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We break down everything you need to know about the eight elite 135lbers who make up the KASAI Pro 6 round-robin tournament.
Sat. August 17 | Atlantic City, New Jersey | 5:00PM CST
This is the sixth KASAI Pro tournament– the format is pretty well-known by now: instead of a single-elimination tournament where you get one match and you're out if you lose, two groups of four will face off in a series of round-robin matches.
It's time to crown a new champion. Four men hold the five KASAI Pro title belts: Gianni Grippo is 145lb champ, Renato Canuto holds both the 155lb and 170lb belts, Matheus Diniz was crowned 185lb champ and Kaynan Duarte won the 205lb belt.
The line-up of bantamweights include Japanese leg lock masters, berimbolo specialists, Brazilian technicians and the best of American and European talent.
Let's take a look at who's who and what they have to offer.
The winner of the national qualifiers, Alarcon fought through the open qualifier at Studio 540 in California to earn a spot in the final four where he faced off with winners of the Texas, New York and Florida regional qualifiers. Alarcon beat Spencer Mumme and Junny Ocasio to punch his ticket to the big show. Alarcon trains with Giva Santana in Irvine CA and was the third place finisher at 66kg at the recent ADCC West Coast Trials.
A noted leg locker from New York, Calestine trained for a short time at the main Renzo Gracie gym in Manhattan but reps Bancho MMA out of Brooklyn, a Renzo affiliate. Calestine exploded onto the no-gi scene when he won EBI in 2018 as a last-minute replacement for a sick Eddie Cummings, beating Geo Martinez in OT for the belt. Calestine followed that up with a big win over Gianni Grippo at KASAI Pro 3, but injury has hampered his subsequent performances. This is the blue collar grappler's chance to return to the top of the grappling world.
Rafael "Barata" Freitas
The veteran Brazilian technician is one of the few people to have a move named after him: the eponymous "barataplata", a devastating shoulder lock that works both gi and no-gi. A Gracie Barra rep, he has hit the podium at the World No-Gi Championship multiple times.
The oldest competitor of the group at 43, Imanari is a renowned leg locker who carries the moniker "Ahikan-Judan", which means "10th Dan of Leg Locks". A veteran of over 50 MMA fights, Imanari developed a reputation as a devastating leg attacker, and was a proponent of lower body submissions long before the current trend. His first heel hook victory in MMA was way back in 2002! His signature rolling leg lock attack became one of the most viral grappling moments of 2017 when Marvin Castelle hit an Imanari roll that gained over 12 million views.
One of the strong favorites, Martinez is a black belt under 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu founder Eddie Bravo. A two-time ADCC veteran, Martinez is also a three-time EBI champion at two different weight classes. He's faced three of the the other competitors in this line-up: he beat both Ashley Williams and Joao Miyao, but has a loss vs Jon Calestine.
Three-time World No-Gi champion Miyao is another strong entry into this event. Based at Unity Jiu-Jitsu in New York, the prolific grappler will be making his KASAI debut but has been very active in no-gi of late with matches vs Martinez and another 10th Planet standout in Marvin Castelle.
Edwin "Junny" Ocasio
Late replacement Ocasio was called up to the tournament after Ethan Crelinsten suffered a knee injury. Ocasio fought through to the finals of the 135lb qualifier after winning regional trials in June and a semifinal match on the undercard of KASAI Super Series Orlando. He narrowly lost via golden score in overtime to Richard Alarcon after conceding a takedown. Ocasio is a KASAI veteran having competed in the 155lb KASAI Pro tournament in 2017 and superfights on KASAI Pro 3, KASAI Pro 4 and both KASAI Super Series events in Dallas and Orlando.
British black belt Ashley Williams returns to KASAI following a successful performance against Renzo Gracie team member Frank Rosenthal back at KASAI Pro 3. Williams is a European No-Gi champion and a versatile submission artist. Incidentally, he is also the second twin among the line-up: just like Joao Miyao and his brother Paulo, Ashley's identical twin Joshua is also a jiu-jitsu black belt.