This past Friday, Brazilian jiu-jitsu prodigy Kade Ruotolo etched his name in the history books as the inaugural ONE lightweight submission grappling world champion.
The 19-year-old needed just over four minutes to secure a brutal heel-hook victory over four-time sambo world champion Uali Kurzhev at "ONE on Prime Video 3: Lineker vs. Andrade."
With 26 pounds of gold around his waist – and just over a month removed from his historic gold medal performance at the 2022 ADCC World Championships – Ruotolo is sitting comfortably atop the grappling world.
After going from a promising up-and-comer to a pound-for-pound great over the past year, the American has also noticed a big difference in how he's perceived by fans and rivals.
He elaborated on that after claiming the belt:
"I feel like I'm the hunted rather than the hunter. I've always been looking after that No. 1 spot, trying to get to the top, and now it kind of almost feels like I'm there.
"I got a lot of hungry people coming after me, and that's exactly what I want, so I can't wait to face everybody."
Ruotolo came into his world title contest against Kurzhev as a sizable favorite.
And although the match was largely one-way traffic in favor of the Brazilian jiu-jitsu stylist, the Russian sambo player attacked fearlessly, throwing himself into the fire that is Ruotolo's relentless submission game.
As a result, the teenage phenom came away impressed with his opponent:
"I have a massive amount of respect for (Kurzhev), just for the fact that he came at me first, with no hesitation, and he's extremely strong. He wasn't turning down from anything, and he wasn't scared at all.
"So, a lot of respect for him. A lot of competitors, when I get in there with them, they're very hesitant. A lot of people tend to kind of shell up, and he did the opposite. So, you know, massive props to him. He's an animal."
Ruotolo explains callout of Tainan Dalpra and Tommy Langaker
Moments after he captured the lightweight submission grappling belt, Ruotolo took to the mic and called out two potential opponents for his first world title defense.
The Californian wants no easy matches, asking to face either Tainan Dalpra or Tommy Langaker – two elite jiu-jitsu competitors who recently joined ONE Championship.
Ruotolo didn't just pick those names out of a hat, and he later explained his reasoning for singling out those two in particular:
"The names I mentioned, I believe, if I'm not mistaken, Tainan Dalpra and Tommy Langaker are signed under ONE right now. Both those matches would be amazing. Tainan, we used to train under the same roof a little long time ago, many moons ago. And, you know, there's been, I don't want to say tension, but somewhat of a rivalry between us and our old coaches and him so I think that'd be an amazing match.
"And for Tommy, at the ADCC afterparty, we had some words exchanged for sure. So I think I'm really looking forward to that one and I'm definitely going to get the submission in that one."
Ruotolo and his twin brother, fellow ONE grappling star Tye Ruotolo, formerly trained at Art of Jiu-Jitsu alongside Dalpra.
In 2017, the Ruotolo brothers switched camps to Atos Jiu-Jitsu, while Dalpra stayed put. Since then, all three of them have firmly established themselves as top-of-the-food-chain competitors.
As for Langaker, their recent back-and-forth could lead to a dramatic world title showdown. With that in mind, Ruotolo recalled the recent interaction he had with the Norwegian Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt:
"It was like, afterward there were talks about maybe I think this match would be coming with me and Tommy. And at the after party, he was like, yeah, when are we going to go? I think we were all a bit woozy. It was a bit of a crazy night, but it was no foul play really. It was cool, but at the same time, he came at me with interesting energy, I'd say and he kind of fired me up to have a match with him."
This story first published at ONEFC.com.