his master’s degree in engineering management. A move to San Diego, California provided Almarwai with the opportunity to join André Galvão’s world famous Atos team – and Almarwai hasn’t looked back since.
“My first camp was in 2018 – the ADCC camp.” He shakes his head, smiling yet looking exhausted just by the memory. “That was the toughest camp ever!”
Originally from Yemen, Almarwai is touched by the show of support from grappling fans across the Arab diaspora. “I’ve been getting a lot of messages,” he says. “I didn’t know that I would be getting so many messages from people from everywhere! Yemen, Egypt, Saudi, UAE, everywhere in the Middle East. People will message me going, ‘Hey, we believe in you, you’re the one who’s going to make it.’ It’s very exciting for me – it’s actually an honor for me to represent my region on such a big stage.”
Does he have any advice for his fellow jiu-jitsu athletes from the Middle East? “The main thing is consistency, to be honest with you,” he says. “When I came [to the US], I wasn’t a high-level grappler or anything. I was decent, I was technical, but that was it. What took me to the next level was consistency. I kept showing up – a lot of times, I’d get smashed in the training room, especially since Atos has so many high-level guys – but I stayed consistent.
“My piece of advice would be to go into a high-level gym – if you can afford it, and are able to. Go to a high-level gym, such as Atos. This helped me tremendously: being surrounded by world champions, and seeing how they train, how they diet, how they cut weight. It’s just a different mindset. The competition class at Atos is something I haven’t seen anywhere else – and when you go to a real competition after that, it just feels easier because you’re under so much pressure in the training room.”
While Almarwai admits that the pressure of representing an entire region can sometimes feel heavy on his shoulders, it’s also fueled his desire to put on a better show. “I hope it translates into an exciting match – and me getting the win!” he adds, with a cheeky twinkle in his eye. “I hope that I continue to be a good role model – and that I continue to win.”
Don’t miss Osamah Almarwari’s showdown against Mikey Musumeci at ONE Fight Night 10, in ONE Championship’s Friday, May 5 debut on US shores!
Meanwhile, follow Osamah Almarwai on Instagram.