Fastest BJJ Black Belt Promotions of All Time: Stories of Determination and Hard Work

Have you ever wondered who are the fastest BJJ black belt promotions ever? The average competitor takes between 7 to 10 years to reach the highest rank in BJJ. But every now and then there’s a talent that manages to secure the black belt in record time.

In this article, we’ll explore the stories of the fastest BJJ black belt promotions in the history of this martial art, and how these grapplers were able to achieve such a feat in record time.


Nic Gregoriades (4 Years)

Nic Gregoriades is the first black belt student of Roger Gracie and one of the first South Africans to earn a BJJ black belt. As Jiu Jitsu was not readily available in South Africa, Gregoriades took up submission wrestling and worked his way up to a brown belt in Judo.

In 2004, he traveled to London to join Roger Gracie’s Jiu Jitsu academy, and after four years, Gregoriades earned his black belt from Roger. He founded the Jiu Jitsu Brotherhood affiliation and is a respected figure in the BJJ community.

He’s one of the rare BJJ aces that actually dedicates a significant chapter in his instructional to breathing and how to adapt the breathing to optimize your BJJ.

Kit Dale (4 Years)


Australian grappler Kit Dale started in Australian rules football but moved all his attention to Jiu Jitsu. He trained with instructor Bernie Jenkins and then Peter De Been, working his way up to a brown belt.

Dale would then begin training with Yuri Simoes after the world champion had moved to Australia. Under Simoes tutelage, Dale’s abilities would flourish, and he would earn his black belt in under five years.

Today, Kit is known for his unique sense of humor and working as an actor in low budget action films.

Gunnar Nelson (4 Years)

Gunnar Nelson, a long-time UFC vet, and the best Icelandic MMA pro ever, started training at the age of seventeen under Straight Blast International founder Matt Thorton until the blue belt rank.

He then joined John Kavanagh’s Straight Blast affiliate school in Ireland and trained under him for two years. Kavanagh would award Nelson his brown belt in 2008 just after nearly 3 years of training. Nelson was a teammate of Conor McGregor’s.

Gunnar would then travel to New York City to train under Renzo Gracie in late 2008, and after four years of training, Renzo Gracie would award him his black belt. Nelson would go on to compete more in MMA and is currently still in the UFC with an 19-5-1 record.

He last defeated Bryan Barbarena via armbar at UFC 286, after a grappling session with Thor Bjornsson caused a 2 year break in his MMA career.

Orlando Sanchez (4 Years)

Orlando Sanchez was one of the most passionate grapplers in the history of the sport. Sanchez would use BJJ as an outlet to escape his psychological problems including depression. He would join UFC vet Alberto Crane’s gym and dedicate himself 100% to Jiu Jitsu training.

Later on, world champion Ze Radiola would take Sanchez under his wing. Orlando would frequently compete and earn gold at the 2010 IBJJF Worlds at blue belt after just a year of training. After one year at purple belt, Sanchez won the Pans Championship and Brazilian Nationals in 2012.

These big wins would lead Ze Radiola to award Orlando with his black belt after four years of training. He would then go on to win the ADCC Championship in 2015 and earn 2nd place in 2017. Sanchez was also widely criticized for winning the ADCC gold not having scored a single point.

Orlando Sanchez wasn’t beloved during his life due to his divisive personality and went on to have a very public scene with UFC Middleweight Sean Strickland who accused him of trying to hurt him in training.

In addition to a well publicized incident with Strickland, Sanchez also had a civil suit filed against him for opting to slam a competitor in a competition that explicitly forbid this causing major injuries.

He passed away suddenly leaving behind a wife and child in 2022.

Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro (4 Years)

Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro is considered one of the all-time great BJJ competitors. He was one of the young prodigies that helped put team Nova Uniao on the map. Shaolin started training under Andre Pederneiras at the age of fourteen.

Just three years later, Ribeiro would win his first Jiu Jitsu world title at purple belt, which led to him being promoted to brown belt.  Ribeiro would earn gold at the 1997 Pan-American Championship and second at the 1998 World Championship before he turned eighteen. After his eighteenth birthday, Ribeiro would with his black belt after four years of training.

Ribeiro went on to compete in MMA amassing a record consisting of 20 wins and 5 losses. He competed in Strikeforce, Dream, K-1 Hero’s and Shooto among other promotions. He ended his MMA career after third consecutive loss in November of 2010.

Richie “Boogeyman” Martinez (4 Years)

Richie “Boogeyman” Martinez, one portion of the well-known Martinez siblings who hail from the 10th Planet.

In 2004, Richie’s brother, Geo Martinez, started training Jiu Jitsu under Eddie Bravo, the founder of 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu. It was not until three months later that Richie would also join 10th Planet.

The Martinez brothers’ athletic ability quickly meshed well with the unorthodox 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu style. Eddie Bravo himself took notice of Richie’s talent and quickly became his mentor.


Richie’s dedication to Jiu Jitsu paid off quickly, as he earned his black belt after just four years of training. Today, Richie runs his own 10th Planet school and is one of the most active No-Gi grapplers in the world.

DJ Jackson (Nearly 4 Years)

Jackson was one of the first Americans to successfully compete in Jiu Jitsu years before Gordon Ryan. He won numerous world championships before earning his black belt.

Sadly Jackson had a lot of legal issues and subsequently moved out of the US.

Mike Fowler (3.5 Years)

Mike Fowler is an American grappler who was one of the fastest BJJ black belt promotions. He trained under Lloyd Irvin and quickly became immersed in Jiu-Jitsu.

After just 3.5 years of training, he earned his black belt from Irvin. He went on to compete all over the world and famously submitted world champion Saulo Ribeiro at ADCC 2007.

Fowler also had run into reputational issues as of late. He was banned from Unity BJJ for sending explicit unsolicited pictures of himself to another student.

Lloyd Irvin (3.5 Years)

Lloyd Irvin was one of the fastest BJJ black belt promotions ever. From an early age, Irvin got hooked on martial arts and wanted to try BJJ after seeing the original UFC VHS tapes.

He had to be resourceful since there were no Jiu-Jitsu schools in Maryland at the time. He would train in a garage with a few others that wanted to learn Jiu-Jitsu. This dedication would lead to Irvin earning his black belt in just 3.5 years. Irvin is also a divisive personality in the BJJ community thanks to his ties to a  well known criminal case.

Gabriel Moraes (3.5 Years)

Gabriel Moraes had one of the fastest BJJ black belt promotions of all time. He started training when he was just fifteen under the famous Monteiro brothers in Manaus. Winning every major title and earning his purple belt after just two years of training.

But when he reached the purple belt rank, Moraes wanted to quit because he couldn’t afford to compete in big tournaments. This would lead his instructor, Guto Monteiro, to award him his black belt.

Mads Burnell (3.5 Years)

Mads Burnell is a Danish martial artist that currently competes in Bellator MMA. He began learning under black belt Chris Hauter, one of the 12 original American black belts known as the dirty dozen.

Burnell would train all day and night in Hauter’s garage. This dedication would lead Hauter to award Burnell with his black belt after just 3.5 years of training.

His talents wouldn’t go unnoticed. UFC tapped him to join back in 2017 however after going 1-2 in the promotion he was cut loose. His last UFC loss was to Arnold Allen who is patiently waiting on his title shot in the featherweight division.

After a failed UFC stint, he joined Cage Warriors and after a 4 win streak moved on over to Bellator.

Burnell suffered two setbacks in 2022 when he suffered back to back losses to Pedro Varvalho and Adam Borics by decision. His MMA record stands at 16 wins 5 losses at 29 years old.

Fabiano Scherner (3 Years)

Former UFC vet and BJJ world champion Fabiano Scherner earned his BJJ black belt in a little over three years.

He began learning BJJ to aid in his attempt to become an MMA fighter. After just a year, Murilo Bustamante and Luis Duarte would award Scherner with his black belt. Fabiano would then go on to fight all over the world and now runs his own Gracie Barra school.

Scherner would go on to coach the likes of Chael Sonnen and others.

Geo Martinez (3 Years)

Geo Martinez is one of the most accomplished 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu athletes that Eddie Bravo has produced. He and his brother Richie Martinez were known break-dancers before getting into BJJ.

As a brown belt, Geo would win the inaugural EBI Invitational and earn his black belt in the same year. Earning it in just three years and making it one of the fastest BJJ black belt promotions ever.

BJ Penn (3 Years)

BJ Penn held the record for the fastest BJJ black belt promotions for years. It took him only three years to earn his black belt from Andre Perderneiras.

Penn went on to become the first American to win a Jiu-Jitsu World Championship in 2000 and one of the greatest MMA pros of all time, winning three UFC titles in two different weight classes.

He was widely known for his leg dexterity and as the pioneer of the ‘straight-jacket’ the arm trapping system popularized by Gordon Ryan years later.

Caio Terra (3 Years)

10X World No-Gi Champion, 2X World Champion, 3X Pan Champion and 2X European Champion Caio Terra
10X World No-Gi Champion, 2X World Champion, 3X Pan Champion and 2X European Champion Caio Terra

Caio Terra started his BJJ journey as a blue belt under Ricardo Vieira in Copacabana. After training with Paulo Strauch and practicing day and night for three years, Terra was awarded his black belt.

The IBJJF almost prohibited him from competing at the Worlds due to the quick promotion, but they made an exception before implementing their rule for brown belt athletes. Terra went on to win numerous world titles and became one of the greatest BJJ athletes of all time.

Judo Olympian Travis Stevens (18 Months)

US triple Olympian and Rio Olympics silver medalist Travis Stevens
US triple Olympian and Rio Olympics silver medalist Travis Stevens

Travis Stevens is a Judo Olympian who spent most of his athletic career competing in Judo. Due to his extensive background as an elite grappler, he quickly rose through the ranks in BJJ.

After briefly training with Dave Camarillo and later with John Danaher, Stevens was awarded his black belt in just 18 months. The reason for the fast promotion was because he already possessed the abilities of a high-level BJJ athlete.

There are some disputes regarding how fast Steven was promoted but a source from the Renzo Gracie administration was able to confirm that this is indeed accurate.