Kade Ruotolo bringing different level of grappling to MMA: ‘I’m not sure if the MMA world is ready for it’

At just 21 years of age, Kade Ruotolo has already accomplished more than most ever will in competitive grappling, which includes his ADCC championship in 2022.

While he’ll never forget his roots, Ruotolo now prepares to make his MMA debut at ONE 167 on Friday, which was always the plan for him. Despite the long list of accolades he’s amassed in grappling (with plans to add even more in the near future), Ruotolo knew he would become a fighter with his twin brother Tye eventually expected to do the same.

“I always knew from a young age I would be putting on the gloves,” Ruotolo told MMA Fighting. “It was always a bucket list type thing for me. I’ve always enjoyed watching it, loved watching it as kids. We’d go over to our grandpa’s house and he’d always have the UFC fights on or whatever.

“We are always super into it, always watching and obviously doing jiu-jitsu at that time. We always knew one day that once we accomplished almost everything we wanted to in jiu-jitsu that we would make that transition over.”

Because Brazilian jiu-jitsu and competitive grappling have taken up so much of his time over the years, Ruotolo admits he didn’t focus much on MMA training until the past few years. He did train some Muay Thai when he was a kid, but largely stayed focused on his grappling career until recently.

With plans to eventually do MMA already planted in his mind, Ruotolo started taking baby steps towards the sport by incorporating more striking and wrestling into his training regimen. What he didn’t expect was enjoying MMA as much as jiu-jitsu.

“I’m definitely in love with it,” Ruotolo said. “I think what’s so easy to love about it for me is that I’m learning something new every single day. It’s not that I don’t in jiu-jitsu, but just the amount that I’m learning every, single day, it’s refreshing. It feels like I’m a kid again. I’m back at white belt again, climbing the ranks. I’m in love with it. I’m almost to say more than jiu-jitsu to be honest with you. I love striking.”

Ruotolo surrounded himself with the best trainers he could find, including legendary MMA coach Erik Paulson, who helped him adapt his world-class grappling for use in the cage.

Even with all of his experience in the biggest Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitions around the world, Ruotolo admits he figured quickly that Paulson was a fountain of information.

“I was born in 2003 so I was like Erik Paulson?” Ruotolo said. “I’m sitting there scratching my head and I go in there and he shows me three leg locks I never knew and I started using them all day in class, throughout the whole next week. It just blew my mind. Right when you think you know all the leg locks! He showed me three I didn’t even have a clue about.

“That’s when I knew this was the man on the grappling, jiu-jitsu and wrestling, that was him.”

As much as he’s enjoyed his training and preparation, Ruotolo admits nothing came easy, which is why he believes so many high-level grapplers talk about doing MMA and then abandon that plan before it comes to fruition.

“There’s definitely a reason why you see a lot of guys claim they’re going to do MMA and they never quite make it there,” Ruotolo said. “It’s a whole different ball game. A whole different sport.

“You really do have to devote your everything into it as far as training, the recovery, everything. It’s so much more drastic than a jiu-jitsu match or a jiu-jitsu camp even.”

Ruotolo hopes he gets to show off all his different tools in his MMA debut, but also knows he has a weapon that’s far from secret. He also expects to show his opponents something they’ve never witnessed before.

“I think a lot of people will be surprised at my willingness and my gameness to fight and not just look for a takedown and grapple,” Ruotolo said. “But in the most humble way possible, it’s been a very long time since the MMA world has seen a level of grappling such as my brother and I. Jiu-jitsu has been evolving so much and changing so much in recent years, wrestling is so important, leg locks, all this is important.

“I’m not sure if the MMA world is ready for it. I’m excited to show what I can do.”

While his primary focus remains on his upcoming fight in June, Ruotolo still plans on returning to grappling with the upcoming ADCC tournament in July. He also has an individual grappling match booked against Mikey Musumeci when ONE Championship returns to the United States in September.

After that, Ruotolo wants to book his second MMA fight.

That probably seems like an ambitious list of goals for somebody who is just now debuting, but Ruotolo doesn’t want to waste any time, especially during the prime years of his athletic career.

“I’m 21, I want to take advantage of this youth,” Ruotolo said. “I definitely don’t want to be fighting deep into my 30s. Definitely not even deep into my 20s honestly. My whole idea is I’m getting my work done now. The sooner the better honestly.

“I’m not here to just become another jiu-jitsu guy or an MMA guy. I want to be considered one of the greatest combat athletes of all time.”

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