By Michael Sears
The 2017-18 UAEJJF season will come to a climax next week at the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship.
More than $1 million in cash prizes and the prestige of being a World Pro champion has brought athletes from around the globe to compete in Abu Dhabi on April 24-28.
Black belt World Pro champions will take home $15,000, with second and third place taking home $8,000 and $5,000, respectively.
The black belt country qualifiers will take place on Thursday, April 26, with the main brackets on Friday, April 27 and the finals on Saturday, April 28.
When: April 24-28 | Start time: 1 AM CST daily
56kg looks like Lima’s to lose
Third-ranked overall black belt Jose Lima (Brazil/GFT) is 18-1 in this UAEJJF season, with his only loss coming three weight classes up at 77kg. Lima has won the Grand Slams in Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, Abu Dhabi, and London so far and should be a heavy favorite to win 56kg at the World Pro. Joao Kuraoka (Japan/Axis) won the Tokyo Grand Slam and is ranked No. 13 but has lost to Lima twice this season.
George looking strongest going into 62kg
The 62kg Brazil qualifier will likely see a showdown between No. 11-ranked Joao Miyao (Brazil/Cicero Costha) and rookie black belt Pablo Mantovani (Brazil/Atos). The two recently fought in the finals of the 2018 Pans, with Miyao winning on points. Now the pair of Pans finalists will have to fight just to secure a spot in the main bracket at the World Pro. Miyao won the Grand Slams in Los Angeles and Abu Dhabi earlier this season.
Hiago George (Brazil/Cicero Costha) is currently fourth in the rankings and 100 points behind Jose Lima for the third-place, $5,000 end-of-season prize. He will need gold here and a slip-up from Lima at 56kg to finish in the top three. George has won the London and Rio de Janeiro Grand Slams this season. Tokyo Grand Slam winner Wanki Chae (South Korea/John Frankl) recently took second to George in London, losing by a score of 3-0 in the final.
Grippo vs a dangerous “TBD” at 69kg
The 69kg Brazil qualifier features eleven athletes and is arguably deeper in talent than the main bracket will be. Expected to emerge from this qualifier is Paulo Miyao (Brazil/Cicero Costha), Miyao is 8-0 this season and has won the Grand Slams in London and Abu Dhabi.
Attempting to beat out Paulo for the second Brazil spot will be 2017 world silver medalist and former World Pro champion Leonardo Saggioro (Brazil/BTT), 2017 brown belt world champ and 2018 Rio Grand Slam winner Joao Paulo Goncalves (Brazil/Alliance), Isaque Paiva (Brazil/Saikoo), and Victor Moraes (Brazil/Cicero Costha).
Whoever emerges from the Brazil qualifier will likely have to get past Gianni Grippo (USA/Alliance) to reach the top of the podium. The reigning World Pro champ Grippo is coming off a first-place finish at the 2018 Pans in March.
Stacked 77kg division offers explosive matches
The 77kg division will have the largest number of competitors, with 18 athletes in the main bracket. Brazil, Portugal, and the United States will all have qualifying brackets at the weight, with the Brazilian qualifier being the largest at 10 athletes and including Celso Vinicius (Brazil/X Coach), Servio Tulio (Brazil/Gracie Barra), and Gabriel Rollo (Brazil/Checkmat). Edwin Najmi (USA/Gracie Barra) vs. Thomas Keenan (USA/Soul Fighters) and Pedro Ramalho (Portugal/Focus) vs. Yan Cabral (Portugal/Aranha) will fight for their country’s second spot in the main bracket.
Jaime Canuto (Brazil/GFT) is the highest-ranked competitor in the bracket at eighth overall and recently won the London Grand Slam. Espen Mathiesen (Norway/Kimura), Jonathan Satava (USA/Alliance), Alex Cabanes (Spain/Calasans), Jacob Mackenzie (Canada/GFT), Francisco Iturralde (Ecuador/Del Mar), Lachlan Giles (Australia/Absolute MMA), and Max Lindblad (Sweden/Prana) will join the three qualifying bracket winners in a stacked main bracket.
85kg sees Brazilian qualifying “Group of Death”
The Brazil country qualifier at 85kg will be a gauntlet, with four-time World Pro champion Claudio Calasans (Brazil/Atos) having to fight through the qualifier in order for a chance to defend his 2017 title in the main bracket.
Joining Calasans in this country qualifier will be world champion Tarsis Humphreys (Brazil/Alliance), 2017 world silver medalist Patrick Gaudio (Brazil/GFT), and veteran Charles Negromonte (Brazil/Roger Gracie), as well as up-and-comers Gustavo Batista (Brazil/Atos) and Renato Canuto (Brazil/Zenith). The winner of this bracket will join No. 6-ranked Isaque Bahiense (Brazil/Alliance) in the main bracket as the two Brazilian representatives.
Waiting in the main bracket with Bahiense will be USA representatives Clark Gracie (USA/Clark Gracie) and five-time world champion Romulo Barral (USA/Gracie Barra), along with 2017 World Pro runner-up Faisal Al Ketbi (UAE/Team 777) among eight other competitors.
Big guns at 94kg promise fireworks
The Brazil country qualifier at 94kg has eight athletes vying for the second spot in the main bracket, headlined by three-time World Pro champion Felipe Pena (Brazil/Gracie Barra) and London Grand Slam champion Jackson Sousa (Brazil/Checkmat).
Two of the top five ranked athletes in this UAEJJF season will be waiting in the main bracket with second-ranked Adam Wardzinski (Poland/Checkmat) and fifth-ranked Helton Jose Junior (Brazil/Cicero Costha). Also contending for the 94kg title in Abu Dhabi should be American representatives Tanner Rice (USA/Soul Fighters) and Matthew Leighton (USA/Bonsai).
Silva secure in ranking, but 110kg championship title is anybody’s game
The 110kg Brazil qualifier features 2017 world and 2016 World Pro champion Erberth Santos (Brazil/Guigo), 2016 World Pro champ Ricardo Evangelista (Brazil/Commando Group), and 2017 World bronze medalist Mahamed Aly (Brazil/Lloyd Irvin) fighting it out for the second Brazil spot. Santos is 3-0 in his career against Aly and 1-3 against Evangelista; however, Santos won their most recent meeting.
Igor Silva (Brazil/Commando Group) is running away with the end-of-season $25,000 prize and has amassed enough points this season that he will finish with the top ranking regardless of his performance at the World Pro. 2015 World Pro runner-up Alexander Trans (Denmark/GFT) and Rio de Janeiro Grand Slam winner Gerard Labinski (Poland/NS Brotherhood) should also contend for the title at 110kg.