The Pan Ams is the largest Brazilian jiu jitsu tournament in the world with something like 1700 or 1800 competitors in total. Even the world championships don't have as many competitors and as a result, the Pan Ams have been spread out to a five day long event with each day having something like 10 or 12 hours of active mats. It started on Wednesday and will finish up on Sunday.
Today is Saturday and the marquee stars and higher belts are now poised to compete today and tomorrow. There is no prize money, yet significant prestige is attached to a Pans medal because the best of the best do tend to turn out for this competition in Long Beach, California. And they have turned out in platoons for this 2013 edition.
T.P. Grant already told us a few things for the casual fan to watch, so I'm here to tell you a few things for the more advanced grappling fans to keep an eye on. This also serves as a live discussion post, so fire away in the comments and I'll update this post with commentary once the matches get going (and I get back from training).
Each belt class has somewhere between 6 to 9 weight class divisions (PDF of weight classes) that are about 12 pounds apart from each other across the spectrum from roughly 120 pounds all the way up to the minimum floor of 223 pounds. Watch the stream for $24.95 at online.budovideos.com. The stream quality is super-good and rivals that of the NCAA wrestling streams, despite the far lesser budget and lack of ESPN backing.
MALE ADULT BROWN BELT:
At brown belt, there are a few superstars that have gotten attention for years, while other very good competitors have flown under the radar. Keep in mind that Benson Henderson, the UFC lightweight champion is also scheduled to compete as well, which is a continuation of his love for tournaments and self-improvement and something that should endear him solidly to the jiu jitsu world forever.
The 127 lb roosterweight division: Henry Iribe is the 2012 Pans champion at purple belt, although Kristian Woodmansee, Jordan Landry and Darson Hemmings are all very decorated competitors as well. Look for Iribe vs. Landry in the finals.
The 141 lb light featherweight division: Joao Miyao is a near mortal lock to win this. He and his brother have been training for many weeks now with the Mendes brothers at their Costa Mesa gym, due to the expense of flying back and forth from their home gym of PSLPB Cicero Costha in Brazil.
The 154 lb featherweight division: Paulao Miyao is a likely finalist along with Gianni Grippo. Both are multiple time medalists and open weight medalists as well in many tournaments at purple and brown belt. Nic Amorim and Justin Wehr can also play spoiler or hunt for medals themselves. It's a strong division and will probably feature much guard play.
The 168 lb lightweight division: There's a first round match-up of Sinistro Iturralde and Christian Broadnax. Wow. AJ Azagarm and Ilke Bulut are also medal favorites in this division. This division will see more action from the top than the previous one and probably tons of physically impressive moves.
The 181 lb middleweight division: The most stacked non-black belt division in the tournament. Thomas Oyarzun, Benson Henderson, Alec Baulding, Darragh O'Connail are the medal contenders that I know about and there's quite a few Brazilians from Alliance and other places that are very likely extremely good themselves. I can't make a prediction as to who wins, but I hope we get to see some jiu jitsu fireworks here.
The 195 lb medium heavyweight division: Keenan Cornelius will run away with the title and leave the others to fight for second. The man is an amazing grappler and I'm sincerely impressed every time I see him on the mats.
The 208 lb heavyweight division: I'm not sure here as there's no clear cut favorite or multiple people who I know the general games of. Thomas Johanssen is the 2013 European silver medalist.
The 222 lb super heavyweight division: Faisal al-Ketbi could win this and continue to cement his status as the brightest star of a strong and new generation of Middle Eastern grapplers.
The no limit ultra heavyweight division: I've no idea. The grapplers within are unknown to me.
The open class: Keenan Cornelius should win again, with one or both of the Miyaos being next to him on the podium. It would be surprising to see another result, but a welcome surprise.
FEMALE ADULT BROWN BELT:
The 118 lb light featherweight division: Tove Sodersten, Jen Flannery and Chelsea Bainbridge-Donner should duke it out for the medals. Sodersten looks to be the gold medal favorite due to her recent successes at tourneys like the 2013 Euros.
The 129 lb featherweight division: Karen Souza is the 2013 Euros champion, but Kristina Barlaan will probably win the division. Barlaan was on a tear in the purple belt division and moved up to the brown belts without much of a hitch.
The 141 lb lightweight division: Angelica Galvao should clinch this fairly easily. She's carved a strong name for herself in the grappling world over the last two years and has a very strong sense of balance and timing that opponents find very hard to deal with.
The 152 lb middleweight division: Nathalia Auff is a multiple time 2012 medalist and should showcase her improvement here with a win before progressing soon to black belt.
The 163 lb middle heavyweight division: Sijara Eubanks versus Janni Larsson is the likely finals. We'll see how this turns out.
The no limit heavyweight division: Only one competitor is currently entered, so we may not see a match here.
In the open division, Auff, Larsson, Eubanks and the larger women may find a couple tough opponents in Galvao and Barlaan, but the bigger athletes should win the medals as the skill gaps aren't as dramatic as "Keenan vs. everybody else" in the ladies' division.
MALE ADULT BLACK BELT:
The 127 lb roosterweight division: Bruno Malfacine and Caio Terra are on opposite sides of the bracket and should meet once more in the finals. Caio probably has the edge here as Bruno is coming back from a shoulder injury.
The 141 lb light featherweight division: Guilherme Mendes and Laercio Fernandes are the likely finalists. Gui should use his pressure game once more to a very close win.
The 154 lb featherweight division: A very star-studded collection of contenders in most tournaments, but Cobrinha and Rafael Mendes are on a different plateau and should meet in the finals for yet another nail-biter of a match. Rafael has won almost all of the last few and is the favorite to win here again. Tanquinho Mendes, Isaque Paiva and Mario Reis could play spoiler, but they've been nearly shut-out in recent years against Rafa and Cobrinha.
The 168 lb lightweight division: The best division in the entire tournament. So many stars are here for this year's Pans. I think the Alliance team, which has four or five people entered will make their best try to close out the medals. Lucas Lepri and Michael Langhi are near-mortal locks to be on the podium. JT Torres and Zak Maxwell are strong competitors also. I predict Lepri and Langhi at the top, with Lepri getting the gold due to a bow-out and seniority. Every match in this division will be a pressure-packed chess match and every competitor here can win on the right day. It's like looking at a PRIDE tournament from back in the day.
The 181 lb middleweight division: I'm calling a Leandro Lo and Kayron Gracie finals, but Otavio Souza, Clark Gracie, Jake McKenzie, Vitor Henrique and DJ Jackson are going to be doing everything they can to get on the podium and to the title. Leandro and Kayron have the most complete games in this division and they should theoretically be able to sweep through the guard passers and pass by the guard players.
The 195 lb medium heavyweight division: The two biggest stars in the tournament are in this division: Romulo Barral and Andre Galvao. Every pundit has them in the finals, although Tarsis Humphreys could play spoiler if everything goes right for him (and things go wrong for the opponent). Romulo has been on a tear lately, but his tear hasn't included a match-up against Galvao. I don't know who will win between the two, but all eyes will be on them.
The 208 lb heavyweight division: This class can basically be described as "Tussa Alencar vs. the Checkmat team." Lucas Leite, Paulo Tarciso and Nivaldo Oliveira are all Checkmat and could all win it - if they weren't about to bow out to each other in a seniority-type arrangement. Should still be fun to see how Tussa Alencar deals with them. Wish Rafael Lovato Jr. had entered. He'd spice things up considerably.
The 222 lb super heavyweight division: The Alliance team should close out here. Leo Nogueira and Bernardo Faria should clinch the top two without too much trouble.
The no limit ultra heavyweight division: Buchecha vs. Cyborg is my call for the finals. Alexander Trans could beat Cyborg to get to the finals and a possible Checkmat closeout, but I think the half-robot can get the semi-final win. Buchecha should remind everyone why he's the most exciting competitor with some fearsome scrambles and submissions that come from seemingly nowhere.
The open weight division should end up being Galvao and Barral staring at people like Buchecha, Cyborg, Leo Nogueira and Bernardo Faria and wondering why they aren't as blessed with size and strength and getting ticked off about it. Rodolfo Vieira is prepping for other tournaments, so things are more open than usual (he is the best BJJ player on the planet, even if Buchecha beat him at the Worlds last year). Xande Ribeiro is also doing the same thing, which is a bittersweet thing as Xande has maybe the most beautiful and complete game of all time.
FEMALE ADULT BLACK BELT:
The 118 lb light featherweight division: Sofia Amarante should clinch this with some work.
The 129 lb featherweight division: Mackenzie Dern versus Luiza Monteiro should be the finals and Dern won their previous match at the Copa Podio with a superlative effort throughout. This is likely a very fun match in the makings.
The 141 lb lightweight division: There are only four women in this division, but all of them are very good. I pick Bia Mesquita and Ana Carolina Vidal as the finalists, but Tracey Goodell and Fabiana Borges are also extremely skilled competitors themselves. Every match in this division could be a finals in just about every tournament this year.
The 152 lb middleweight division: Thaysa Silva and Vanessa do Nascimento should be the finals.
The 163 lb middle heavyweight division: Talita Nogueira will win, according to my view of previous successes and competitors.
The no limit heavyweight division: There is no picking against Gabi Garcia. She is the best female grappler on the planet - in any combat sport - and has been improving technically for years now.
Gabi will win the open weight too, yet I think competitors like Bia Mesquita and Talita Nogueira will make her work very hard for the gold medal.