Interview with Roberto “Gordo” Correa

With rumors flying about the future of the Gracie Barra Combat Team and a new Gordo Jiu Jitsu Academy opening in Barra da Tijuca, we decided to sit down with the man himself.For those who have been living in a cave the past 20 years, Gordo has won every title in jiu jitsu at least once and has fought in legendary challenge matches against Amaury Bitteti and Saulo. He is credited with revolutionizing the bjj competition game with the introduction of the half guard and has produced a stable of exceptional jiu jitsu athletes to continue his legacy. With rumors flying about the future of the Gracie Barra Combat Team and a new Gordo Jiu Jitsu Academy opening in Barra da Tijuca, we decided to sit down with the man himself. We caught up with Gordo at his new academy located at the base of Pedra da Gavea on a picturesque residential street in Largo da Barra.

OTM: There have been many rumors regarding the Gracie Barra Combat Team circulating, can you clarify the situation for us.

Gordo: For me the situation has not changed. I am continuing to coach the team and teach jiu jitsu. The only difference is that some of the athletes from the vale tudo team decided to move to my academy and change the name of their team. I have been teaching at my own academy for the past 15 years. I have always taught Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Now I have my own space where I teach every day, twice a day.

OTM: So are you still Gracie Barra?

Gordo: Yes.

OTM: You are known for your half guard, for those who don’t know, can you explain why did you start playing the half guard and developing this position?

Gordo: I had a serious knee injury – I was still a purple belt at the time – and I returned to training too soon. So just in order to train, I kept my injured knee on the ground and defended just with my other leg. From there I began to develop the position.

OTM: The half guard has changed the jiu jitsu tournament game, yet some remain very critical of the position, believing it not to be an effective position for self defense and promoting a style of play at odds with the true nature of jiu jitsu. What do you think, is the half guard good jiu jitsu?

Gordo: I think that before the half guard used to be a very defensive position but now more options have been developed so that the position can be used to sweep and attack aggressively. It can be a very effective and offensive position in tournaments. The position has evolved a lot – the half guard positions you see today in tournaments are very different from what I started using 15, 20 years ago.

OTM: Tell us a little about the new academy.

Gordo: It’s been an idea of mine for a long time – to have my own space to teach everyday. Also, to have an academy only devoted to martial arts – not in the back of a health club or apartment complex like most are here in Brazil. So together with my friend Rommel Cardozo, we found a good space and opened the new academy. The idea is to develop strong jiu jitsu and vale tudo teams that will continue to excel, to offer jiu jitsu classes of the highest quality for students of all levels and to begin to offer classes in other martial arts like boxing, judo etc…

OTM: Going back a bit, how did you get started with jiu jitsu in the first place?

Gordo: I have been friends with Ralph, Ryan and Daniel (Gracie), since I was young. I went to kindergarden with Ralph and I was friends with them from the beach and just growing up in Barra. In 1985 I started to train. I was invited by Rigan who at that time was teaching the white belts at Carlinhos’ school. I went to the school to train one day and I never looked back.

OTM: Carlos Gracie Jr. gave you your black belt?

Gordo: Yes, in 1993.

OTM: In your opinion, how do the jiu jitsu athletes of today compare to the great players of the 90’s?

Gordo: Today’s players definitely finish more fights – maybe because they are going after the submission more. I think that the defense of the 90’s was better than that of today in the same way that the submission game of today is better than it was then. Also, without a doubt the athletes of today are better conditioned and better prepared.

OTM: Have you ever trained with Rickson?

Gordo: I trained with him once, 13 years ago when I was a new black belt. Rickson is excellent, his game is very tight, he never gives any space for his opponent.

OTM: Who is the greatest of all time?

Gordo: Rickson.

OTM: Who are the best half guard players today?

Gordo: Minotauro for MMA, Marcelinho in Submission, and Celsinho has very efficient technique from this position with the kimono.

OTM: What do you think of the half guard in MMA?

Gordo: For MMA, I think the position is dangerous – it is very different from what people are accustomed to in jiu jitsu sport and submission wrestling. That said, the position is also very efficient. Some people like Minotauro have developed an effective half guard for vale tudo – it just needs to be adapted properly to deal with the strikes possible in mixed martial arts.

OTM: You travel all the time, what do you think of the level of jiu jitsu outside of Brazil? America? Europe? Japan?

Gordo: The Americans are improving all the time. There are many excellent teachers there. Now there are American athletes like Raphael Lovato Jr who can enter any tournament and be considered as one of the favorites. The Japanese are extremely technical but not as competitive as the Americans, especially at the higher weights. Europe is still a little behind but they have a good future and are starting to develop.

OTM: Do you have any plans to return to competition?

Gordo: I had an ACL reconstruction performed on my knee in February, and I will return to training in September so maybe I’ll compete again next year.

OTM: Outside of jiu jitsu, what do you enjoy?

Gordo: I like to surf, travel, spend time with my family, go to the mountains, ride horses.

OTM: What athletes from Gordo Jiu Jitsu should we be keeping an eye on in the future?

Gordo: Braga Neto, Anderson, Vitinho, Braudinho, Faquir…

OTM: What about for MMA?

Gordo: Raphael dos Anjos, Pe de Chumbo, Fabricio Monteiro…

OTM: Alright cool, thanks for your time.

Gordo: No problem.

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Paul Schreiner