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The majority of 2020 Pans black belt champions saw the top of the Pans podium for the first time this year. Ten of the 16 gold medalists had not previously won a black belt division at Pans. Of those 10, five had not previously competed at Pans in a black belt division.
The first time champions were: (* denotes first appearance at Pans as a black belt)
Max Gimenis (closed out last year at Pans with Ricardo Evangelista, taking silver)
Kendall Reusing* (closed out in the final this year, taking gold)
It would be easy to write off some of this year’s first-time Pans champions due to the circumstances surrounding the event. For starters, Pans was in October this year instead of its regularly scheduled time in March. More importantly, the US borders were closed to competitors from some countries, meaning athletes from South America and Europe were unable to enter the country for the event, while others decided not to participate because of concerns of contracting COVID-19.
Nonetheless, several of these champions climbed to the top of the podium through some of the most formidable opponents in their divisions. They came into these divisions as underdogs, and for good reason; their brackets were stacked with tough challenges. Thiago Macedo, for example, had to get through Gianni Grippo, a three-time Pans champ, and Matheus Gabriel, last year’s Pans and World champ, to win the featherweight bracket.
Josh Cisneros had a particularly challenging seed at Pans, and had to get through the decorated Paulo Miyao in an early-round before fighting through the rest of the light featherweight bracket.
While Johnatha Alves may not have been considered an underdog, he had a difficult road to the top, as well; he had five matches on the weekend, including contests against 2020 European champ Jonnatas Gracie, and 2018 Pans winner Michael Liera Jr. The lightweight division was one of the most significant at Pans, and Alves proved he belongs among the top.
Even in thinner brackets, the first time champs did not have a guaranteed walk to the top of the podium. Lucas Pinheiro had to take down division favorite Jonas Andrade. Ronaldo Junior drew a match with the highly-ranked lightweight Lucas Valente and ran up the score.
In total, 63 percent of this year’s black belt Pan champions reached the top of the podium for the first time. While that may appear a statistical anomaly, the numbers have been trending upward. Over the last decade, about 50 percent of Pans champions have been first-timers. While 2020 produced above-average results, there has been an uptick of first-time winners over the last few years.
2019 — not 2020 — had the highest number of first-time Pans champions in the last decade. Last year, 72 percent of gold medalists had not previously won Pans, including nine of the 10 male winners. Lucas “Hulk” Barbosa was the only male champ last year who had previously won Pans as a black belt.
Given the aforementioned circumstances, the list of 2020 Pans champions may appear to be a fluke. But the rate of first-time champions at Pans has been trending upward since 2016. The frequency of first-time winners has also been trending upward at Worlds in that timeframe.
Two first-time champions from Pans 2019 went on to win Worlds last year: Matheus Gabriel and Mayssa Bastos. Several other Pans winners went on to win bronze or silver at Worlds.
There’s no certainty that any of these newly-crowned Pans champs will win the next iteration of Worlds. But given the competitors they each beat and the trend toward newcomers overthrowing incumbent champions, their titles this year must be respected despite the unusual year.
See every edition of Grappling By The Numbers | The Stockton Stats Report here.