The black belt roster for the 2020 No-Gi Pan Championships is loaded with veterans and World Champions. But several rookie black belts and first-time Pans entrants could shake things up. While some are favorites in their divisions, others have a long climb if they hope to win their divisions. Here are six rookies and newcomers to watch.
Ronaldo Junior will be competing at No-Gi Pans for his first time as a black belt. He’s fresh off a stellar gold medal run at Pans last month, where he racked up points with his sharp passing game.
Watch: five Minutes Of Non-Stop Passing At Pans From Ronaldo Junior
He took third at Euros earlier this year, and has lived up to his nickname, “The Human Highlight Reel.”
He’s struggled in no-gi competition in his few attempts since earning his black belt. He lost in the first round at No-Gi Worlds, and struggled to get anything going against Vagner Rocha at Who’s Number One: Garry vs Dante. Middleweight is the deepest black belt division in the tournament. But he remains one of the key figures in the division due to his precise, explosive attacks.
Matheus Lutes has won No-Gi Pans at every belt level so far, and this will be his first opportunity to complete that achievement. He also won double-gold at brown belt in 2018, and had been competing with black belts throughout 2019 before earning his black belt in December.
He’s been out of commission since, but this will be a huge opportunity for him to return to action.
Watch: Matheus Lutes vs Valdir Araujo At Kasai Super Series Orlando
Oliver Taza is not technically registered for the black belt division yet. He’s still signed at brown belt, as he received his black belt from John Dananher just a few days ago. It Taza can change his registration in time, he could be a legitimate threat in this division. He won No-Gi Worlds, No-Gi Pans and No-Gi Europeans at brown belt three years ago. Despite staying at brown belt for years afterwards, Taza has been a force at the highest level of no-gi grappling. He’s an ADCC European Trails winner and two-time ADCC veteran. In the last few years, he’s scored wins over Lachlan Giles, John Combs, Valdir Araujo and, recently, Arnaldo Maidana.
He has a high rate of submission wins, but more than one-third of his submission wins have come via heel hook, and he won’t have access to that technique in this tournament.
2019 no-gi brown belt world champion Andrew Wiltse will finally return to IBJJF competition after nearly a year off. Since that time, he’s scored two victories on the Fight To Win stage: an RNC victory over Isaiah Wright, and a decision over the veteran John Combs. Wiltse has an aggressive style; but how will he hold up in a division of grizzled ADCC vets such as Murillo Santana, Valdir Araujo, Mike Perez and Vagner Rocha? This division will be a real test for the rookie.
Watch: Andrew Wiltse Explains "Buzzsaw Passing"
Giancarlo Bodoni won No-Gi Worlds at brown belt in 2019, and tore through the brown belt heavyweight division at Pans earlier this year racking up three submissions on his path to gold. No-Gi Pans will be Bodoni’s black belt debut, and he’ll be welcomed by heavy hitters including Yuri Paiva, Horlando Monteiro, and Lucas “Hulk” Barbosa.
Watch: 2019 No-Gi Worlds Brown Belt Super Heavyweight Final: Giancarlo Bodoni vs Davi Cabral De Souza
Rafaela Guedes couldn’t have had a better start to her black belt career. She was awarded the strap in September, and took double-gold at Pans in October, closing out the open weight bracket with Luiza Monteiro. She was the runner up at No-Gi Worlds last year as a brown belt, behind Elisabeth Clay. She appears to be stepping up a few weight classes for a challenge at No-Gi Pans. She’s moved from her usual middleweight class to heavyweight to take on the veteran, Talita Nogueira in a two-woman division. It’s likely she’ll pursue the open weight division as well, hoping to finish 2020 with four Pans golds.