Just a matter of time: A conversation with grappling deity Robert Drysdale

Robert Drysdale — the 2007 Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) Open Weight tournament winner — tasted mixed martial arts victory for the first time on October 17 of this year, submitting Josh Musick with a sweet-looking first round armbar at TUFF-N-UFF.

The event took place at The Orleans Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, marking the amateur debut in the sport for perhaps the most dangerous 205-pound Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu player on the planet today.

For about a decade, Drysdale terrorized the international jiu-jitsu circuit, winning medals and finishing some of the best in the business (see Garcia, Marcelo among others). The American-born world champion recently returned to the United States from Brazil and settled back in to "Sin City," however, to prepare for a successful transition to mixed martial arts.

He’s off to a good start.

"My fight was a great experience. I was a little nervous. I guess that's normal. Soon as I was out there it was like, 'There is no way I am going to lose this fight, I trained too hard for this, I've been training for too long.' I finished him with an armbar in the second minute of the first round. Everything went as planned, exactly the way I wanted it to go. It was a big deal to me, liking it, and I absolutely did. I'm made for this. This is what I was born to do. I couldn't do anything else. I have to be fighting. This is where I belong and I felt that."

Finding that sense of belonging and purpose wasn't hard for Drysdale. In addition to his accomplishments in jiu-jitsu, he felt a calling to mixed martial arts that started long before MMA became the international phenomenon that it is today.

"Before I got into jiu-jitsu back in 1998, mixed martial arts was something I always had in mind. It's something I wanted to do, but I wanted to do jiu-jitsu first. I started doing well in competition and to me it did not make sense to go into MMA without being accomplished in jiu-jitsu. I just wanted to really win those competitions. It was important to me to accomplish those things before I went into MMA. I feel I did what I wanted to do and it was just time to move on. It was time to start all over."

Starting over meant realizing that he was no longer the top dog in his profession. Drysdale had the grappling skills, but MMA is a complex sport, and only the most well rounded athletes can find success at the top of their division.

"In MMA I feel like a beginner, like I'm re-learning. In MMA I feel like a white belt. It's so new to me. It's so cool. I feel like I am in a position where I have to put my mind into it and learn. Like the other day I was kickboxing and not doing so well and I was like 'What is going on?' You've got to remember this is exactly how I felt when I started jiu-jitsu. I'm getting beat and I don't like it. It's frustrating but you really get your mind into it and you get better as you go. I'm having the time of my life. I've got a great job. My job is doing what I love so I cannot complain. MMA so far has been a great experience for me."

Drysdale was last seen on Wednesday nights on Spike TV, serving as an assistant coach for Frank Mir on Season 8 of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF). While he may have looked like a natural, Drysdale admits the experience was a little intimidating.

"It was fun. I had just met Frank like a week, maybe two weeks before the show. It was great. Actually I was pretty close to jumping in the show as a fighter myself. But I was so new into my MMA experience I was like 'You know what? You might want to wait a little longer.' Then the opportunity came up to go on as a coach. I hadn't even cornered people. It was all really new to me. The show gave me the confidence. I got to train with a lot of the guys. I was like 'I can do this, no problem.' It was definitely one of those experiences you will remember for years. Thirty years from now I can say that it was really cool. I did that. That was really a lot of fun."

The experience on TUF 8 was just another notch in the belt of Drysdale, who admits to having not just a passion for learning and competing, but also for teaching.

"I'm excited. I love teaching and training. I have been teaching and training my whole life so this is nothing new to me. I really enjoy sharing my knowledge with people. It's really rewarding for me to watch my students develop and learn new things. It's really cool to see a student pull something off that you just taught him - more rewarding then when I get it. It's the greatest feeling. I really enjoy teaching and its part of learning too."

There is no question that Robert Drysdale has a bright future in mixed martial arts. Aside from his humility, he seems to have a keen sense of focus towards his career aspirations and also his expectations of himself.

"You can expect a guy who is absolutely in love with the sport. I try not to put pressure on myself, like 'I got to beat that guy or I got to win that competition' because I was never like that in jiu-jitsu. I was just enjoying myself. It's got to be fun. I've got to be happy. I'm absolutely going to be out there. I'm talking to MMA organizations right now. I haven't signed anything but I should be fighting by the end of January, my first pro fight. It's just a matter of time before I get to where I want to be."

Light heavyweights, you've officially been put on notice.

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