Although one of the most familiar faces of the Danaher Death Squad (Renzo Gracie Academy’s competition team), with wins over plenty of top-shelf opponents such as Nathan Orchard, Nicholas Reiner or Nicky Ryan, Ethan Crelinsten is currently “still” a brown belt.
For many, the black belt rank is a big step towards a more stable professional life in grappling. A time for better sponsorship deals, bigger names to compete against and more invites for pro events, but even though Ethan stated that it is his goal to reach this rank, the 25-year-old Montreal native did not look worried about missed opportunities when interviewed by BJJ Heroes on January 2020: “I wouldn’t say it hinders my career that much. I don’t think people are reminded that often that I am not a black belt.” said Crelinsten. “I would like to already be a black belt, definitely, but I don’t know what it’s like having one. I don’t know if it would allow me to get better pay for matches and seminars” he continued, “maybe there are some black belts out there who refuse to fight me because I am not a black belt, but I wouldn’t really know.”
So far the highlights of Ethan’s career have been his 2 ADCC North American Trials wins (2017, 2018), and winning important Grand Prix’s such as the Finishers Sub-Only, Sapateiro Invitational, Ultimate Mat Warriors, having also competed in other important shows such as Kasai Pro, Polaris, and the ADCC World Championships — the Crème De La Crème of grappling sports.
Unlike many jiu-jitsu athletes, who had proficient sporting careers in other sports prior to their interest in jiu-jitsu, Ethan was a late bloomer to competition. His initial interest in combat-related activities came through mixed martial arts (MMA), which he started training in his hometown of Montreal, a small dojo near his house. “I was training a bit of everything, some kickboxing, and Greco-Roman wrestling. Someone told me about TriStar, that they had better sparring partners and a bigger facility, so I went there.”
It was only when he set his goals for an MMA fight that submission-grappling became a part of Ethan’s training routine: “I started striking more and set my goals on an MMA fight. Someone told me that if I wanted to do MMA I needed to have jiu-jitsu, so then I started training and competing. I did really well. I really liked it, and that was it.” Once he had a taste of jiu-jitsu competition, Crelinsten soon dropped his cage-fighting aspirations to focus solely on his grappling.
At TriStar, Ethan found a very well equipped jiu-jitsu class, led by the respected coach, Firas Zahabi, who awarded Ethan all his belts thus far. Crelinsten became a force in the Canadian circuit and nothing ever instilled in him the desire to try different training systems, that is, until he met a fellow grappler by the name of Gordon Ryan. Crelinsten explained this initial interaction: “Tom Breese trained at TriStar. He brought Gordon Ryan to TriStar to help him prepare for an MMA fight, grappling wise. Gordon came up, he stayed there for about a week or so, we all trained with him. He kicked all our asses,” Ethan described. “It was really enlightening how this young lanky dude from New York could be so much more technical than all of us. I mean, he wasn’t using any strength or brute force to beat us up. He was using really beautiful jiu-jitsu. Like slick kimura entries, elevations to cross ashi. I remember that I had never seen that before and he sort of showed us that and said we would have a great training environment in New York.”
From that moment on, Ethan started visiting John Danaher (Ryan’s instructor) in New York, and splitting his training time between these two gyms — TriStar and Renzo Gracie Academy, a fantastic opportunity, to work with two of the best grappling minds of the modern era. According to the Canadian, both classrooms provide different approaches to the sport: “Firas’ training differs from John’s in many ways, but they run the classes similarly. Firas is a black belt under John so I think he teaches in a much similar way to that of john. The biggest difference I notice is in the training partners. The style at TriStrar is much more top-game centric. Meaning, the goal is, more often than not, for guys to try and get on top. They are all concerned with MMA fights and grapple for MMA fights so they are all about getting on top, staying on top and getting the pass from there. They don’t want to get swept.” Crelinsten said. “At Renzo’s there is more guard playing, more leg locks, more jiu-jitsu with the intent of scoring. Like passing the guard and sweeping instead of getting on top and staying there [seen at TrisStar]). As a general observation, the ADCC veteran said “both gyms have pros and cons. At Renzo’s, they have technical-scrambly jiu-jitsu rounds, whereas at TriStar you get more heavy guys, solid top pressure who are hard to sweep. Each gym has pros and cons for what you want to work on“.
Forged in these talent mills that are TriStar and RGA, Crelintsen’s career has gone from strength to strength in jiu-jitsu’s pro division and given the depth of his division, we believe there are tons of interesting match-us for him in the future. Today, Ethan would arguably be regarded as the best brown belt in the No-Gi world. We hope to see him challenge the black belt division very soon.