The relationship between judo and jiu-jitsu has existed since the very inception of our martial art in Brazil, developing plenty of exchanges between competitors of both styles in the past, namely high-level judokas such as Leonardo Leite, Travis Stevens, Moacir Mendes Jr., Felipe Bezerra or Flávio Canto who old black belts in BJJ, or top-notch of BJJ’ers such as Claudio Calasans, Amauri Bitetti, Zé Mário Sperry or Duzão Lopes competed extensively in judo.
On the other hand, the jiu-jitsu- wrestling connection is much more recent. Although we did see an early exchange between BJJ and wrestling in the 1970s through Rolls Gracie and his students, only more recently, with the growth of BJJ in the United States have we seen a more constant influx of wrestlers test the waters in the jiu-jitsu world, athletes like Hudson Taylor, Kenny Johnson, AJ Agazarm or today’s subject – two-time JUCO National Champion Taylor Kettler.
Growing up in the small Kansas town of Spring Hill, Taylor started wrestling at the age of 10, a sport he played simultaneously with American football and baseball, later being offered college scholarships in both football and wrestling. Kettler opted for wrestling, a sport he had grown particularly passionate about during high-school.
It was while in college that Kettler discovered jiu-jitsu: “After my college wrestling season ended I found BJJ through my cousin who just started training.” Taylor explained to BJJ Heroes. “I fell in love with the sport immediately. It was a great transition from wrestling and allowed me to compete and stay competitive.”
Starting with coach Jason Bircher at Kansas City BJJ, an affiliate team of the Renato Tavares BJJ Association, the jiu-jitsu bug quickly grew from Taylor’s competitive mindset. After his time with the Labette Cardinals, Taylor had time to re-think is sporting life – “I was ready for new challenges and a different sport. Even though BJJ is very similar to wrestling there is so much to learn and so many different tournaments where I can test myself against some of the best in the world“. This fighting mentality has taken Kettler to the top of the colored belt pyramid in submission grappling.
Designed for the super and ultra-heavyweight divisions, weight classes traditionally dominated by top-heavy competitors, Taylor’s superior takedown game has been a tremendous weapon. As we stand, Kettler has conquered 4 medals at the No-Gi Worlds (3 gold), 3 medals at No-Gi Pans (2 gold), and 5 medals at Gi Pans (1 gold), which have granted him the label of one of the top brown belts in the world.
In his short career, without the backing of an elite training facility or the highest level of training partners, Taylor Kettler has proven once again that jiu-jitsu can be a great home for retired college wrestlers looking to maintain a healthy and competitive lifestyle. In Taylor’s case, making to the top of the colored belt division at a lightning-fast pace, as seen through this young man’s mat achievements:
– 1st Place Collegiate Team Nationals (2012, 2013)
– 1st Place Kansas State Championship – freestyle (2011)
– 1st Place Kansas State Championship – Grecco (2011)
– 2nd Place Brute Nationals (2010)
– 2nd Place Kansas State Championship (2011)
– 4th Place Kansas State Championship (2010)
– 4th Place Team Kansas at National Duals (2011)
– Fargo Nationals Kansas Team Member (2011)
– 1st Place IBJJF World No-Gi Championship (2013 blue belt super-heavy)
– 1st Place IBJJF World No-Gi Championship (2014 blue belt super-heavy)
– 1st Place IBJJF World No-Gi Championship (2018 purple belt open weight)
– 1st Place IBJJF Pans Championship (2017 purple belt super-heavy)
– 1st Place IBJJF Pans No-Gi Championship (2017 purple belt ultra-heavy)
– 1st Place IBJJF Pans No-Gi Championship (2018 purple belt ultra-heavy)
– 2nd Place IBJJF World No-Gi Championship (2018 purple belt ultra-heavy)
– 2nd Place IBJJF Pans Championship (2014 blue belt super-heavy)
– 2nd Place IBJJF Pans Championship (2015 blue belt ultra-heavy)
– 2nd Place IBJJF Pans Championship (2016 blue belt super-heavy)
– 2nd Place IBJJF Pans Championship (2018 purple belt super-heavy)
– 2nd Place IBJJF Pans Championship (2019 purple belt ultra-heavy)
– 2nd Place IBJJF Pans No-Gi Championship (2018 purple belt open weight)
Given the wide range of rulesets provided by jiu-jitsu and submission-grappling as well as the frequency of amateur and professional level events, this sport has become an excellent avenue for collegiate wrestlers without senior/freestyle aspirations. Unlike mixed martial arts, BJJ’s solely grappling based contact will likely be an easier field to adapt to and thrive for the experienced wrestler while also having the potential of adding extra revenue to these natural-born athletes through classes and pro-events.