Rafael Mendes finishes an armbar on Rubens Charles "Cobrinha" to win the Featherweight tournament. Photo by Ivan Trindade via www.graciemag.com
The 2012 Pan Ams took place this last weekend and with over 3,200 competitors it goes down as the largest single BJJ event in history. The mats were full to bursting almost every moment of the four day event and there is almost too much to talk about. Full results can be found at the IBJJF's official website, my live blog can be found here and the play by play of the finals here.
It was Alliance that took home the team award with an impressive 86 team points. Second was Checkmat, who came charging up the rankings with a strong showing on Sunday with 63 points. Finally, Gracie Barra came in third with 58 points.
This team bronze continues a strong start Gracie Barra had at the European Championships, winning their first team gold at a major IBJJF competition since 2010. The GB competition team has been hurt in the last few years by retirements to teaching and moves to MMA by some of their elite competitors. The rapid growth of the sporting aspect jiu jitsu has meant being competitive on the team level is now more than just having the best competitor at the tournament. Like in all sports, it is quickly not becoming just about the athletes but also about organizational strength, consistent development of talent and other logistics.
While Alliance has developed a strong association, even their leaders have comment that Gracie Barra's infrastructure, which they have been building for years, is unlike any other academy. This strong start to the year is a clear sign the Gracie Barra's work is bearing fruit, expect more strong showings from the GB team in the coming years.
Other post-event thoughts:
- Rafael Mendes might very well be the best pound-for-pound Brazilian Jiu Jitsu grappler on the planet. In Rafael's match with Cobrinha he certainly looked like the best in the world. That match was sublime and is a must watch for anyone who is even a moderate fan of grappling. To be sure thought it would be nice if he and Marcelo Garica would meet in an absolute match, but it is pretty rare for featherweights to enter in the open weight divisions.
- Checkmat had an amazing showing in the blackbelt division. They collected eight medals, including three golds and four silvers. Perhaps most impressive of the ground was Yuri Silva, who finished in second in the Heavyweight division, in just his first black belt competition.
- The Pan Ams is known as the tournament of new faces and one such new face was Leandro Lo at Lightweight. While Leandro is not a complete unknown to grappling fans, he cut through a stacked weight class and made it look very easy. Leandro defeated rising star Zak Maxwell impressively and then dominated Gracie Barra stalwart Phillipe Della Monica. He then used his extremely technical open guard to confound Lucas Lepri. Keep an eye out for Leandro at future events, this certainly will not be his last podium appearance.
- The 50/50 guard was in heavy use in this weekend, which is not a shock as it is becoming an essential position for all elite competitors to learn. This year the IBJJF referees have been very quick to hand out stalling penalties, particularly in the 50/50 guard. But this weekend the 50/50 was used heavily in offensive roles. All over the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu world, men and women are learning different ways to attack and sweep from the position and this weekend it became very obvious that results of all that training are that the 50/50 has become and offensive weapon.
- Caio Terra is just on a different level than any other Roosterweight. His technical ability is legend already and despite having been a black belt for six years, he could just be hitting his stride.
- Leglocks were everywhere. Vitor Estima used his signature ankle lock to great success this weekend but other competitors not known for leglocks made heavy use of them. Caio Terra won his finals match with a kneebar and Clark Gracie started every match by pulling guard and looking for an ankle lock to name just a few. Leglocks are becoming more and more apart of the BJJ landscape as more competitors add them to their games. This is running in conflict with some of the IBJJF's rules, like the reaping the knee rule, which got Vitor Estima disqualified in the Open Weightclass.
- Kron Gracie, son of Rickson Gracie, continues to seek his first major black belt gold. Again Kron had an impressive weekend with amazing matches and impressive wins, but then again felt just short of his goal.
- At Brown Belt Gracie Barra prospect and former Ohio State wrestler A.J. Agazarm had an extremely impressive run to the gold medal. He showed off excellent technical skills and is a prospect to keep an eye on.
- Renzo Gracie whiz-kid Gianni Grippo won his weight-class at brown belt, continuing success he has shown at every level. This kid is going to make one hell of a black belt.
- Atos brown belt Ronaldo Candido won Light Featherweight, just a year after winning that weight-class as a purple belt.
- Keenan Cornelius of Llyod Irvin BJJ won gold in the Middle and Open weight-classes at Purple belt. Cornelius is considered a top prospect in the grappling world, and this Friday he scored an impressed submission victory locking up an armbar from the 50/50 guard.
- On the women's side of things man of the expected big names won. Hannette Stack, Luanna Alzuguiar, Beatriz Mequita and Gabby Garcia all won their weightclasses. What was surprising was Team Llyod Irvin placing ahead of traditional women's powerhouse Gracie Humaita. This was the result of strong showings by Llyod Irvin brown belts Rachel Demara and Nyjah Easton.