Twin jiu-jitsu stars Kade and Tye Ruotolo will be sharing a hotly anticipated ONE Championship debut on May 20 at ONE 157 against veteran submission artists Shinya Aoki and Garry Tonon – but it took a few tweaks to create the perfect fight card.
“At first, I think [the matchmaker] had Kade against Garry, and me against Shinya, which would have been cool as well,” Tye tells the Jiu-Jitsu Times. “But Garry’s in ADCC with Kade in the same division, so they’d most likely have the chance to fight over there.”
“Plus you’ve been praying to get Garry for a while,” Kade adds, giving his brother a knowing nudge.
Tye grins without denying it. “I’ve been wanting to face Garry for a while,” he agrees. So, in a near-Shakespearean plot twist, the twins traded opponents. After all, like any pair of siblings, the Ruotolos have learned to share – with each anticipating their own shot at the Danaher Death Squad star.
“Shinya’s a beast too,” points out Tye. “Props to Chatri [Sityodtong] for hooking up some killer debut matches for both of us.”
In many ways, it’s turned out to be an ideal style matchup for both twins, who serve as primary training partners to each other. Tye considers his personal grappling style to be more similar to that of Aoki – consistent, positionally strong, and difficult to bait into blundering – whereas Kade favors Tonon’s inventive, sometimes frustratingly unpredictable game. As a result, in training, they’re able to replicate one another’s upcoming opponents with remarkable accuracy.
“I think I throw a couple more unorthodox approaches [than Tye],” says Kade. “To the extent where sometimes I’ll almost put myself out of position. Whereas Tye will keep himself in position, so he has a very good level of control and pace setting.”
“Kade’s very good creatively,” agrees Tye. “He sometimes thinks of things that I don’t think of. We’re both very creative fighters, but Kade in particular does things in certain situations where he has escape routes that he shouldn’t. Like he can escape from certain positions where he should be stuck. With that being said, sometimes [in the process], he does put himself in bad positions. Me, on the other hand, I’m also creative, but I’m very – not reserved, necessarily, but I don’t make a lot of mistakes.”
So what are the most dangerous elements of their upcoming opponents? “Shinya has a lot of forward pressure,” observes Kade. “He doesn’t allow too many mistakes to happen. He seems very structurally sound. What I’m worried about – and I’m not worried about it a ton – but I’m a little worried that he keeps a solid pace, and he’s really good at using the cage in his favor, as we saw in his last fight with Garry. So if I had to choose a worry, it would probably be getting pressed up against the cage and getting stuck there.”
Kade smiles, and adds with an air of confidence, “But I don’t think there’s any way that happens, to be honest.” At this point, he throws a playful glance at his brother, elaborating, “I’ve been training with this guy here a lot, so my preparation hasn’t changed too much, and we’re always head to head, always looking for submissions, so I don’t think he’s gonna be able to get me up against the cage, and if he does, I think I’ll be able to get around it.”
The cage will be a new element for both twins – but one they’ve been preparing for steadily. “As we’re looking to make our MMA debuts in the next year or so, we’ve been working a lot more [in the cage],” says Kade. The barrier of an extra wall has added new dimensions to the game for Kade. “It mobilizes a lot of different attacks,” he explains.
“There are a few details – a few techniques – that are different,” adds Tye. “Stuff that would be different up against the wall than in the middle of a mat, but other than that, it’s not too big of a change.” He laughs. “It’s a few little things, and hopefully, I’m not saying this and then spending tomorrow’s training getting held up against the wall! But we both feel confident in that area. I know that both Shinya and Garry have experience in the cage doing MMA, and just being in the ONE arena in general. And for us, it’s our debut, but we have a lot to look forward to, a lot of new experience, and I’m excited. I’m looking forward to it.”
As for Tonon, from a strategic perspective, Tye has benefited from the lessons of previous tangos with the Danaher Death Squad and their alumni – especially his much-hyped match against Tonon’s former teammate Craig Jones. “The DDS and their leglocks came into jiu-jitsu so hot, and revolutionized it in some ways,” says Tye. “My brother and I, we didn’t hate leglocks, but we didn’t learn a bunch of them [at first], so when we first competed in the [ADCC] Trials years ago, we both fell victim to heel hooks by DDS members. So we were both like, ‘Okay, we’re going to figure this out.’ Because that’s my thing: I don’t like to have any holes in my game.”
Since then, Tye has yet to get caught in another heel hook in major competition. It’s a testament to the twins’ resilence and remarkable ability to turn prior errors into future victories.
Regarding his match against Jones in particular, Tye adds, “It was a good match – I had a bit of a size disadvantage, so I had a hard time getting going, but I do think I got him tired, and I think if I’d had another five minutes, I for sure could have pushed the pace and smashed him.” He laughs. “But I’m definitely more confident against these DDS guys now, for sure.
So will the keys to victory be studying Tonon’s game – or focusing on imposing his own? Tye grins at the question.” [Tonon’s] got a crazy game, you know? So it’s hard to worry too much about his game, and I’ve seen him: he has a lot of great matches with a lot of high-level athletes, and a lot of great wins.”
Fortunately for both Kade and Tye, they’ve had ample opportunity to study matchups between Aoki and Tonon themselves. “I did a lot of research on the match between Shinya and Garry where they fought on ONE,” says Tye. “So it was cool to kind of see them go at it. Garry’s had a lot of good performances, and I can kind of pick them apart to see where his weaknesses and my strengths are.”
While Tye doesn’t want to give away too much before the match itself, he does elaborate, “[Tonon] moves a lot – like really, a lot! He scrambles, and he’s a hurricane of takedowns and submissions. So I’ve got to be smart with my movements. I don’t want to gas myself out in any transitions, but at the same time, I’ve got this infinity gas tank, so I think I’ll be able to push the pace, while staying aware of stuff like the heel hooks.”
Kade chimes in, “I think one thing about Garry is that he’s very leg lock oriented – his strongest submission threat would have to be his leg locks. This will be interesting because I think for Tye, his strongest thing right now is his leg lock defense. That’s what we’ve worked on most these last two years. It’s really going to be playing to both their strengths, so I think it’ll be interesting to see.”
Tye agrees, “I think he’s going to try and get me up against the wall, take me down, and get on my leg, and I’m going to be trying hard to put him on the wall, take him down, and get on his head.” In short, both twins are predicting that Tye’s match against Tonon will see an unstoppable force colliding with an immovable object – it’s just a question of which buckles first.
It’s a war that both twins – famous for their relentless pace and aggressive forward pressure – look forward to. “I think that without that forward pressure, you can’t really get your opponent tired, and I think that’s pretty much the only way to beat bigger stronger opponents,” says Kade. “You have to get them tired. Because when they’re tired, their muscles stop working. So that’s always been our theory: get them tired, and their strength goes away. So definitely, that’s been a huge addition to our game. Ever since we can remember, I think we’ve just always liked to get the sub, and liked to keep the fight moving. If there’s ever a stalemate, I feel like I’m doing something wrong, you know? Even in [my Robert Jiminez match], I think I went through every possible position in jiu-jitsu, and I still lost, but I threw it all out there, you know?”
That aggressive, pressure-heavy mentality is a style of jiu-jitsu more frequently associated with competitive wrestlers. Though neither twin has a formal background in high school or collegiate wrestling, they whole-heartedly embrace wrestling as part of their training regimen for both physical and psychological reasons. “I think we have really unique styles,” says Kade. “We’ve always mixed [wrestling] into our training so that it’s part of our jiu-jitsu. We’re super funky, and I think we take that funky approach to a lot of more traditional wrestlers – even in a wrestling room, at wrestling practice, we’re able to do really well with a lot of high-level wrestlers and D-1 guys just because of our funkiness.”
“We just have a lot of love for wrestling too,” Tye puts in. “I love wrestling. To this day, I still want to make a debut on FloWrestling and go do a wrestling match. When we fight wrestlers, I always feel pretty comfortable – because if I don’t feel comfortable, I’m doing something wrong, because this is my sport, you know? This is jiu-jitsu.”
“I’ve honestly never understood how people can possibly be scared of wrestling [in jiu-jitsu],” says Kade. “Because what’s the worst-case scenario? You get taken down to the spot where you want to be! So you might as well try to get a submission off of it, or at least try to counter, instead of just pulling [guard] to submissiveness.”
One noteworthy element of both twins’ jiu-jitsu styles is that they’re excellent guard passers. While many players prefer to either hit takedowns or sit guard immediately, Kade and Tye are content to counter-wrestle against wrestlers and have blasted past many a flexible guard player. “What Kade and I do very well is that we try and take our mistakes and things that are difficult for us, and try to make them decent,” says Tye. “I remember years and years ago, what was difficult for me was dealing with a good brown belt at the gym who had a really flexible guard – good guard retention, and so annoying to pass.”
He starts laughing at the memory. “I was getting so annoyed for so long, trying to pass his guard! So I would sit down with my brother – the same we did whenever we found anything that was hard for us – we’d sit down in the garage, dissect it, and figure out how to make it easier. So, with our passing, we both figured out our little passing systems that work well for us, and make passing guard not easy, necessarily, but enjoyable, almost.”
“It wasn’t like there was a specific technique that suddenly made it all better,” says Kade. “I think it’s more just the way we learn, and the way we’ve shaped our thought process. We figure it out, and break things down to the very root of the problem.”
“We bounce off each other,” agrees Tye.
That problem-solving prowess has taken the twins on an adventurous road toward their ONE Championship debut – a road that’s been charted in part by their professor, André Galvão of Atos. A ONE Championship veteran himself, Galvão has provided both brothers with a blueprint for their combat sports careers. “I think our professor was one of our biggest motivations for reaching out and getting into ONE,” says Tye. “He said he wanted to start an MMA team and have a bunch of little baby Khabibs, you know? So I think he kind of started our fire for ONE, and we’re super stoked to be part of the team now.”
“André’s done pretty much everything that we want to accomplish,” continues Tye. “He’s experienced everything. ADCCs, MMA fights – so we hope to get it all in too.”
Galvão’s mentorship and support has also been key to helping Kade and Tye grow up with jiu-jitsu in a healthy way. Burnout, in particular, was a real danger for a pair of highly competitive, athletic brothers who’d never really known a life without grappling. “We were kind of over jiu-jitsu [before we found André Galvão],” says Tye. “Just a little burned out, you know? Where we were at, it wasn’t really the right fit for us, but when we moved over to Atos, it was like we fell in love with jiu-jitsu again.”
“That first class [at Atos] really sparked out love of jiu-jitsu again,” adds Kade.
Part of avoiding burnout was also learning how to train smart. “We were maybe twelve years old when we first [encountered burnout],” says Kade. He explains, “Growing up, we always made sure to train every day, twice a day. Now, we find ourselves slowing down a lot, and just training when we feel a real need. We don’t train more than maybe three or four times a week.”
Some of the scaleback in the twins’ training schedule comes from the growing caliber of their training partners. “It gets gnarly,” says Tye. “They’re big guys, training hard! Realistically, I can’t do gnarly sessions with those guys twice a day, because eventually, I’ll be broken. So instead, it’s three, four times a week, where I space [the training] out, and then I’ll go surf, and make up for cardio with running, stairs, and biking.”
“When we want to train, we want to be excited to train,” agrees Kade. “Instead of just being like, ‘Ugh, here we go again,’ you know?”
Tye adds, “Growing up through different ages, we’d hit these little one-month walls, where we were just over [jiu-jitsu], and nothing was clicking. And it’s important to take that time to go do something else – and growing up, that’s what we’d do. We’d go to Costa Rica, and cruise out there, go surfing and take our minds off of jiu-jitsu. Because sometimes, if that’s all you’re thinking about, all day long, it gets stale. And it’s important to keep that balance in life with everything.”
“No matter what you’re doing, you can love something, but if you’re doing it every single day of your life, you’re going to get over it,” Kade explains frankly. “And for us, surfing and skating and fishing helps out with that balance.”
“Having a good environment is super important too,” says Tye. “When we moved over to Atos, it was like, ‘Oh my god, I love jiu-jitsu,’ because they made it so much fun. It’s so important to have that good environment, and make sure you’re not burning yourself out. You can train hard, and still do other things.”
Kade and Tye fell so instantly in love with the mat culture at Atos that they remember their mother making near two-hour drives to ensure they could attend class. “Our mom was a super trooper,” says Kade. “Just taking us down there back three days a week, sometimes more, for years. It was awesome.” Despite being a humble white belt herself, Mama Ruotolo has also picked up a trick or two from watching her sons over the years, and according to the boys, can execute a perfect berimbolo – a feat even blue and purple belts sometimes struggle with.
Their father – a jiu-jitsu hobbyist himself who first introduced his toddler sons to the sport – has also been a pillar of support who encourages balance in his sons’ lives. The way Tye puts, it, “As much as [our dad] likes seeing us win and do great in competitions, I think he likes it more when we go surf perfect waves together.”
That attitude – still hungry, still hard-working, but always fun-loving and open-minded – have paid noteworthy dividends in both brothers’ careers, particularly as they look toward eventual MMA debuts. “I think six months ago or so, Kade was definitely on more of an MMA kick, and I was still more in my jiu-jitsu mode,” says Tye. He casts a mischievous grin at his brother. “But honestly, I’m getting more of an itch for MMA as well, so I think we’re both going to make a big push for it next year, and we’ll see who can do better.”
“In other words,” Kade interrupts with good-natured pointedness, “I wanted to do it first, and now he wants to do it.”
“I didn’t know I liked MMA until I started training it more!” protests Tye.
Like many aspiring MMA fighters, Kade and Tye both grew up watching the UFC. “We both really enjoyed [watching the UFC], and I always kind of had it in the back of my mind, ‘Oh, maybe one day I’ll try it,'” says Kade. “But I never had that feeling of ‘Oh man, I really want to do it’ until after I tried combat jiu-jitsu. When I hit someone, I was like, ‘Whoa!'” With a laugh, he explains, “It’s easier than trying to submit someone! So after that first tournament, I started training a bit more MMA, and then in these last couple of months, Atos has added an MMA class into the training as well, so all of that just inspired me to keep working my hands.”
“He fell in love with the process before I did,” admits Tye, jabbing a thumb at his brother. “That process of getting your white belt all over again, and learning your one-twos.” He mimes shadowboxing to illustrate what he means. “He fell in love with all that before I did, I could tell.” A bit self-deprecatingly, he grins, adding, “Maybe him doing it kind of motivated me a little bit – I didn’t have the same combat experience that he did. I had an overtime match with one guy who cranked my neck, so it wasn’t a great time for me.”
For Tye, there was also the matter of wanting to keep up with his twin physically – mostly to avoid getting beaten during a brotherly scrap. Grappling with each other was all very well, but if Kade was going to learn to throw hands, Tye wasn’t about to let his brother have the striking advantage during their roughhousing. “I can never let Kade get tougher than me,” says Tye. “And vice versa – even though I like to think I’m a little tougher than him already,” he adds teasingly for the benefit of his brother, who’s listening to the whole exchange with playfully competitive intent.
Tye has previously described Kade as the more hotheaded of the two – which may also have contributed to Kade’s greater initial interest in MMA. “It’s very possible!” acknowledges Kade with a laugh.
“I’ll put it this way,” offers Tye. “If we’re walking down the street, and someone looks at me weird, then I don’t really care, I’ll keep walking, maybe check my back and make sure he’s not coming behind me. But Kade will stare at the guy, making full eye contact until he looks away, otherwise it’s on. So he’s not like a hothead, exactly, but if anyone tries to start something with him, I’m sure he can back it up, which I’m sure for MMA, that’s why he takes to it.”
“I just feel like I’ve spent my entire life learning all these tools,” says Kade. “And I haven’t really gotten to use them at full force, you know? And I feel like an MMA match might be where I could do that.”
There’s also a marked difference when comparing ordinary scraps between siblings to scraps between siblings who also happen to be elite combat athletes. “When we tussle with each other, it’s not like an ‘I’m gonna hit you as hard as I can’ situation,” says Tye. “Because we know, ‘Hey, if he doesn’t get knocked out, he’s coming back so hot!’ So when we do fight each other, a lot of the time, it’s like, okay, I’ll hit him in the face, but it’s not all I’ve got. He’ll get me back, but it’s not all he has.”
Which isn’t to say that those scraps leave either brother unscathed either. Kade points to a small scar on Tye’s eyebrow. “That scar on the eye, it’s from little tussles like that.”
Tye leans forward to show off the scar. “Yeah, he got me pretty good last time – opened that one up. So we have little scuffles every now and then, but nothing too gnarly. If anything, it gets really gnarly when we’re actually training jiu-jitsu. We’ll go super hard then.”
“It’s the controlled environment,” agrees Kade. “Or in MMA practice, sometimes it gets a little intense.”
“Well, no matter how gnarly it gets, we’ll never knock each other out, or break each other’s…” Tye pauses and hesitates, then adds, a bit ruefully, “Okay, I can’t say that.” He jerks a thumb at Kade. “I feel like he’s more willing to knock me out than I am to knock him out.”
“That’s unbelievable though!” protests Kade. “Because you always throw the first hard punch whenever we actually spar in MMA! We’re supposed to be going light, and you’re always the first to like” – here, Kade punches his own palm for emphasis – “close your fist.”
“I don’t know,” demurs Tye, all innocence, as he looks at the camera. “You won’t get an answer out of either of us.”
“It’s controlled chaos,” says Kade.
“But somehow he never gets hurt, and I end up with all the scars,” Tye can’t resist adding, nudging his brother.
Kade nudges right back. “And that just goes to show who’s the better fighter.”
Is it hard on this pair, growing up in combat sports as such a high-profile package deal? Both Kade and Tye look thoughtful, as they contemplate that question.
On one hand, being constantly together has obviously fueled a mutual sense of competitive drive – which helped skyrocket their careers early in life. “That’s kind of how it’s always been growing up, where we feel like if one person beat us in training one day, then the next day, for sure, we’ve got to get them back,” Kade explains. “And I think our parents have also done such a great job of always giving us so much confidence, growing up. Even if we weren’t the best yet, they’d always be saying, ‘You guys are the best! You’re already there, you’re just small!'” He chuckles. “So that gave us a lot of mental confidence, where I’d be like, ‘All right, me and Tye, we’re already the best, we’ve just got to get bigger and grow into our bodies!’ So that was always kind of our mental state. And as we did grow into our bodies, we kind of kept that mental state into adulthood.”
On the other hand, there’s a certain relief that comes from spending occasional time part as well. “It’s funny,” says Tye, “I was recently in Costa Rica for a month – and I think it was the first time I went for a month straight alone without my brother.”
What was that like?
Tye’s response is immediate and enthusiastic: “It was cool, I liked it!” Both twins burst into laughter. Tye elaborates, a bit more contemplatively, “It was nice to have the space, a little bit, because we’ve been attached at the hip our whole lives. So when I finally got to see [Kade] again, I was like, ‘Whoa, you look different!’ So it’s cool to be together, but it’s also cool to have our space. I’m sure that the older we grow, the more time apart we’ll have, and the more experiences we’ll have for ourselves.”
With the rise of Ruotolo dominance in high-level competition, onlookers have been paying more and more attention to the presence of twins in jiu-jitsu – with some fans speculating that identical siblings in the sport may have unique training advantages, thanks to the presence of a natural body double to spar against. It’s a theory that was put to the test back in 2019, when Tye Ruotolo went to war at ADCC against Paulo Miyao – one half of the equally famous Miyao twins.
“It was weird fighting Paulo for sure,” says Tye. “I was sixteen, a blue belt at the time, and he was like my idol – like one of my biggest idols. Just being at ADCC at all was kind of a trip for me, but it was cool to have the opportunity to fight Paulo. He’s a legend, and someone I’d looked up to for so long. But it was wild, to see him and his twin work, and just seeing how the two of them work the same way my brother and I do on a lot of stuff, in a lot of situations. It was cool, kind of seeing how that dynamic [between the Miyao twins] has brought them so much of their success, and I kind of try to do the same with my brother.”
The Ruotolo twins and the Miyao twins have actually crossed paths outside of competition before – mostly in drilling sessions. “The [Miyao twins] aren’t the most outspoken guys in the media or anything, or even in person,” observes Tye. He smiles widely. “But when they do talk, it’s cool, they’ve got this whole personality. One of them really likes country music!”
“There’s definitely a full life to them that I don’t think a lot of people see,” adds Kade.
“They don’t really open up,” agrees Tye. “But they’re cool people. I haven’t had the pleasure to hang out with them as much as I’d like, but maybe in the future, we’ll kick it.”
“Getting together for brainstorming sessions, or something,” Kade tosses out, sharing another grin with his brother.
“We’d have to work on our Portuguese a little,” says Tye.
After Kade and Tye get their feet wet on May 20, is there any chance that we’ll see a round of Ruotolo versus Ruotolo on the ONE Championship stage? “I could see it, especially in jiu-jitsu,” says Kade.
Tye seems cautiously enthusiastic about the idea as well: “I think it wouldn’t make much sense to do it soon – but to kind of wait.”
“Right, like if there was a build-up to it,” adds Kade. “Like if we worked our way up to the belt or something, that would be kind of epic.”
It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve faced off in official competition, having famously gone toe-to-toe at IBJJF Worlds in 2021, when they refused to close out. “It would have been that way, not just with us, but with any of our [Atos] teammates too,” says Tye. “With my teammates, with my brother, with anyone else in the world – I’m not going to give up the medal, because I worked my way up to get there. I’m not going to rob the fans of that show, regardless of who [my opponent] is.”
Early, constant experience with pressure – both literal and metaphorical – on the young jiu-jitsu stars has also informed their relationship with the rest of their family, particularly younger sister Nya Ruotolo, whom both brothers dote on. Nya – a gifted grappler in her own right – benefits from mentorship from her older brothers, but is fondly described by Kade as having been “a little killing machine ever since she came out of the womb.”
“Dealing with two older brothers, she’s kind of always been a little assassin,” says Kade with a wide grin, and adds, a little teasingly, “Recently, she’s been slowing down a bit more, and being a bit more of a girly-girl, focusing more on volleyball and surfing.”
“She has a bit of pressure on her, I think, just because she’ll go to comps and the other little kids will be like, ‘Oh my god, I’m fighting the Ruotolo twins’ sister,'” adds Tye. “I don’t think she likes that pressure so much, but she’s a beast, you know? She’s going to succeed no matter what she likes to do. I’m so stoked to have her for a sister – she’s pretty gnarly, for sure.”
This begs the most divisive question of all: does Nya have a favorite brother between Kade and Tye?
Both twins immediately defer directly to their sister, who’s been hanging out off-camera in the background. “Nya!” hollers Kade over his shoulder. “Do you have a favorite brother?”
“It changes!” Nya calls back cheerfully from off-camera – clearly a diplomat as well as an assassin.
The lifestyle the twins have cultivated – that intuitive ‘work hard, play hard’ mentality they’ve built over the years – is one they also hope to share with others. “I find a lot of pleasure helping people get better,” says Tye. “So I definitely love coaching and teaching. It helps my game too, just always being around jiu-jitsu, and it reminds me of things when I’m helping other people.”
“Towards the end of the year, we’re planning on opening up a gym out in Costa Rica,” says Kade. “It won’t be the type of gym where we’re doing classes every day, it’ll be kind of a ‘head’ training spot for us – so that when we’re out there, we can keep training, and can also run jiu-jitsu camps. The goal would be to bring people out for a week, teach them how to surf, and offer privates throughout the week, along with other activities.”
“Fishing, archery, mountain biking, all of that,” confirms Tye. “The plan’s already in motion, we’re trying to make it happen – the gym should be up and finished by the end of the year. That’s the goal.”
But before that promise of sunshine and surfing, both brothers intend to make their mark on the ONE Championship stage this month, in what promises to be an action-packed fight card. “We’ve got super, super fire debuts that we’re really excited for – and there are a lot of fire matches on the card overall,” promises Tye. “Make sure you guys check it out!”
Don’t miss Kade and Tye Ruotolo’s ONE Championship debut on Friday, May 20 – tune into ONE 157 via your local live streaming options from the ONE website.
Meanwhile, to stay up to date on the Ruotolo brothers’ ongoing adventures, follow their shared account on Instagram.