The 2013 IBJJF Worlds are underway at the Walter Pyramid in the vicinity of Los Angeles, California. The tournament has gotten so large (hovering around a thousand some competitors each year) that it is now a four day production complete with a crystal clear multi-mat live stream available for purchase that rivals anything you'll see on TV.
This year's edition features perhaps the biggest collection of Brazilian jiu jitsu grappling talent that has ever assembled. The women's black belt divisions are for sure the best group of competitors I've seen in the last five years. The men's divisions are almost as stacked and feature most of the game's biggest stars looking to add one more gold medal to their war chests. The whites, blues and purples have been going since Thursday and will mostly finish up today. The brown belts start at the end of Friday and continue on Saturday. The black belts start on Saturday and the black belt finals will be contested on Sunday.
The fairly accurate schedule is up here: http://www.ibjjf.org/mundial2013schedule.htm
The official brackets are available for all belts and age divisions here: http://www.usbjjf.org/bracket_viewer/Bracket.html
The IBJJF TV stream can be purchased here: http://ibjjftv.com/ (Price for Friday alone is $12.95, Saturday and Sunday together is $24.95 and all access is $49.95).
So lend me your ears/eyes (like Hillary Williams is doing with Oliver Geddes here) and see if my predictions turn out to be as accurate as I think they will be.
The men's side has nine weight divisions and the women's has six. We'll start with the men's first.
Roosterweight: Bruno Malfacine won last year in a referee's decision over Caio Terra in a continuance of their long rivalry. This has been the near default finals for every tournament both has entered and looks to be almost certain to happen again due to favorable bracketing for both. Fabio Passos took Caio to a referee's decision last year, but needs to find another level in his game to truly outgrapple Caio. Bruno has some good grapplers on his side, but no true threats like Fabio Passos to Caio are in his road to the finals. Prediction: Bruno vs. Caio with Bruno winning a points decision in a slow/fast/slow/fast match.
Light Featherweight: The reigning champion is Guilherme Mendes, who has been taken to a referee's decision often by Laercio Fernandes in other tournaments. The same seems likely to happen this year with Ary Farias aiming to knock out Carlos Holanda before bowing out to Gui and Laercio seemingly stands alone among truly elite competitors on the other side of the brackets. Prediction: Gui vs. Laercio and another very slow, cautious match that's decided by advantages or referee's decision.
Featherweight: Rafael Mendes won last year in a referee's decision over Rubens "Cobrinha" Charles. These two have seemed a step above the very, very good field for years now. I cannot stress how superb their grappling has been over the last several years, as both of them have stormed through very good grapplers, submitting them quickly or dominating them on points en route to razor close final after final. Despite Rafael winning the Pans, I actually thought Cobrinha had the better of the match and think that he's still right there with the younger star. Theodoro Canal and Denilson Pimenta could present semi-final challenges to the near mortal locks for the finals that are Rafa and Cobrinha. Prediction: Cobrinha vs. Rafa in the finals with Cobrinha finally winning a referee's decision after years on the losing side.
Lightweight: Leandro Lo won last year and has been on a tear for years. However, Lucas Lepri, Michael Langhi, Vinicius Marinho and Jonathan Torres could present considerable challenges to a perhaps overworked Lo. Lepri and Langhi in particular have displayed terrific form lately and Marinho was very good at the recent Copa Podio as well. The brackets appear to have put Langhi, Lo and Lepri all on the same side, which opens things up for Marinho, JT Torres, Zak Maxwell and Roberto Satoshi as well. If this bracketing holds true, this is going to be a nightmare of a division for Lo to claw through and a big opportunity for someone on the other side to get a top two finish. Prediction: Leandro Lo vs. Vinicius Marinho in the finals with Lo winning a dominant points victory after a night's rest getting through the grueling divisional challenges.
Middleweight: Otavio Sousa won last year, but since this division features a much higher level of grappler, I strongly doubt he will repeat. Claudio Calasans is always a threat to be in the finals in any tournament and the same goes for Davi Ramos. Marcelo Mafra was looking very good at the Pans until he let Clark Gracie scramble his way to one of the finest comeback wins in recent memory, so he should be raring to go. Murilo Santana might encounter a bit of difficulty with the gi on, but he should be able to take out one or two contenders as well. Vitor Henrique is a high paced, very tough grappler and could also spoil some dreams. Prediction: The Atos teammates Calasans and Davi Ramos close out after some very tough, grinding matches to win their way to the finals.
Medium Heavyweight: The most truly open division in this tournament. There are so many good people in this division that I'm amazed it's happening. This is the kind of division that could fill up a BJJ PPV by itself. Romulo Barral won last year, but he hurt his knee recently and may not be in the finest condition this year. The brackets look to have Braulio Estima, Andre Galvao and Romulo all on the same side (along with Tarsis Humphreys and a few others). On the other side, Abmar Barbosa, Victor Bonfim and Guto Campos look like they can get to the semi-finals and duke it out for the finals berth. I'm going to go out on a limb here and says Braulio takes advantage of a goof by Andre to get to the finals (which probably jinxes Braulio, but hey). Prediction: Braulio vs. Guto Campos in the finals and Guto wins a referee's decision.
Heavyweight: Rodolfo Vieira is the current champion and has been grappling extremely well outside his losses to Marcus "Buchecha" Almeida. This year, he has Alexandre "Xande" Ribeiro in his side of the brackets, which will pose a test he can likely pass and an easier finals against someone like Nivaldo Oliveira or Lucas Leite of the Checkmat team. Prediction: Rodolfo vs. Lucase Leite with a Rodolfo submission win.
Super Heavyweight: This is Alliance's division to win. Last year, Leo Nogueira won and this year I suspect that Alliance will sweep the top three spots with Bernardo Faria, Leo Nogueira and Antonio Peinado. Rafael Lovato Jr. or Joao Assis could get on the podium as well. Prediction: Alliance close out in the finals with Faria and Leo Nog. Edit: Leo Nogueira is likely out with a knee injury. This could open things up for the division a bit. Still picking Faria and Peinado to hit the semifinals and Assis perhaps in the finals against whichever Alliance guy doesn't bow out.
Ultra Heavyweight: The reigning superstar of the open division and this weight class is Marcus "Buchecha" Almeida. He won last year and the question is "Who can present a threat to him?" Orlando Sanchez will do his best impersonation of a cast iron immovable object, Alexander Trans will try to deep half his way to points victories and Roberto "Cyborg" Abreu could pull something amazing out of his magic hat if he puts everything together. Igor Silva could finesse and brute his way to a third place finish. The way the brackets are set up, it looks like Buchecha vs. Cavaca in the semi-finals and Trans vs. Cyborg on the other end. Prediction: Buchecha vs. Cyborg and Buchecha wins a dominant points victory by scrambling like a middleweight.
The open will almost certainly come down to bracketing, but the early favorites are Buchecha and Rodolfo. A final with the two of them is perhaps what the BJJ world wants to see most, but Andre Galvao, Leo Nogueira and Bernardo Faria could play spoiler here.
Women's black belts:
Light Featherweight: It's a small bracket with Nyjah Easton having one match before the finals and Sofia Amarante having to dispatch another before facing Miriam Cardoso in the semi-finals on the other side. Sofia could be sternly tested by Miriam, but should get through. Prediction: Sofia Amarante vs. Nyjah Easton, with Sofia winning a points decision.
Featherweight: Ana Carolina Vidal vs. Luiza Monteiro in one semi-finals looks likely and Mackenzie Dern vs. Marina Soares in the other. Tough, tough fights to pick, but Luiza's part of the PSPLB Cicero Costha camp that has punched so, so far above its weight in producing world class competitors, that I think she'll possess better endurance to get the points win. Mackenzie's been on a tear and I'm not sure Marina can stand up to her for an entire match without letting her guard slip. Prediction: Luiza Monteiro vs. Mackenzie Dern, with Mackenzie winning a points victory like she did at Copa Podio.
Lightweight: Bia Mesquita is the queen of this division and although Tracey Goodell is on her side of the bracket and Fabiana Borges on the other side, I don't think either can prevent her from sweeping them for points wins. Prediction: Bia Mesquita wins on points over everybody she faces because she sweeps super-well.
Middleweight: Luanna Alzuguir and Penny Thomas look fated to match once more, although Penny has a tougher route to the finals with Vanessa Oliveira and Ida Hansson in her side. Prediction: Luanna takes Penny's back at some point and threatens a sub as time runs out.
Medium Heavyweight: The most stacked women's bracket ever at the Worlds. Six of the eight women have won big tournaments before and three of the six have won them multiple times. Hannette Staack is the best women's competitor not named Gabi Garcia, Leticia Ribeiro or Bia Mesquita, but she may have taken too long off from high level competition. I really like Tammy Griego's spinning, mobile game, but grapplers like Michelle Nicolini and Talita Nogueira could slow her down and force her into their games. Leticia Ribeiro is a legend, but she could be outmuscled by Hannette in a semi-finals. Prediction: Hannette vs. Tammy Griego with Hannette riding out a fierce scramble to clinch the points win.
Heavyweight: Gabi Garcia will win two matches by keylock and continue adding to her record-breaking trophy collection. She's a phenomenal grappler and her blend of size, technique and smarts is unmatched by anyone in her division. It's a shame someone like Tong Wen (dominant Chinese judoka in heavier weights) can't be persuaded to do a tournament like this and present a true challenge to Gabi. Prediction: Gabi Garcia keylocks everybody.
In the brown belt divisions, watch for the medium heavyweight men's, which may be the most stacked division outside of the black belts. And Keenan Cornelius will still slalom his way through to a gold medal. Luke Rockhold is ticked off after losing to Vitor Belfort recently, so he entered in a tough division in the heavyweight brown belts. It'll be fun to see how he handles the tournament jiu jitsu with his considerable athleticism and wrestling. The Miyao brothers will almost certainly close out at the featherweight brown belts and several other brown belt stars look like they'll showcase how ready they are to step onto the black belt and elite stage in other divisions. On the women's side, watch the brown belt light featherweight and featherweight divisions for some very exciting prospects that could do well on the black belt stage in a year's time.
That's it for me and follow along with Bloody Elbow's live play by play on Saturday and Sunday. I'll be doing the mad scramble of Saturday and T.P. Grant has taken Sunday's finals.