The 2014 IBJJF Pan Jiu Jitsu Championships are going down this week in Irvine, California, and as usual the Pans look to be an absolutely massive gathering of Jiu Jitsu talent. It's a five day event that will feature every belt and age division from early teens white belts to 60+ year old black belts. Many of the sports current and future stars compete regularly at the Pans, and it is often a preview of sorts for the Mundials in early summer.
Now, not every grappler is in the gym 12 times a week drilling their bermibolos to perfection.There are plenty of grapplers and fans of grappling who enjoy sport BJJ, but don't follow it religiously. If you are one of those, or just mildly interested in giving sport BJJ a look, then this breakdown is for you.
Many of the usual big names will bet there, such as Andre Galvao, Clark Gracie, Victor Estima, and Rafael Lovato Jr. But some are sitting these Pans out, such as the Mendes brothers and Zak Maxwell, who are preparing for Metamoris 3, or Rodlfo Vieira and Marcus "Buchecha" Almeida who have not registered for the Pans this year. Also, Caio Terra was forced to withdraw from his attempt at entering the Ultra Heavyweight division due to illness.
This is the last Pans with open registration for the black belt divisions. In 2015, entry to both the Pans and Mundials will require a black belt qualifying at another tournament.
As always, the Pans promise to be full of excitement. Fans of grappling can watch live at the University of California Irvine Bren Event Center or purchase a Live Stream of every mat through IBJJF.tv.
So here are some specific things to watch for during the Saturday and Sunday upper belt divisions:
Leandro Lo in a Stacked Middleweight Bracket
One of the sport Jiu Jitsu's brightest stars is Leandro Lo, one of the best talents in grappling. Lo plays a nearly unpassable spider guard when he is one his back, and when he is on top, he is one of the most dynamic standing passers in the sport.
Traditionally, Lo competes at Lightweight, but he has been known to jump up in weight class, and he is competing at Middleweight, and entering a stacked bracket. Clark Gracie, the defending Pans champion, is returning before his Metamoris 3 match, as is the man Clark defeated to win gold last year in Checkmat's Marcelo Mafra. Gracie Barra's European and No Gi World Champion, and footlock expert Victor Estima will be there, as will his teammate and two-time World Champion Otavio Sousa.
Jordan Schultz, the man who came forward to Brent Brookhouse about what was happening at Team Lloyd Irvin, is competing for his new team, Atos. GF Team's Vitor Henrique and Victor Silverio will be there as well, along with several newer faces, rounding out what is a very talented crowd that will be taking the mats for the Middleweight medals.
Leandro Lo Highlights
New Wave of Black Belts
The guard is changing in sport BJJ in a big way right now. Legends like Roger Gracie and Marcelo Garica have hung up their competition gis and are focusing more on their schools, and many of the established champions are becoming a bit pickier about what competitions they take part in, saving their bodies for only the highest stakes. As a result, the door is open to a whole new wave of competitors who have received their black belts in the last year or two to emerge as stars.
The biggest names making the leap to black belt are of course the Miyao brothers, Joai and Paulo and Keenan Cornelius. Those three have been stars and champions since they were blue belts and have clashed in many Absolute divisions on their way to black belt. The Miyao brothers hail from PSLPB in Brazil and will ply their famed for their berimbolo sweeps and guard games at Light Featherweight. Keenan is now fighting out of Atos at Medium-Heavyweight and is an extremely well rounded fighter with a fantastic guard game and punishing top game.
Gianni Grippo recently got his black belt from Marcelo Garcia and 2014 is set to be his first full year competing at black belt Featherweight, and he is a rising American talent. Another American is AJ Agazarm of Gracie Barra, a former Ohio State wrestler turned Lightweight gi grappler. Agazarm is in his second year as a black belt and is looking to have the sort of success he experienced during his rise to black belt.
Checkmat Heavyweight Jackson Sousa is still in his first full year as a black belt. A dominating top player Sousa was unable to travel to the U.S. until 2013 and since then he has won World Champions as a brown belt in the gi, as a black belt out of the gi and comes in as the 2014 European Open champion in his weight.
Alliance has the Iturralde brothers, Leonardo will be competing in the stacked Middleweight division and Francisco in the equally difficult Lightweight division.
San Fran Open Mini Highlight - Keenan Cornelius
Crazy BJJ guards, berimbolos & reverse de la Riva: Miyao brothers tournament highlight
Andre Galvao competing at Ultra Heavyweight
Two time World Champion, ADCC Champion, and all around wunder-grappler Andre Galvao is also moving up a few weight-classes for the Pans. Normally a Medium Heavyweight, Galvao has moved up into the unlimited Ultra Heavyweight class. This is due to the fact that Medium Heavyweight was getting crowded with Atos fighters with Keenan Cornelius a d Gustavo Campos in the weight class as well.
Ultra Heavy was likely picked because it has the easiest field of the remaining weight classes left to Galvao. IT will likely come down to Galvao, Atos teammate Leonardo Henrique D'avila Corrêa, and Checkmat's Alexander Trans for the medals. This is likely a play to help Atos in the team rankings, but it will still be very entertaining to see Galvao go against a new field of competitors who will all have a size advantage on him.
André Galvão - Highlights
Small but Star Studded Ladies Divisions
The women's divisions are looking small this year, but there is no lack of talent. The Gracie Humaita super team will be bringing their string of champions to the compete including Penny Thomas, Beatriz Mesquita, and Mackenzie Dern.
The female divisions won't go until Sunday as there are only three to four contestants, but the semi finals and finals should he hotly contested and since Gabi Garcia won't be there so the Absolute division so be wide open.
MMA Fighters Putting on the PJs
So it appears only two fairly well known MMA fighters will be taking to the mats, both in black belt divisions. UFC Flyweight Darren Uyenoyama will be taking part in the Master's 1, over 30-years-old age bracket, black belt at Light Featherweight were he could end up contending with a multiple time Pans champion and World medalist Carlos Vieira Holanda.
And former The Ultimate Fighter season 12 Lightweight Kyle Watson will be competing at Master 1 black belt as well in the Middleweight division.
Stopping the Leg Drag
From the technique side of things, top players have become very focused on stopping the bermibolo and passing the elite level open guards. As a result, the leg drag pass has become extremly popular, and even guard players are tailoring their sweeps to land them in position to execute the leg drag. So, one of the cutting edges of Jiu Jitsu right now is countering the leg drag. Keep an eye on the elite guard players and watch for their answer to the leg drag pass.
If you enjoyed this preview but wanted a bit more depth stay tuned for Ben Thapa's intensely detailed breakdown of the Pans.