Both men represent the pinnacle of skill and achievement in their particular discipline, and they are determined to prove whose style is superior.
Fresh off a history-making gold medal performance at the ADCC World Championships in September, Ruotolo might be the most dangerous submission artist in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu today.
Meanwhile, Kurzhev is an accomplished judoka and multiple-time Sambo World Champion who has reigned at the top of both combat sports for nearly a decade.
Even though the Russian failed his hydration tests and isn’t eligible to win the inaugural ONE Lightweight Submission Grappling World Title on Friday night, he is eager to make a statement against his American foe.
Before their co-main event showdown at ONE on Prime Video 3, let’s take a closer look at each grappler’s keys to victory.
#1 Ruotolo’s Creative Submissions
After securing four submissions in as many matches at the ADCC World Championships, the 19-year-old Ruotolo seems to be the hottest submission hunter on the planet right now.
Whether it’s his trademark D’Arce choke, an opportunistic leg lock, or the buggy choke that has taken the BJJ world by storm, the Andre Galvao-trained black belt is a submission threat from practically every conceivable position.
Watch for Ruotolo to jump on creative joint locks and chokes from start to finish, hoping to catch Kurzhev, with his more traditional grappling base, by surprise.
#2 Kurzhev’s Takedowns
Whether he’s competing in judo or sambo, the Russian’s explosive yet supremely technical takedowns have been integral to his success.
Because Ruotolo rarely, if ever, pulls guard, Kurzhev will have ample opportunity to impose his will on the feet.
From judo-style sacrifice throws to traditional single-leg takedowns, the Sambo World Champion possesses a wide variety of techniques to bring the fight to the mat where he can impose his impressive physicality, forcing his foe to grapple from his back.
#3 Ruotolo’s Pacing
The American’s overall approach to grappling is relatively simple: attack at such a relentless pace that his opponents eventually break mentally, forcing them to give up on fighting against positions and submissions.
In this 10-minute submission-only contest, Ruotolo will undoubtedly follow that same game plan.
More importantly, the typical sambo match is just five minutes long, and exchanges on the ground can last just a few seconds before returning to a stand-up position.
With that background, Kurzhev might not be prepared for the non-stop, extended attack sequences and submission chains that the BJJ superstar is known for. Look for Ruotolo to exploit this weakness as he uses his pacing as a weapon.
#4 Kurzhev’s Top Pins
In sport sambo, competitors can earn points by a “hold-down,” or pinning their opponents to the mat. And while guard passes do score points in BJJ competition, a pin alone does not.
To slow Ruotolo’s endless aggression, the Russian should lean on his crushing top control with the aim to pin his younger foe to the mat and sap his energy.
Of course, a pin doesn’t register any points under ONE Championship’s submission grappling judging criteria, but it would force the American on the defensive while simultaneously creating opportunities for Kurzhev to attack with traditional sambo and judo-style submissions like the armbar.