Fresh off his historic gold medal performance at the 2022 ADCC World Championships, Kade Ruotolo will now look to capture the inaugural ONE lightweight submission grappling world championship.
This Friday, the American phenom will face Uali Kurzhev for the belt at ONE on Prime Video 3, and their matchup presents some unique stylistic challenges.
While Ruotolo is one of the most elite Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitors on the planet, his Russian opponent will bring world-class sambo skills into their encounter.
The two disciplines take very different approaches to grappling, and the 19-year-old Californian is anticipating a unique world title showdown.
"I'm hearing that he is one of the greats," Ruotolo said. "He's a sambo world champion, so I know he's a stud, and I know he's going to be tough.
"Sambo guys, in general, they have a very strong wrestling background, usually, and they have very strong upper-body wrestling. They have good picks, inside trips, things like that. I love to try and take down, stay on top, and get the submission, so I think there will definitely be a clash of styles on the feet."
While jiu-jitsu is not typically known for its takedowns, Ruotolo's style is an exception.
The Andre Galvao black belt possesses an unorthodox array of takedown techniques, mixing judo and wrestling with his own creative flare.
But ultimately, Ruotolo is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, himself – and he'll feel some extra responsibility to prove its worth against the sambo of Kurzhev.
"That's exactly what my brother (twin Tye Ruotolo) told me," he said. "He goes, 'Hey, you're representing jiu-jitsu in this one, so you better hold it down.'
"Not to add any more pressure, but it's a guarantee, I think I will feel a little pressure on my shoulders to hold it up for jiu-jitsu."
Ruotolo breaks down gameplan against Kurzhev
Given that Ruotolo is facing a world champion foe from a relatively unfamiliar martial art, fans might expect him to modify his typical ultra-aggressive approach.
However, the teenage star disagrees.
Ruotolo says that his jiu-jitsu is based on realistic fight-ready techniques, and that strategy never changes regardless of his opponent.
"No matter who it is, if I were to fight (MMA legend) Khabib (Nurmagomedov), my goal is to take him down and submit," he explained. "You know, pass and submit. It's always the same for everybody, and the same for my brother. For me, that's always just been the most realistic situation.
"Like I said, I always try to bring it to a real fight or to MMA, things like that. That's going to be my gameplan and my strategy. Not to crack on guard, I love playing guard, and I love guard. However, it doesn't translate as much into MMA and things like that."
Ruotolo's one-size-fits-all attitude could lead to a battle for takedown supremacy, with both men refusing to cede the bottom position.
But even if the American meets Kurzhev in his strongest area, he feels extremely confident about emerging victorious.
"Prediction-wise, he's going to come at me with some good wrestling, and I'm going to come at him with the same," the 19-year-old added. "I wouldn't be surprised if I get him in a front headlock, D'Arce (choke), or something like that. If that doesn't work, I think I'll probably end up looking for those legs."
This story first published at ONEFC.com.