This is a guest post by Ben Thapa, part of the Bloody Elbow Grappling Coverage Team
As part of the Bloody Elbow and MMA Nation grappling coverage, we bring you this preview of the Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling Championships (ADCCs). This elite, invitation-only tournament will be held in Nottingham, England on September 24th and 25th, 2011 and can be streamed live from BudoVideos.com.
With a hundred or so grapplers competing, the live coverage of the stream will be somewhat fractured and the commentators may assume that viewers tuning in are already familiar with the storylines, favorites and the up-and-coming grapplers looking to make their name. We are here to help those new to the sport of submission grappling to get up to full speed and to provide some talking points for those who already know this stuff.
The ADCCs are broken down into weight divisions and an open weight competition (called the Absolute) is held after the divisional champions are decided. The open weight competition is usually a sight to behold as there are many dream match-ups that can and do occur. As part of the ADCCs, a Superfight is generally held between two of the most esteemed grapplers on Earth. This year, there are two Superfights, with Braulio Estima grappling against Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza and Ze Mario Sperry taking on Renzo Gracie in a "Legends" bout of sorts. Both matches are relatively even and are highly anticipated.
Below the jump is a breakdown of each division. Feel free to argue or agree with them in the comments.
Men's 66 kg / 145 lbs and below. 2009 Champion: Rafael Mendes.
Summary: All of the sixteen competitors in the 66 kg/145 lb division are strong, fierce, seasoned competitors with multiple titles, cool video highlights and razor sharp skills. However, it is likely that only a handful will seriously contend for the title. Can anyone beat Rafael Mendes?
The Favorites: In the past two years, Rafael Mendes won the European open twice, the 2011 Pan Am championship, a no-gi World Pro championship and the last two Mundials titles in this division. In winning that boatload of titles, Mendes has mostly moved past his stalling reputation and displayed stunning skill in dispatching his divisional competitors. He also performed exceedingly well against much larger grapplers in reaching the finals of the absolute of the no-gi World Pros in Abu Dhabi. To put it lightly, he's on fire and the most likely threat to prevent him from repeating as ADCC champion is Rubens "Cobrinha" Charles - the other half of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu's Federer/Nadal-like rivalry. Cobrinha is a legendary competitor in his own right and his flashy open guard and back-taking game has legions of fans worldwide. Cobrinha lost to Rafael in the finals of ADCC 2009 in a thrilling overtime match and has regularly been a semi-finalist or finalist with many tightly disputed matches against Rafael that did not go his way. He has been looking to avenge that string of defeats for a while now. Rani Yahya may be best known from his MMA fights in the WEC and UFC, where he has fought and lost to the top-flight fighters at 145, but be warned that Yahya is the ADCC 2007 champion and was the runner-up to Leo Vieira in 2005. He has serious game and lost to Cobrinha in the semi-finals of the 2009 competition. Yahya will be in the medals picture for sure and may dispatch a fan favorite or two on the way there.
The Possibles: Speaking of those beloved by the crowds, Ryan Hall has an enormous fan base and has been steadily improving for some time now. He competed for and won the bronze in ADCC 2009 (due to injuries to Leo Vieira and Rani Yahya). A recent training switch-up brought him in closer contact with Marcelo Garcia and Hall may be ready to push himself firmly into the medals conversation this year. Bruno Frazzato is one of the other Atos kings and may be at a slight size disadvantage in comparison to the others. He will attempt to show that exceedingly sharp skills and excellent scrambling abilities can tip the balance back in his favor. Robson Moura is perhaps the most decorated bantamweight fighter the sport has yet seen and has already had a legendary career at age 33. He too is smaller than the favorites and perhaps more comfortable in a gi; however, it may be possible for him to work some magic on the mats. Seasoned competitors like Jeff Glover and Barret Yoshida may be undersized tough outs as well.
Men's 77 kg / 170 lbs and below. 2009 Champion: Pablo Popovitch.
Summary: Pablo Popovitch, the ADCC 2009 divisional champion, is moving up to 88 kg. His absence will be noted, but since the 77 kg division is absolutely stacked with elite competitors, thrilling fights are certain to result. Can Marcelo Garcia win it again?
The Favorites: Marcelo Garcia won the Mundials championship without a point being scored on him and won the 2007, 2005 and 2003 ADCC championships. He also placed second in a controversial decision to Popovitch in ADCC 2009. If the quietly dominant Garcia lost before the finals, it'd be an upset of truly shocking magnitude - at least according to conventional thinking. Kron Gracie is the son of perhaps the finest grappler to walk the Earth and a fierce, fierce competitor in his own right. The 2009 match-up between Kron and Marcelo was eagerly anticipated and Marcelo finished it with a lightning-quick guillotine. Kron has had a good year, most notably splitting a pair of high-profile matches with Gilbert Burns (the Mundials champion who is now focusing on MMA), and with Rickson Gracie in his corner, he'll be well prepared. Claudio Calasans is an Atos teammate of Rafael Mendes and has fought Marcelo numerous times before, as well as being the winner of World Pro and European titles. Calasans has a strong background in judo and plays a very heavy, pressing game.
The Possibles: Augusto "Tanquinho" Mendes is a brilliantly skilled fresh face on the competition circuit and has beaten many of the Atos army this year. However, his unusual strength and base at featherweight may be slightly less spectacular in the heavier division of 77 kg. Tanquinho still shuts down the 50/50 guard better than anyone at the lighter weights and could show that his youth and
smaller size is little issue at all. Murilo Santana is the ADCC South American Trials winner and had to take out a slew of hungry Brazilians to reach the top of that pedestal. He will present a strong challenge to the others. Leo Vieira, the 66 kg ADCC 2005 and 2003 champion, is also competing in this division. His super-exciting passing game is certain to be a fixture in the later rounds of this division, although like Tanquinho, he may be slightly undersized in comparison to larger competitors like Calasans and Victor Estima, Braulio's brother.
Men's 88 kg / 194 lbs and below. 2009 Champion: Braulio Estima.
Summary: With Braulio Estima, the 2009 88 kg/194 lb divisional champion, facing Jacare Souza in the Superfight on the last day, this divisional title is also up for grabs. Popovitch and Galvao in the finals?
The Favorites: Andre Galvao came in second to Braulio in 2009, third in 2007 and third in the Absolute of that same year. Galvao's astounding athleticism and ability to crack open the guard has allowed him to amass heaps and heaps of titles for years now. I can see Andre spending much time riding turtled-up opponents en route to the finals. Pablo Popovitch is the reigning 77 kg champion and his nearly superhuman strength and crushing top game will likely see him make a deep run in this heavier division as well. It takes a certain kind of magic to beat Pablo and although there are a few who can display it, it'll be tough. It may be iffy for me to put Romulo Barral here as a favorite, but with his long, lanky frame and dynamic guard game, Romulo is usually in the title hunt of every competition he enters.
The Possibles: Rafael Lovato Jr. is a world champion and actually beat Rodolfo Vieira, 2011's best grappler, earlier this year. The big Oklahoman is going to have to make zero mistakes and utilize his size to smash opponents into defeat. Sergio Moraes, an Alliance teammate of Marcelo Garcia, is perhaps the most subtle dark horse to win a medal here. He plays within the rules perfectly and manages to escape almost every fight with a victory on points - when he's not finishing in dramatic fashion. Moraes is usually known for winning in gi divisions, but if he can replicate that success in no-gi, he'll be tough to beat. If Rousimar Palhares, the Brazilian tree stump from the UFC, competes, every single competitor in this division will be drilling leglock defenses with particular care. However, I do not rate his ability to get a points victory highly and with the ADCCs being full of truly elite grapplers, he will likely not get a submission every time out. Jimmy Harbison is a recent and dynamic wrestling-based product of the Lloyd Irvin academies and has been a buzzsaw in the World Pro and in the Mundials. He is even better out of the gi and could be another young warrior ready to make his name stand out amongst the talented crowd here.
Men's 99 kg / 218 lbs and below. 2009 Champion: Alexandre Ribeiro.
Summary: The 99 kg division is probably going to come down to whether the reigning champion Alexandre "Xande" Ribeiro can defeat Rodolfo Vieira, the most dominant force in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu over the last year.
The Favorites: Xande is known for being somewhat fragile, but but he remains one of the few genuine threats to beat anybody in the world at any time. Xande is one of the few people to beat Roger Gracie in the last few years and was an Absolute runner-up in 2009. Rodolfo Vieira is unstoppable at this point, with numerous titles to his credit. Many fans and commentators were speculating as to how a match between Rodolfo and Roger Gracie would turn out. Unfortunately, that won't happen on this platform this year, but we can hope for the future and see how Xande and Rodolfo fare this year.
The Possibles: This in no way denigrates the other competitors, but with Roger Gracie and Robert Drysdale not competing this year, the division isn't as crowded as it could be. It is possible Dean Lister, a former ADCC Absolute champion, or Joao Assis, the 2011 Mundials bronze medalist, could upset either Xande or Rodolfo. Antonio "Batista" Peinado won a bronze in the Super Heavyweight division at the 2011 Mundials and could beat one of the older, more established competitors.
Men's +99 kg / 218 lb and above. 2009 Champion: Fabricio Werdum.
Summary: The ultra-heavyweight division could be wide open for someone to make a statement. Fabricio Werdum, of Strikeforce notoriety, is the 2009 champion, but I count at least four credible threats to a repeat performance.
The Favorites: Werdum is perhaps the best heavyweight grappler in MMA and has always been a strong competitor in the submission grappling world as well. If he competes, he could repeat his 2009 performance very readily. Joao Assis won bronze at the 2011 Mundials this year and has usually been a bit better outside of the gi. Vinicus "Vinny" Magalhaes blew the minds of MMA fans everywhere with his mount/off-set gogoplata in his M-1 fight back in April. Back in 2009, he won two bronzes in the Absolute and the 99 kg division in spectacular fashion. Vinny cannot be counted out in any competition he enters. Lucio "Lagarto" Rodrigues is back in full from his battle with Hodgkin's and given his recent training with Braulio and other BJJ greats, I'm fairly sure he'll be in the medal picture. Roberto "Cyborg" Abreu is perhaps more famous now for his Tornado Guard seminars and DVDs, yet his competition success is absolutely nothing to sneeze at. He too scored a bronze medal in the Mundials this year and could make a run to the top with ease. Bruno Bastos has been around for years and is a tough competitor to beat. He generally plays a slower game than the others and likes to win without taking too many risks.
The Possibles: Jeff Monson is another familiar face, but I believe his time as a truly elite competitor may be past him. I may be stretching in my next pick, but I truly believe Alexander Trans (winner of every major title at brown belt for the last year and training at Alliance headquarters) has a shot to make a big statement in his first tournament at this elite level.
Speculation on Men's Absolute
Nobody ever counts Marcelo Garcia out in any competition, but it is getting harder and harder for the smaller guys to win medals in the absolute. On the flip side, Rafael Mendes made it to the finals of the no-gi World Pro. If he enters, Rafa is probably going to be a nightmare for whoever matches up with him, due to his movement and impeccable timing. However, I predict that size will win the day with Rodolfo matching up against Xande or Vinny Magalhaes. Andre Galvao could enter and surprise some people again - like he did in 2007. Werdum and Lister are previous Absolute medalists. The picture is somewhat fuzzy, since nobody knows exactly who will enter, but Rodolfo is probably an odds-on favorite to win it all right now.
Speculation on Superfights
Everybody with a brain knew that Royler would probably stomp Eddie Bravo in the re-match that fell through. However, we are still getting a battle of legends in the match between Ze Mario Sperry and Renzo Gracie. Ze Mario will probably enjoy a slight size advantage, but the two are closely matched in their accomplishments, age and reputation. I have a feeling Renzo will take this, as he remains super-active in coaching and grappling with today's MMA and grappling superstars. We can all expect excellent and fluid submission grappling from both legends.
In Ronaldo 'Jacare' de Souza vs. Braulio Estima, we are seeing perhaps the single best athlete in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu go up against the reigning two time ADCC champion. Jacare recently suffered a setback in losing his Strikeforce title to Luke Rockhold by a close decision and Braulio missed the Mundials due to an injury. I have a feeling Braulio's brilliant guard game can and will surprise Jacare, but I have knowledgeable friends who are willing to bet on Jacare winning. The match-up is truly worthy of the Superfight title and it could be over in a second with both guys enjoying considerable submission acumen.
Women's 60 kg / 132 lbs and below. 2009 Champion: Luana Alzuguir.
Summary: With several of the Mundials medalists competing, will Luana Alzuguir win again?
The Favorites: Luana Alzuguir is tearing things up in the lightweight divisions of the sport. She won the Mundials title and looks poised to come back from the cracked rib that forced her to sit out the Absolute in that tournament. Michelle Nicolini won gold in the Mundials featherweight division and could give Luana a tough match.
The Possibles: Kyra Gracie is perhaps the most recognizable name in women's grappling. Her family name may have something to do with that fame, but she does have considerable skill to back it up. She lost to Nicolini in the finals of the featherweight division and could avenge that defeat. Rosi Sexton is a newly minted brown belt who could make some noise for the British scene.
Women's +60 kg / 133 lbs and above. 2009 Champion: Hannette Staack.
Summary: Gabrielle Garcia is the most dominant woman grappler on the planet. Conventional wisdom debates who will face her in the finals.
The Favorites: Like Alexander Karelin in Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling, Gabi Garcia looms over the field. Although anything can and does happen in sport, if Gabi loses, it would be the upset of the tournament and perhaps of the year. Hannette Staack is a three time ADCC champion and is usually very entertaining to watch. Penny Thomas has been a perennial medal threat in every tournament she enters and came up with a silver and a bronze at Mundials this year.
The Possibles: Talita Nogueira upset Penny at Mundials in the divisional finals this year and could repeat that stellar performance. Ida Hansson lost by spectacular flying armbar to Hannette and may have shored up her game and confidence.
Speculation on Women's Absolute
It depends on who enters, but Gabi Garcia will probably win another gold to add to her collection. Her size is a massive advantage, but her technique is now catching up to the point where she genuinely is becoming a Karelin-like figure.