The Man Behind the King
The dust is settling, falling like snow on the landscape in Finland as the world's elite grappling and jiu jitsu competitors reflect on the weekend's battles. Most will go home, reflecting on matches which given another chance, they may have won. A select few will go home bearing medals, some bronze, some silver, and a few gold. One of those athletes entered the competition battlefield full of bravado, promised the world he would shock us, and he did. Facing arguably the most stacked division in the -88kg division, Gordon foreshadowed victory and the path he took could have been scripted by Hollywood scriptwriters.
Like a movie, where we find the protagonist embroiled in a gunfight at the outset, Gordon's first match was against personal and Team Renzo nemesis Dillon Danis. Danis was dispatched quickly and later would make peace with the team he had been embroiled in controversy with for so many months. Gordon would go on to submit powerhouse Romulo Barral by rear naked choke in his second match. Saturday's action would set up the an early morning match with ADCC legend Xande Ribeiro. Reminiscent of his first fight with Dillon Danis on day one, his fight with Xande was, according to Gordon, another slow start, but he would prove victorious.
Defeating Xande would set up one of the most eagerly anticipated rematches for Gordon and jiu jitsu ace, Keenan Cornelius. Much like their first meeting in New York City under the Grappling Industries promotional banner, this was a back and forth exchange as they spent the first non-points half of the match working to feel each other out. Once points became available, Gordon would catch Keenan in a guillotine and nearly suplex him over his body and finish him with a mounted guillotine. Gordon left no doubt that the gold was his with this match.
Gordon Ryan became the first American grappler to win the -88Kg division at ADCC and at only 22 years old, he became the youngest grappler to win multiple medals, having won Silver in the Absolute later that same day, losing only to Felipe Pena. In his run, Gordon would have 8 matches and finish 5 with submissions.
Gordon Ryan is an amazingly talented grappler with an incredible work ethic, but there are some key people behind his rise to stardom. Though much has been said of the masterful instruction of John Danaher, Renzo Gracie black belt and mysterious mastermind behind the playfully, yet fittingly nicknamed "Danaher Death Squad", one must point to Gordon's mentors, instructors and friends, Garry Tonon and Tom DeBlass.
Tom DeBlass is one of the most respected voices in the world of jiu jitsu today. A world class competitor himself, he has been an IBJJF world champion. He has been an ADCC North American champion on three different occasions and also has had a succesful MMA career, holding titles in the Ring of Combat organization and had fights in both the UFC and Bellator before retiring about 5 years ago.
Tom is the owner and head instructor of Ocean County BJJ in Forked River, NJ and it is there that a long-haired teenager named Garry Tonon walked in and would become Tom's most highly decorated jiu jitsu student and his first black belt. It would be Garry Tonon who would later become the mentor and primary instructor of Gordon Ryan nearly six years ago, but neither one would be far from the shadow of Tom DeBlass. Gordon would receive his black belt from Garry Tonon with only 5 years of training at a ceremony fittingly at Ocean County BJJ in the presence of mentor Tom DeBlass, instructor John Danaher and the legendary Ricardo Almeida.
For a more in depth look at Tom DeBlass' own journey to where he has become on of the most respected jiu jitsu figures today, take a look at this previous article by BJJ Fanatics here.
Garry and Tom both would have amazing runs at this year's ADCC, with Garry making it to the 4th place position, narrowly missing a bronze medal. Tom would have two epic wars with opponents who would test his fortitude. He was successful in his first match, but would be defeated in his second match by last ADCC's champion Orlando Sanchez who dwarfed DeBlass topping 300 lbs. Though a 0-0 ref's decision was not the way, DeBlass wanted to finish his ADCC career, saying prior to the event that this would most likely be his last ADCC event as a competitor, his smile and joy could not be contained at the news of his young student, he often refers to as his little brother had won his weight class and won silver in the Absolute division.
Tom saw the same thing in Gordon, that he had seen a few years before in Garry--heart and drive that simply could not be taught. It was with Tom's blessing and guidance that they would both find their way back to the basement of Renzo Gracie's Academy in Manhattan, where Tom himself would spend hours training with the likes of Renzo, Ryan Gracie and his primary instructor Ricardo Almeida.
It takes a village
There is an old proverb that says "It takes a village to raise a child." This cannot be more true in the development of Gordon Ryan. While one cannot deny his own discipline and work ethic by looking at his training schedule, which begins daily around 5am with long commutes with Garry Tonon from their homes in New Jersey into New York City, which can some days take upwards 2 hours or more, to train in the "blue dungeon" with John Danaher and others like Eddie Cummings and a who's who of grappling and MMA titans amongst others. After training until midday, the two commute back to New Jersey to teach and train at Brunswick BJJ, the school owned by Garry. The guidance, mentorship and instruction of his coaches, particularly Garry Tonon and his own mentor Tom DeBlass have helped shape him into one of the world's premier submission grapplers at the unheard of age of 22.
Tom DeBlass speaks often of seeing the spark in both Garry and Gordon and telling them, that if they believe in themselves, they have the heart and talent to become the best the world has ever seen. Time will tell where these amazing individuals and students of Tom DeBlass will ultimately land in the history of grappling, but if these initial years are any indication, they could prove to truly become the elite of the elite in the competitive history of jiu jitsu and grappling. The lesson we should all take from this is that behind every King, there is someone who believed in them before they ever did.
Get inside the mind of one of the key mentors behind the rockstar rise of Gordon Ryan and get all of the secrets of his favorite position, the half guard, in his 4 volume "Half Domination" instructional available in both digital download and DVD formats here from BJJ Fanatics!