He’s brash. He’s outspoken. He’s unapologetic. Gordon Ryan is unabashedly all of those things, but he’s also the best grappler in the world — and he’s finally being paid the kind of money where he really feels like a professional athlete.

The 27-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt recently inked a seven-figure contract with FloSports to compete in grappling. with his first match under the deal coming against heated rival Felipe Pena on Feb. 25. Gordon has long dreamed about the day when grapplers could make a sustainable living by just engaging in competitions without the need to supplement income with teaching or owning a gym.

“I remember when I started training, in order to win any money grappling you had a win a Grappler’s Quest absolute and it was like three ADCC champions in the bracket, and if you won, you won like $1,000 bucks,” Ryan told MMA Fighting. “Then I remember EBI [Eddie Bravo Invitational] and you had to get submissions in regulation and it was $12,500 per submission and it was like a possible $50,000 grand prize, and everyone was like, ‘That’s crazy!’ That was like five or six years ago.

“Now we’ve just come so far from that. It’s exponential, just getting bigger and bigger each year. More eyes on the sport, the more celebrities that are training. It’s growing into a mainstream and worldwide sport. I’m very happy with what we’ve been able to accomplish in a short amount of time.”

For the longest time, Ryan felt like he was almost fighting a losing battle as he tried to bring more attention to grappling while employing promotional tactics off the mat that felt closer to UFC superstar Conor McGregor than Brazilian jiu-jitsu luminaries who preceded him.

Now with this million-dollar deal in place, along with the news that the famed ADCC Submission Fighting World Championship is moving to UFC Fight Pass, Gordon believes grappling is finally starting to earn the worldwide recognition that he’s always wanted.

“I think that people are starting to get it now, but for the longest time, I was up against so much resistance,” Gordon said. “I feel like before this last ADCC, my whole career I was pushing a boulder up a mountain and there was so much resistance to what I was doing, ‘Oh, he talks s*** and this and that, and he’s no good for the sport.’

“After the ADCC and I beat everybody, it feels like the boulder got to the other side of the hill and it’s rolling down and people are like, ‘Now we get it.’ I think people are starting to catch on now. I’m trying to make more money but that will lead to everybody else making more money. Once these guys get on board with that and they stop hating on me and they take what I’m doing as inspiration rather than confrontation, it will be a lot easier.”

Signing such a lucrative deal also puts a massive target on Ryan’s back, but that’s really nothing new to him. As a multi-time grappling champion with a long list of accomplishments on his résumé, Ryan already knows every opponent he faces wants to be the one to end his five-year unbeaten streak.

Now that desire will only intensify — and Ryan welcomes it.

“It feels like every match I do, the whole world or at least the whole jiu-jitsu world is watching,” he said. “Every match is the biggest match of my life because I know if I lose, it’s going to be a national news story. I know any time I compete, all eyes are on me, for good or for bad. That kind of puts the pressure on me, which I like. I always do better under pressure.

“That’s why I like to call submissions because I like the pressure. Now it’s getting serious. The more mainstream we go, the more eyes that are going to be on me. It’s definitely a different feel than it was a year ago or two years ago.”

Ryan also admits that his performances are going to be graded on a different scale and that raises expectations every time he competes moving forward.

That might rattle some people but Ryan has learned to embrace it.

“I’m just being judged and gauged in a different way now,” Ryan said. “If I don’t go out and submit the guy and absolutely destroy the guy — like I didn’t submit Victor Hugo in the ADCC but I dominated the whole match and people were like, ‘Wow, Gordon didn’t even finish him.’ These guys can’t even win three, four, or five matches in a row. I’m just being judged in a different way. If I don’t go out and absolutely smoke the guy, people are disappointed. I think we’re moving into a different point now where I’m going to be judged differently from everybody else.

“I hold myself to the same standard as these people who don’t like me. That just makes it more fun. It makes me more dedicated, more hungry, because I know if I don’t go out there and submit the guy, people are going to talk s*** and I’m going to be mad about it. It just adds an interesting dynamic to this whole thing.”

The new deal Ryan signed will keep him very busy in 2023, with plans to accomplish even bigger goals — like perhaps earning eight-figures in the near future — and he’s proud to put the entire grappling world on his back.

Now he just needs his competition to step up their game to match what he’s doing.

“You need an athlete in a sport that sort of transcends what that sport is and it kind of goes deeper and bigger than what the sport is,” Ryan said. “A perfect example is Tony Hawk. I never watched a single skateboarding event. Most of my friends never watched skateboarding, but you still know who Tony Hawk is.

“You need those Tony Hawks, the Michael Jordans, the Muhammad Alis, and you need that one guy that can do it all, that has the persona, that has the charisma and most importantly can win consistently, you need at least one of those guys to really build the sport. You also need rivals, which is my problem right now because I don’t really have any.”

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