Caio Terra via www.thefightworkspodcast.com
The Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt World Champions take place this weekend. While there is certainly buzz for this event in the MMA world, some MMA fans may ask why they would want to spend a weekend watching a grappling tournament. The answer for those fans is simple: scouting.
MMA prospects can come seemingly out of nowhere at times. The right combination of physical gifts and learned skills can vault a fighter from competing at small shows in midwestern barns, small Brazilian plazas or California venues to fighting for UFC titles in a few short years.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competitions historically have produced excellent MMA fighters and this year's IBJJF World Championships could hold the next Demian Maia, Vitor "Shaolin" Ribeiro or B.J. Penn. The problem is that if a person is not a fan of grappling the World Championships can be extremely difficult to navigate. The number of competitors, weight-classes, Brazilian nicknames and matches happening at the same time can overwhelm an unprepared viewer. And with the recent disqualification of Andre Galvao, a name known to many MMA fans, you may be left asking who is left for you to watch.
So if you have some time this weekend and want to check out the Budovideos stream of the Worlds here are a five grapplers to watch for when looking for MMA prospects.
Breakdowns and Video after the jump...
Younger bother of BJJ legend Saulo Ribiero, Alexandre Ribiero is one of the most accomplished living grapplers. Known as Xande, there are many who argue that he has surpassed Roger Gracie by virtue of staying active in the competition scene and defeating Gracie twice in competition. Ribiero has already fought two MMA fights in Sengoku one in 2008 and the other in 2009. Ironically won both of them with striking and Xande states that he learned a great deal from his first foray into MMA about conditioning. Despite being away from MMA, Ribiero continues to train his striking and has stated he intends to get another MMA fight later this year, with the goal of reaching the UFC. While Xande is 31-years-old, his mix of physical gifts and technical ability could make him a very interesting fighter at Light Heavyweight or Middleweight.
A visually unimpressive athlete, Terra started training in BJJ as a way to deal with bullying during his youth. He proved to be a prodigy and Terra earned his black belt in just three years, the same time span as BJ Penn. Terra actually spent most of his career competing with undiagnosed diabetes, so instead of having unparalleled physical gifts like Penn, Terra relies on his amazing ability to absorb and apply the minute details of a technique very quickly.
Renowned for his innovative technique, Terra has been a dominant force in no gi jiu jitsu, winning four world championships, and has also won a world championship in the gi. Recently Terra has been training at Cesar Gracie's to prepare for grappling tournaments and in a February interview he stated that he has also been working on MMA. Terra declared he planned to take a pure boxing match before the year is over and then take that experience into MMA under the tutelage of the Cesar Gracie team. Given the success that gym has taking grappling prowess, adding boxing and turning that into MMA success, this makes Terra a prospect to keep an eye on for sure.
Terra's size would put him in flyweight and given the developing state of the division he could become a title contender if his ability to absorb technique extends to MMA. His vocal opposition to PEDs could also prove interesting once he moves over to MMA. Another interesting wrinkle is that Terra's BJJ nemesis Bruno Malfacine, who has defeated Terra several times, has been rumored to be considering a move to MMA's Flyweight division also.
While there are no official plans for Rafael or Guilherme Mendes to cross over to MMA, their team Atos does have strong MMA ties through Andre Galvao. The brothers compete at slightly different weight-classes, Rafael at Featherweight (154 lbs) and Guilherme at Light Featherweight (141 lbs), and they both become dominant figures at their weight. It is possible in a few years they could become bored with competitive jiu jitsu and look to MMA as a new challenge. Considering the IBJJF requires same day weigh ins that include the gi, which adds about five pounds, it is quite possible both could drop weight to compete at Featherweight or Bantamweight in MMA. The brothers take their strength and conditioning as seriously as their technique training, a trait that bodes well for a crossover to MMA. And even if they don't make the move to MMA, these brothers are still well worth a watch as they are sublime grapplers.
Rafael Lovato Jr
Possibly the most successful American born BJJ grappler ever, Lovato was basically self taught for much of his early grappling career. After watching him grapple and seeing Lovato's talent Saulo Ribiero invited the American to come train at his gym. Lovato benefited greatly from that tutelage and in 2007 won the BJJ equivalent of winning a grand slam in tennis: claiming gold at the European Open, Brazilian Nationals, Pan Ams and World Championships. Based out of Oklahoma City Lovato has stated that he sees a move to MMA in his future. Not yet 29-years-old, Lovato would likely fight at either Light Heavyweight or Middleweight.
Kron, son of Rickson Gracie, is still an extremely young man and still trying to make his mark on jiu jitsu, but he has a style an MMA fan could appreciate. Kron, quite simply, is always thinking about the submission and does not give the scoring system of sport jiu jitsu much thought in his approach to matches. While this has hurt him at time, it has also resulted in heart stopping comebacks and thrilling matches. While Kron's focus is still clearly on jiu jitsu his lineage, attitude towards matches, and his statements on how he feels BJJ stacks up against other arts all suggest to me that he will test himself in MMA at some point.