Gods of War: Marcelo Garcia

Despite being retired from major competition since 2011, there are many who still consider Marcelo Garcia the best pound-for-pound sport Jiu Jitsu grappler on…

By: T.P. Grant | 10 years ago
Gods of War: Marcelo Garcia
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

Despite being retired from major competition since 2011, there are many who still consider Marcelo Garcia the best pound-for-pound sport Jiu Jitsu grappler on the planet today. During the eight years between 2003 and 2011, there was only a single year that Garcia didn’t win at least one major tournament. His run of dominance, paired with a playful inventiveness and winning personality, caused the name Marcelo to be spoken in hushed terms in Jiu Jitsu gyms around the world.

Marcelo Garcia was born on January 17, 1983 in Formiga, a small city in southern Brazil. Garcia grew up during a golden age of martial arts movies, watching Bruce Lee films and The Karate Kid, which inspired him to join a karate class in the early 90s at the age of eight. Garcia worked hard at karate, but disliked the rigid forms. However, he liked going to the competitions. After four years of training, Garcia just couldn’t see how what he was learning in karate could be applied in an actual fight and left karate.

Now a teenager, Garcia walked away from martial arts, but about a year later a friend convinced him to attend a Judo class. Having grown up in a smaller city, Garcia had never been exposed to Vale Tudo matches or even heard of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at this time and Garcia resisted joining Judo for some time, arguing there was no way a grappler could be effective in a real fight.

Garcia reluctantly went to his first Judo class under Fabiano de Souza and enjoyed it, and when Garcia began to compete in local judo tournaments, he was hooked. Garcia trained heavily and soon learned that de Souza was traveling to Devinopolis, a nearby town, to train in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under a Rickson Gracie black belt named Iran Brasileiro. Garcia wanted to come also and de Souza took Garcia to his first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class as a supplement to his Judo training.

Garcia quickly adjusted his schedule to include more Jiu Jitsu training, going at least three times a week to Brasileiro’s classes. Soon, Garcia had registered for his first tournament, confident he would find success as he had in Judo. But Garcia lost his first match and found himself reevaluating his training. His goal was to be a World Champion, and he wanted to find the training that would give him that result.

In that quest, Garcia traveled to the town Ribeirao Preto, a fair distance from his home, to visit a Gracie Barra school. There he saw students working on very advanced half-guards and spider guard techniques he had never seen before. At that point, Garcia was convinced he needed to change academies to be able to compete at the higher levels of grappling.

When he was sixteen years old, Garcia competed at a state championship and there he met Paulo Rezende, head of a large Jiu Jitsu school in Poco de Caldas. Rezende was impressed with Garcia, and offered him free training and a place to stay at the academy in exchange for doing the day-to-day chores around the school. After securing permission from his parents, Garcia boarded a bus for the 10 hour trip that would take him to his new life.

In Poco de Caldas, Garcia trained four times a day, with early morning and evening sessions. It was quickly identified that Judo had given the Brazilian teenager a strong top game, but left his guard lacking. Garcia was placed on his back at the start of spars, forcing him to work on the position, and slowly his guard improved. Even in these early stages, Garcia started to realize that the idea of submitting a highly trained grappler from one’s back was difficult and began to focus his guard more on sweeping to a top position than looking for submissions.

Garcia also competed with a great deal of regularity, going to just about any tournament he could find. He started entering in adult divisions, both at his weight and absolute, in addition to the teens groups. Seeking the highest levels of the sport, he traveled all over Brazil. On one trip to Rio de Janeiro, he was barred from entering the competition due to a complication with the entrance fee. Crestfallen, Garcia went to leave, but a young lady with the organizers convinced her fellows to allow Garcia to compete. After Garcia had competed, he sought out the girl, named Tatiana to thank her. They would soon begin dating, and Tatiana would become Garcia’s single biggest fan, his most steadfast supporter, and his wife.

In the early 2000’s Garcia began to win competitions with consistency: first at the local level, then the state, and then the international level. Garcia, along with his then-girlfriend Tatiana, started to see his potential. They were not the only ones; when Garcia was a purple belt, he was approached by fellow God of War Fernando “Terere” Augusto about coaching at his academy. Terere was the rock star of the BJJ competition world at this time, and to be asked to be his assistant coach was a huge honor.

Marcelo jumped at the chance. He and Tatiana moved to Sao Paulo, a hot bed for Jiu Jitsu talent. Marcelo would train with Terere and other up-and-coming talents such as Andre Galvao and Rubens Charles “Cobrinha,” and his skill grew quickly. But things were not easy at Terere’s academy: it was in an economically struggling part of the city, as Terere had emerged from the lower socioeconomic class and wanted to give other children of the slums the same opportunity he received. As a result, money was very tight for Garcia and Tatiana at this time, and they were struggling to make ends meet, which forced them to rent a small place near the gym.

At the time, Terere’s academy was a part of the Alliance BJJ team, an association of Jiu Jitsu academies joined together by lineage who compete as a single team at competitions, and while working at Terere’s school, Marcelo met Alliance co-founder Fabio Gurgel. A famously accomplished coach, Gurgel was impressed with Garcia, and when Terere joined a group of elite competition black belts that broke away from Alliance, Gurgel offered Garcia a coaching spot at the Alliance headquarters.

This was an extremely prestigious honor and a better paying position, and Garcia again jumped at the offer. Under the tutelage of Gurgel, Marcelo’s skills finally came together to result in consistent success at the highest levels. In 2000, Garcia became the purple belt World Champion representing Alliance and was promoted to brown belt. Then just months later, Marcelo won silver at the Brazilian Championships. In one year, Marcelo went from a nice hopeful at purple belt to a blue-chip brown belt prospect.

Up until this point, Marcelo had train exclusively in the gi, but as a brown belt he began to experiment with training in no gi grappling. This would be a formative experience as Garcia would continue to develop his game in a way that could be easily transitioned between gi and no gi grappling as his goal was to be the best in all of Jiu Jitsu, not just one aspect of it. In 2002, Marcelo won the brown belt world championship and was promoted to black belt.

His goal of becoming a black belt world champion was now in reach, and in his first try at the Mundials, Garcia would reach the finals to be faced with his old coach and employer, Terere.

Terere would submit Garcia by triangle choke, claiming the 3rd world title in his storied career. For Marcelo, it was a dream put on hold. But as one door closed, another opened. Earlier that year, Marcelo had competed at the Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) Submission Fighting World Championship Brazilian qualifiers, but had failed to qualify, losing the final match on points.

But when Dennis Hallman was forced to pull out due to injury, Marcelo was offered his spot, and he accepted. The Submission Fighting World Championships tournament, simply referred to as ADCCs, is the premier no gi competition in the world, using substantial cash prizes to attract the best submission grapplers in the world and only occurs once every two years.

Garcia entered as a fairly unremarkable newcomer, but by the end of the tournament he would be the talk of the grappling world. He won his first match against Kluma Kunioku, but was then faced with Renzo Gracie in the quarterfinals.

Renzo was a two time ADCC champion and fierce competitor, and Garcia would defeat him on points in an all-time great match.

Garcia beating Renzo was a surprise, an upset to be certain, but in the semifinals, Marcelo was matched with the number one grappler at his weight, Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro. So, while Garcia beating Renzo was a surprise, when he pulled guard against Shaolin, arm dragged his way on to Shaolin’s back and strangled him into unconsciousness in under a minute, the grappling world was left in shock.

After that, Marcelo faced Otto Olsen, a wrestler from the University of Michigan, who had beat Terere in the quarterfinals. Marcelo beat Olsen to win his first major title. But Garcia wasn’t done there, he entered in the Absolutes and in the first round he faced former Iowa State wrestler and Light Heavyweight MMA fighter Mike van Arsdale. Garcia submitted the much larger man with a rear naked choke, and despite losing in the next round, his success in this tournament made him an overnight sensation in the BJJ world.

Garcia had his big break, and redoubled his efforts in training and soon afterwards won the Brazilian Nationals at his weight and took second in the Absolutes in 2004. Marcelo rode his momentum into the 2004 Mundials and made the Middleweight finals against Brazilian Top Team’s Casio Werneck and this time Marcelo won, achieving his goal of being world champion. Marcelo also entered in the Absolutes, but lost to God of War Roger Gracie on points.

In 2005 Marcelo would return to ADCCs and win the under-77kg weight class again, beating Jiu Jitsu and MMA stand outs Shinya Aoki, Leo Santos, and then in the finals, he submitted Pablo Popovitch with a wristlock. Garcia would again enter in the Absolutes and in the first round was matched with ADCC champion and former UFC Heavyweight Ricco Rodriguez; Marcelo would take Rodriguez’s back, and to escape, Rodriguez performed an illegal slam than drew boos, but all that it accomplished was to anger Garcia who then was quickly able to lock up a heel hook to secure the victory.

Garcia would then beat Ultimate Fighter winner Diego Sanchez by armbar and face another God of War, Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza. Garcia would lose by Kimura, and be sent to the bronze medal match.

There, he would face on of the great BJJ Heavyweights, Alexandre “Xande” Ribeiro a soon to be God of War, and Garcia would win by rear naked choke.

In 2006, Garcia won the Brazilian Nationals both at his weight and Absolute, defeating Andre Galvao not once but twice, submitting Roberto “Cyborg” Abreu, and Demian Maia on points. He returned to the Mundials and won his weight again, but again lost to Roger Gracie in the Absolutes. Click here for a full collection of his 2006 Brasilero fights.

Garcia also took part in two PSL: LA Sub-X Superfights, no gi grappling promotion. In his two matches, he would choke first Cameron Earle with a North-South Choke and then Jake Shields in a guillotine. In 2006, Marcelo would return to the IBJJF Mundials, winning his weight class again, beating Andre Galvao for a third time that year in the finals.

At this point, Garcia was a star of the grappling world, not just for his competition success, but also for innovations. Garcia had always favored the butterfly and deep half guard for their sweeping potential; he created a hybrid position known as the X-Guard. He also became known for use of arm drags and use of no arm-in head lock chokes, including the simple rear naked choke, the North-South choke, and a variation on the guillotine that has become known as the Marcelotine.

In 2007, Marcelo would compete in his first and only Pan American Jiu Jitsu championships, winning gold. He would return to ADCCs, winning gold by again catching Pablo Popovitch with a wrist lock. He would again fall in the Absolutes, this time to Robert Drysdale by D’arce choke.

In late 2007, Marcelo Garcia would try his hand at Mixed Martial Arts. He had relocated his training to American Top Team in Florida, to prepare for the match, and on October 28th, he faced Korean fighter Dae Won Kim on a K-1 Hero’s card in South Korea. Garcia actually accounted for himself quite well, dominating the opening round with positional grappling, but struggled to apply his signature chokes with the MMA gloves. In the opening of the second round, Garcia was hit with a barrage of strikes on the feet, and while he survived, it opened a cut that would end the fight.

Garcia spent 2008 away from competition healing, resting, and reflecting. Garcia and Tatiana moved to New York City, shifting their focus away from MMA and putting it back on competitive grappling and starting a school. In 2009, the Marcelo Garcia Academy opened its doors and Garcia returned to the mats.

Garcia’s first major competition back was the World Professional Cup, a gi competition that offered cash prizes. Garcia took silver in his weight class and entered into the Absolute divisions. He won his first two matches and then submitted Victor Estima to reach the semifinals. There, Garcia faced Victor’s brother and God of War Braulio Estima who was on the verge of the greatest single competitive year in submission grappling history, and Marcelo would fall on points, kicking off Estima’s amazing run.

Garcia would then travel the Mundials, make the finals and be declared world champion in a gentleman’s agreement with teammate Sergio Moraes. Marcelo would decline the Absoliute division and travel on to the 2009 ADCCs. There, Garcia would lose in the finals of his weight class on points as Pablo Popovitch finally got the better of his rival. In the Absolutes, Garcia would fall victim to the streaking Braulio again, bringing to an end a relatively disappointing year by Marcelo’s lofty standards.

He would rebound, however, winning the IBJJF world championship at his weight in 2010 and 2011 in impressive fashion. And he would return to ADCCs and streak through his weight class to reach the finals against Leo Vieira.

This win would give Marcelo a record four golds at ADCCs, and could prove to be his final match. Marcelo did not compete at all in 2012 and reports of injuries hampering his training circulated. Then, on Oct 1, 2013, he released an emotional video announcing that his focus had shifted away from competition. The door has been left open for super fights or one time matches, but it seems that Marcelo’s time of entering himself in the lists at major tournaments has passed.

It does seem appropriate that his final match was him putting a final, historic stamp on the ADCC World Submission Wrestling Championships, the very competition where he emerged and solidified himself as the legend he proved to be.

But Marcelo Garcia is not done with Jiu Jitsu. While 2011 might have his last year competing, in December of that year Marcelo also reached a huge milestone in any Jiu Jitsu career, he awarded his first two black belts to Josh Waitzkin and Alexander Meadows, in a symbolic shift of his focus from competitor to teacher.

His amazing career will be remember and spoken of as long as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is practiced and he is a very worth addition to the Gods of War Pantheon.

The Legend Of Jiu Jitsu Marcelo Garcia

For more MMA analysis, history, technique, and discussion be sure to follow T.P. Grant on Twitter or Facebook. And if you want more Marcelo Garcia check out BJJ Heroes’ excellent page on him.

Share this story

About the author
Bloody Elbow Podcast
Related Stories