Some would say he’s one of the most in form grapplers in Europe at this moment in time. Roger Gracie Black belt Ross Nicholls has been dominating the NoGi grappling scene in Europe the past couple of years, from winning multiple Superfights at big European shows such as Polaris and Grapplefest, to winning IBJJF events and the odd local sub only rules competitions. 2018 was something special from Ross beginning the year with a submission win at Polaris 6 against top European Blackbelt Tommi Pulkannen. After a foray in the local scene which included a double gold win at the English Open NoGi he would compete in what can only be described as a war in a no time limit match in the main event of Grapplefest’s inaugural show submitting Cage warrior’s top prospect Jack Grant at the 40min mark. Polaris would invite Ross to compete in their four man welterweight tournament where he would beat 10th planet standout Nathan Orchard by decision earning his place in the final. Next up Grapplefest 2 against fellow UK Blackbelt Sean McDonagh who Ross would expertly dispatch via heelhook. Arguably the biggest tournament win of his career would arrive with a standout performance at the ADCC European Championships in Bucharest winning 4 out of 5 by submissions and securing his place at the ADCC next year. Not content with most likely the biggest tournament win of his competitive career, Ross would follow that on with most probably the biggest superfight win of his career against multiple time Blackbelt World Pro Champion Gianni Grippo at Grapplefest 3 becoming the u80kg champion! Now on Saturday Ross kicks off his 2019 and road to the ADCC Championships with a superfight against the seasoned black belt Bradley Hill of Gracie Barra! We caught up with Ross as he prepares for the 2019 season.
FME - Well done on all your success throughout 2018! You have primarily competed NoGi, despite previous success in the Gi, why is this and was this a conscious decision?
RN - Thank you it’s been a fun year. The No Gi push started with the match I had with Oliver Taza. In preparation I made some radical changes to my training. I didn’t put a gi on for 6 months in the lead up to that match and dived heavily into leg locks. I knew Taza was a member of the Danaher Death Squad and was going around the world submitting some of the best leg lock specialist with leg lock, so I figured I better read up on them. I enjoyed the experience, the rule set and the addition of leg locks so much I decided to make the changes to my training more permanent. With that came a lot of success on the No Gi and submission only circuit, which perpetuated the whole thing.
FME - You have been successful throughout your competitive career, but it seems this past year you’ve taken it up a notch, what would you attribute this burst of success to ?
RN - Competing and jiu jitsu are two separate things and I feel I need to practice both. I attribute a lot of my current success to the sheer volume of competing I have done at every level.
FME - Despite competing and winning at some of the biggest competitions and sub-only shows, you’re still a regular face at the smaller competitions such as GRIPS and the Welsh No Gi Open. Many guys who compete at the top level don’t really compete at the smaller shows, what benefits do you feel these competitions give you ?
RN- I massively enjoy competing and want to get as much as I can before my body gives out. I think it keeps me grounded too.
FME - One of the biggest if not the most prestigious NoGi competitions in Europe is the ADCC trials, one way to win your way into the ADCC was the ADCC European Championships which took place in Bucharest this year. The divisions were heavily stacked, one of the biggest was the lightweight division which you won, in itself is very impressive but more so due to fashion, 4 out of 5 wins via submission. Was that in your opinion your best competition performance of your competitive career? Do you remember much of your matches, how do you view them, and what was your mindset leading in ?
RN - Yeah I think so. I have a bit of an issue where before a match/tournament I think I’m not good enough, then immediately after my mind switches to ‘well you were expected to win that one, no big deal’. Having said that I’m still pretty happy with qualifying for the ADCC. My mindset going in was totally submission focussed. I knew my game wasn’t perfectly suited to the rule set as they historically favour more takedown focussed athletes. I took advantage of the no points period in every match and started chasing subs immediately and luckily I hit a few.
FME - After that extraordinary gold medal, you were matched up with another inform competitor from the other side of the Atlantic, Gianni Grippo, how did your prep change for just a single 20min, against one of the best competitors in the world who himself had just won Kasai Grappling. And how do you feel about how the match went, was it everything you expected or wanted ?
RN - I change my prep very little from match to match and rule set to rule set. It’s not unusual for me to do 20-30 minute rounds in a normal training session, so wasn’t concerned with the length of the match. I’m pleased with the result but felt like I missed an opportunity to hit a sub. Hopefully the result will make me believe that I am on the same level as these top guys and the more emphatic submission performances will come.
FME - 2019 can possibly be your biggest year of competition ever, which seems crazy due to the 2018 you’ve had, have you given any thought about competing at the ADCC next year and what it will be like? Will your preparation change, any difference in training?
RN - Yeah I’m super excited for 2019. The plan is to continue with the no gi to prep as best I can for the ADCC at the end of the year. Haven’t given a whole lot of thought to it just yet. Next focus is Grappling industries first tournament in the UK, which will be in January next year.
FME - Your first super-fight of 2019 is a at Pantheon Grappling against the young British black belt Bradley Hill, what are you expecting from your opponent, and how important is it for you to continue the momentum from 2018 and build more momentum with ADCC coming up this year?
RN - I’m expecting a tough match. He brings a lot to the table in all areas and has been putting some big performances lately. I suspect he’ll be coming in at the upper end of the 80kg limit so will be carrying a weight advantage. Also I think he’ll be comfortable engaging with my leg attacks. In his previous matches he has looked pretty clued up on leg attacks. All in all he poses a lot of interesting challenges. Suspecting it will be a high paced fun match.
FME - Thank you Ross for your time
RN - I really appreciate you having me on for an interview. Shout out to my sponsors @tatamifightwear @fightoilco
To keep track of Ross’s preparation for the ADCC and future match ups on the subonly scene follow him on Instagram at @rossnichollsbjj