Photos By Jon Tiffin
Story By Taff Davies
Although the man with the memorable name might still be unknown to some MMA fans out there, the reputation of San Diego MMA fighter and Jiu Jitsu wizard Rani Yahya is rapidly growing. A 135 pound fighter in the WEC, the MMA organization owned by the parent company of the UFC, Yahya has the highest submission percentage of any ranked fighter in the MMA world. With a record of 15-4, an amazing 14 of his wins have been by submission.
This incredible 93% submission rate is due to Yahya’s Jiu Jitsu skills, which have also landed him 3 Jiu Jitsu World titles as well as the 2007 ADCC lightweight championship (the ADCC is the most prestigious submission grappling tournament in the world). Since signing with the WEC in 2007, Yahya has submitted 4 out of his 5 opponents in the first round. His last 3 fights have each earned him Submission of the Night awards, a record not matched by any other fighter in MMA.
So how did Yahya get so good? And why does his Jiu Jitsu work so well for MMA when other, more famous Brazilian Jiu Jitsu champions haven’t come close to matching Yahya’s submission rate in MMA? To answer these questions, it’s necessary to find the source of Yahya’s Jiu Jitsu. In finding that source, a story is uncovered that could have been written for Hollywood, instead of drawn from real life.
Born in 1984 in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, Yahya started training in Judo by the age of 4. A natural athlete, Yahya was on his way to becoming a Judo champion when fate intervened in the form of a near fatal snake bite at the age of 11. Rushed to the hospital, Yahya was close to death until a man known simply as Ataide came to save him, bringing the anti-venom Yahya needed to stop the poisoning. Fortunately for Yahya, Ataide is the Head of the Reptile Dept. of the Brasilia Zoo. A man known by some as the “Crocodile Dundee” of Brazil, Ataide is one of the foremost experts in the world on deadly reptiles. But Ataide is an expert in another area as well, Jiu Jitsu.
Like Yahya, Ataide trained in martial arts since he was 4, learning from one of the 5 original Red Belts (Jiu Jitsu’s highest rank) of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Because of his intense study of snakes, Ataide eventually transformed the style of Jiu Jitsu he was taught into his own special system, which features snake-like chokes and strangles. Thus was born Ataide’s Constrictor Jiu Jitsu.
Constrictor Jiu Jitsu’s practitioners suffocate their prey just like the snakes that Ataide still handles daily. This style is particularly effective for MMA because it doesn’t rely on fighting from the back like many Jiu Jitsu fighters do. Because of this, Constrictor Jiu Jitsu fighters are not as susceptible to ground and pound and can quickly neutralize opponents who make the mistake of going to the ground with a Constrictor fighter. Besides Yahya and many others in Brazil, UFC fighter Paulo Thiago (who defeated Josh Koscheck in Thiago’s 2009 UFC debut) is also a student of Ataide.
When Ataide saved Rani Yahya’s life, he recognized something special in the young boy, and adopted him as his martial arts son, teaching him the secrets of Constrictor Jiu Jitsu. Because of this influence, Yahya developed a passion for snakes as his mentor Ataide did. Like a modern-day Spiderman, Yahya feels the snake that bit him also transformed him, giving him special powers along the way. Since that first bite 14 years ago, Yahya has never been sick. Incredibly, when another poisonous snake bit him several years later, it had almost no effect.
Today, Yahya has left the real jungle and concentrates on a different one in the MMA world. He lives, trains and teaches in San Diego, where he is the Head Instructor of No Gi Jiu Jitsu for The Arena, the well-known San Diego MMA gym where fighters like UFC standout Diego Sanchez train.
Besides his skills as a fighter, Yahya also possesses a great ability for teaching, sharing the Constrictor techniques with students who are looking for a submission grappling system that works well for both MMA and Jiu Jitsu. At The Arena, Yahya is establishing the roots of the Constrictor system in San Diego and eventually the rest of the U.S., as more people learn about this incredibly effective Submission Grappling style.
Whatever happens for Yahya in the future, one thing is certain. Whoever he faces next in the WEC, they better bring their A game. Because if they don’t, Yahya will strike as fast as the snake that originally bit him, earning yet another victory for Rani Yahya, MMA’s King of the Submission Jungle.
For more info on Rani Yahya or The Arena, go to http://www.TheArenaMMA.com or call 619-222-5554.